Field Service

Alternative Energy Vehicles — Pros and Cons

FleetOwner, which generally focuses on commercial trucking fleets with five or more vehicles, recently posted a story on alternative fuel vehicles that holds relevance for field services companies of all sizes. It’s hardly breaking new ground to complain about gas prices or mention how all companies that utilize service vehicles are looking for ways to be more efficient, cut idling times, etc.

Some fuel sources are cheaper but require vehicle modifications and specialized maintenance. Others mean purchasing vehicles that are far more expensive than their gasoline-power equivalents, creating a conflict between short-term and long-term costs. So what’s the right answer? The truth is there probably isn’t a perfect vehicle out there for anyone, but by taking a look at the pros and cons according to FleetOwner for each type of energy source, the picture could get clearer.

Natural Gas

Pros:

  • Less expensive fuel.
  • Delivers about a 20% improvement in regulated emissions.
  • Does not significantly increase maintenance costs.
  • Natural gas is available in abundant supply.
  • Tax credits and grants are available to help offset the higher purchase price for natural gas-powered vehicles.

Cons:

  • Not enough fueling stations.
  • Natural gas vehicles typically cost $25,000 to $75,000 more than similar diesel- or gasoline-powered vehicles.
  • Fleets pay a penalty in terms of weight and range of operation between fueling stops.
  • Maintenance issues require some special training for the technicians who service them.
  • Limited available engine choices.

Hybrids

Pros:

  • Hybrid vehicles use less gasoline.
  • There are many choices, including diesel-electric, gasoline-electric or diesel-hydraulic combinations.
  • Great for vehicles in stop-and-go conditions, since power is harnessed from energy normally wasted during braking.

Cons:

  • 20 to 30 mph to be the optimum operating speed for hybrids, with “minimal miles over 45 mph.
  • Matching hybrid vehicles to particular applications and duty cycles can be more complicated exercise than with other alternative power options.

Propane

Pros:

  • Propane yields about 12% less carbon dioxide and 20% less nitrous oxide than gasoline.
  • Plentifully available domestically.
  • Propane’s easy to transport and store.
  • High octane rating (104) means greater engine efficiency.
  • Longer driving range than natural gas, ethanol or methanol.

Cons:

  • Fueling stations can be found, but not as easy as standard gasoline/diesel facilities.
  • Switching to propane requires converting a new or used conventionally powered vehicle.

All-Electric

Pros:

  • No more fuel to buy.
  • Zero emissions.
  • Electric vehicles can handle hills better than some people think.

Cons:

  • “Range anxiety” can be a concern for drivers who cover a lot of miles.
  • At this time there is a lack of available charging stations.
  • Not a lot of data exists about total lifecycle costs, maintenance cycles and costs or residual value.

Other choices are out there too, including bio fuels. Picking the right type of vehicles, and fuel those vehicles run on, is going to be an increasingly complicated task for field service managers in the coming years.

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