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10.19.15

Question of the Month: How can I improve my gas mileage while driving this winter?

Answer:

Whether taking that long-awaited ski trip or just commuting to work in the frigid weather, there are several things you can do to improve your fuel economy and save money in the wintertime.

Why You Get Worse Gas Mileage When It's Cold

Cold weather and winter driving conditions can reduce your fuel economy significantly. On particularly chilly days, when temperatures drop to 20°F or lower, you can expect to see up to a 12% hit on your fuel economy for short city trips. During very quick trips—traveling only three to four miles—your fuel economy could dip even lower (as much as 22%)!

This reduction in fuel economy is due to several factors. First of all, cold temperatures increase the time it takes your vehicle to warm the cabin, engine, drive-line fluids, and other components up to fuel-efficient operating temperatures. Cold fluids increase the friction on your engine and transmission, which can reduce fuel economy.  

Let’s take a moment to address one of the main myths about driving in cold weather: 

  • Myth: To warm up your engine and vehicle cabin in the wintertime, you should let the engine run for several minutes before driving.
  • Truth: Most manufacturers recommend driving off gently after about 30 seconds of idling. In fact, the engine will warm up faster when driving. Idling can use a quarter to half a gallon of fuel per hour, and even more fuel if the engine is cold or accessories like seat heaters are on.

Also keep in mind that winter gasoline blends in cold climates have slightly less energy per gallon than summer blends. This is because refineries alter the chemical makeup of gasoline to allow it to evaporate more easily in low temperatures, ensuring proper engine operation.

Aerodynamic drag is another consideration. In simple terms, cold air is denser than warm air, so when temperatures drop, wind resistance increases slightly. This requires a little more power from your engine to drive at a given speed. The effects of aerodynamic drag on fuel economy are most significant at highway speeds.

Winter Fuel-Saving Tips

The following tips can help you warm your car (and fingers!) more efficiently and improve your fuel economy in the winter:

Park in a warmer place like a garage that traps heat to keep the initial temperature of your engine and cabin higher than it would be outside in the elements.

Avoid idling to warm up the engine and cabin. See more information above.

Avoid using seat warmers more than necessary, as they require additional power.

Plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) owners: Pre-heat your vehicle while still plugged in. Since PEVs use battery power to provide heat to the cabin, cabin and seat heaters can drain the vehicle’s battery and reduce the overall range. If you need to warm up quickly, warm the vehicle while it’s still charging.

PEV owners: Use seat heaters instead of the cabin heater when able. Using seat heaters instead of the cabin heater can save energy. Seat heaters use less energy than cabin heaters and can often be more efficient at warming you up quickly in the winter.

Read the owner’s manual for detailed information on how your vehicle’s cabin and seat heaters work and how to use them efficiently.

Do you live in a place where snow and ice isn't an issue? Check out the May Question of the Month (http://www.eereblogs.energy.gov/cleancities/post/2015/05/19/summer_fuel_...) for year-round warm weather driving tips. 

More Information

For more information on how to improve your fuel economy, please refer to the following FuelEconomy.gov tips:

• Fuel Economy in Cold Weather - http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/coldweather.shtml 

• Gas Mileage Tips - http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/drive.shtml 

• Keeping Your Vehicle in Shape - http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/maintain.jsp

08.18.15

Question of the Month: What are the alternatives to traditional state fuel taxes?

Answer:

Nearly all of us regularly use and access public roads, infrastructure, or transit services. As you may have read in the July Question of the Month, it’s common practice for federal, state, and local governments to tax motor fuels on a per gallon basis to fund transportation infrastructure and increase revenue. Returns from gasoline and diesel taxes are on the decline due to a number of factors, including rising construction costs, general inflation, and greater vehicle efficiency, which reduces fuel use per mile. To make up for this deficit, a number of states are evaluating and implementing alternatives to traditional motor fuel tax models through the use of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fees, annual fees for vehicles that use certain fuels, such as electricity, or adjusting or establishing fuel taxes for certain alternative fuels. 

VMT Fees

VMT fees are designed to charge drivers based on the number of miles they drive, rather than the fuel they consume. The concept seeks to base taxes on use rather than fuel consumption, which provides a fuel neutral approach and offsets decreasing revenue from increased vehicle efficiency. Concerns have, however, been raised over program administration and individual privacy. Several states, including Vermont and Oregon, have studied or implemented VMT fee pilot programs. In July of 2015, Oregon began a road usage charge program for 5,000 volunteers and is encouraging participation by plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) drivers (http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/RUFPP/Pages/index.aspx). The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) collects $0.015 per mile and issues gas tax refunds to participants. Vehicle miles will be monitored through a vehicle transponder. 

Annual Fees

As alternative fuel use has grown, a number of states have established annual fees or decals to recover revenue that would have normally come from motor fuel taxes. These programs also provide a mechanism to collect revenue from those that charge or fuel at home and, in some cases, are used to incentivize alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs). Fees have traditionally been imposed on fuels such as natural gas and propane, but are now being considered and implemented for PEVs. Establishing the appropriate level for such fees can be tricky as different vehicle classes use very different amounts of fuel. In addition, some AFVs, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and bi-fuel natural gas vehicles, may already pay motor fuel taxes for their gasoline or diesel use. Examples of fees in place include: 

• Colorado requires a $50 annual fee for a PEV decal. 

• Georgia requires a $200 annual fee for non-commercial PEVs and $300 annual fee for commercial PEVs.

• Louisiana requires an annual fee of $120 or a percentage of the current special fuels tax rate for compressed natural gas (CNG) and propane vehicles.

• Nebraska requires a $75 annual fee for PEVs and other AFVs not covered under state motor fuel tax regulations. 

• North Carolina requires a $100 annual fee for all-electric vehicles. 

Alternative Fuel Taxes

Many states have passed regulations to either tax certain alternative fuels for the first time or to structure motor fuel taxes to account for energy content variations between alternative fuels and gasoline or diesel. For example, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah are among the states that have enacted legislation or regulations in 2015 to define the energy content of CNG and liquefied natural gas on a gasoline gallon equivalent or diesel gallon equivalent basis. Wyoming updated regulations related to alternative fuel excise taxes and dealer license fees for natural gas, propane, electricity, and renewable diesel. Kentucky and Utah enacted excise tax requirements for hydrogen and South Dakota increased excise taxes for certain fuels, including ethanol. Look out for the September Question of the Month for further information on efforts to equalize federal fuel taxes across fuels.

Until motor fuel tax revenue shortfalls can be adequately addressed, states risk underfunding our roads and infrastructure. While no single approach has emerged as the preferred choice, creative solutions, such as those discussed above, may help states adequately adjust for continued sales of AFVs and other fuel-efficient vehicles.  With the exception of VMT fees, these approaches, however, only address a small portion of the nation’s fleet and are not likely to resolve broader funding issues in the near-term. 

Refer to the following for more information on alternatives to traditional state motor fuel taxes:

• Alternative Fuels Data Center’s (AFDC) Laws and Incentives website (http://www.afdc.energy.gov

• AFDC’s Policy Bulletin on State Fees as Transportation Funding Alternatives (http://www.afdc.energy.gov/bulletins/technology_bulletin_2014_03_10.html)

07.21.15

Question of the Month: What factors affect fuel prices?

Answer:

When gasoline and diesel prices spike, we often want to blame someone for our pain at the pump. The reality is that the oil industry is a complex market. Though there are numerous factors that could ultimately influence the price of fuel, such as weather, government policies, and international relations, there are four factors that have the most significant influence. These factors include the cost of crude oil, refining costs and profits, distribution and marketing costs, and fuel taxes. Alternative fuels, such as natural gas, propane, electricity, and biofuels, can mitigate some price fluctuations attributable to short-term events, like natural disasters, because they diversify the fuel supply; however, some alternative fuel prices are also dependent on similar factors.

In May 2015, the average retail price of regular grade gasoline was $2.72, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Below is a summary of the factors that affect gasoline prices, and the relative percentage of each component. We have also described how each of these factors may affect alternative fuel prices. 

Price difference between gasoline and diesel in May 2015

Crude Oil 

As of May, approximately 51% of the cost of gasoline was related to the price of crude oil. The fluctuation in crude oil price is the biggest factor in the volatility of the price of gasoline, as the other costs (described blow) are relatively static. 

Crude oil prices are largely a product of supply and demand. Global demand has grown in recent years due to world economic growth and increased access to vehicles, particularly in developing nations. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which produced about 40% of the world’s crude oil between 2000 and 2014, also has significant influence on oil prices by setting production limits among members. Part of the reason oil prices have declined significantly since July 2014 is that OPEC nations are not limiting production, resulting in a global ‘glut’ of crude oil. Much of this glut stems from a surge in oil production in the United States and Canada over the last few years from unconventional sources, like shale. This price could change dramatically, however, if there is a major global supply disruption.  

With the exception of electricity and natural gas, alternative fuel prices can also be impacted by the price of crude oil and the price and demand for petroleum products. Higher or lower demand for gasoline also influences ethanol demand, for example, and ethanol is closely linked to the price of gasoline, as shown in the Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report. Biodiesel wholesale costs are largely influenced by the price of diesel. Propane costs historically tend to follow crude oil prices, though not to the same extent as other fuels, and change seasonally because of the demand for propane as heating fuel in the winter. 

Alternative fuel prices are also affected by the applicable commodity price, though the impact varies by fuel. For example, the price of natural gas only comprises 20% of the compressed natural gas (CNG) price at the pump, according to the American Gas Association (AGA). Because the natural gas is a relatively small percentage of the overall fuel price, a swing in the natural gas commodity prices has less of an effect on the CNG price at the pump. In addition, natural gas costs are typically regulated and less expensive than petroleum (on a gasoline gallon equivalent, or GGE, basis) and the infrastructure is independent of oil infrastructure.

Refining Costs and Profits 

Crude oil must be refined into gasoline and diesel so it is compatible with our vehicles. Refining oil takes energy and costs may vary based on the type and origin of the crude oil used in the process. In May, refinery costs and profits represented about 22% of the cost of a gallon of gasoline. 

Alternative fuels, such as propane, natural gas, and biofuels, are also “refined” or otherwise altered before they can be used in vehicles. Propane is a by-product of crude oil refining and is also produced as a liquid from natural gas and oil wells. Propane from natural gas liquids does not require refining; however, it must go through a scrubbing process to remove contaminants, as well as a separation process. Natural gas is produced from natural gas and oil wells, and is also subject to a separation and treatment process to remove contaminants. It must also be compressed in order to be transported in major distribution pipelines. Biofuel production facilities are often called ‘biorefineries’ because they produce and refine crude biofuels at the same location. 

Distribution and Marketing 

Since many of us do not live next to oil refineries, gasoline and diesel must be transported to local fueling stations first through a sophisticated system of pipelines, trucks, or barges to a network of fuel terminals, which can also be referred to as a distribution rack. The distributors, also called jobbers, load and blend the gasoline and diesel with other products (e.g., ethanol, biodiesel) in tanker trucks, which is driven to your local retail outlets and placed in underground storage tanks. In every part of the supply chain there are costs associated with employee salaries and benefits, equipment, taxes, insurance, and other types of overhead. In May, these resulting costs equaled about 10% of the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Taxes 

Finally, motor fuel taxes contribute to the construction and maintenance of the roads we use on a regular basis. In the early 1900s, state governments devised ways to collect taxes on each gallon of fuel to help cover these costs and increase revenue. In May, federal, state, and local taxes accounted for 17% of the average retail price of a gallon of gasoline. Federal excise taxes are currently $0.184 per gallon of gasoline or ethanol and $0.244 per gallon of diesel or biodiesel. Propane and CNG are taxed at $0.183 per gallon of propane or GGE of CNG, and liquefied natural gas is taxed at $0.243 per gallon. The September Question of the Month will delve into this topic in more detail.

State and local fuel taxes vary widely by jurisdiction. Though motor fuel taxes are applied to each gallon of gasoline or diesel sold, alternative fuels can also be taxed on an energy equivalent basis with gasoline and/or diesel. Some states use alternatives to traditional state fuel taxes, such as annual fees for alternative fuel vehicles or taxes based on the number of miles traveled. Look for the August Question of the Month for more information on these alternatives.

Though the alternative fuel supply chain differs slightly from conventional fuels, many of the same factors influencing oil prices also impact alternative fuels. Now when you fill up your vehicle, take a moment to think about all the infrastructure and people required to process and deliver fuel from the field to the pump. 

For more information on fuel prices, please refer to the following websites:

06.25.15

Question of the Month: What are the lates updates on hydrogen and fuel cell electric vehicle deployment?

Answer: Fuel cell electric vehicles have been around for a while, mostly in limited quantities and locations through demonstration projects. But these vehicles, with thier potential to significantly cut petroleum consumption and reduce emissions, are starting to make their way into dealerships and onto roads across the country. Though the market for FCEWs is still in its infancy, many government organizations and private companies are working on research and deployment efforts to make hydrogen a widespread, viable, affordable, and salfe alternative vehicle fuel.

Below are some of the recent activities related to FCEV commercialization:

Vehicle Availability

FCEVs are beginning to enter the consumer market in certain regions in the United States and around the world. Hyundai introduced the 2015 Tuscon Fuel Cell in California last year for lease, and Toyota Motor Company announced they will release the 2016 Mirai for sale this October at eight California dealerships that were specially selected for their experience with alternative fuels and their proximity to existing hydrogen fueling stations. Vehicle original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as BMQ, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes/Daimler, Nissan, and Volkswagen are expecting to launch FCEV production vehicles in select regions of the country in the coming years. Other automakers continue to introduce their FCEVs through demonstratoin projects. The FCEV market is also growing for buses, ground support equipment, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, back-up power, prime power applications, and continues to be strong for forklifts.

While OEMs are offering affordable lease options, some of which include the cost of fuel, FCEVs are still expensive. However, production costs have decreased significantly in recent years and FCEVs are expected to be cost-competitive with conventional vehicles in the coming years.

Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure

As the FCEV market expands, hydrogen fueling infrastructure will need to grow to match demand. Most of the hydrogen stations available today have been built to support OEM FCEV demonstration projects. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center’s (AFDC) Alternative Fueling Station Locator (http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/hydrogen_locations.html), there are 12 publicly accessible hydrogen stations in the United States, with many more in the planning stages. According to the California Fuel Cell Partnership (http://cafcp.org/), there are 49 more stations in development in California that will be publically available. Development efforts are also underway in Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. 

Like the vehicles, the high cost of fueling equipment remains a key challenge. Hydrogen station costs can vary significantly based on hydrogen feedstock, station capacity, utilization, proximity to production, and available incentives. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Hydrogen Station Cost Calculator estimates that stations can cost between $2 and $5 million. However, like FCEVs, as the demand grows, the cost of hydrogen fueling equipment will decrease and the number of stations will increase. 

Codes, Standards, and Incentives

The widespread deployment of FCEVs and the associated network of hydrogen fueling stations requires the development, maintenance, and harmonization of codes, standards, and regulations to keep up with the technology. These efforts are ongoing and are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), as well as domestic and international organizations. 

Incentives will also continue to be important to promote and maintain a market for hydrogen and FCEVs. California is leading in the number of relevant state incentives. For instance, to meet the objectives of California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program, the California Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (http://www.energy.ca.gov/drive/) is allocating $20 million annually for the construction of at least 100 public hydrogen stations in California by January 1, 2024. In addition, California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project offers up to $5,000 for the purchase or lease of approved FCEVs (http://energycenter.org/clean-vehicle-rebate-project). Nine other states (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont) have also adopted California’s ZEV mandate to increase the number of ZEVs, including FCEVs, on the roads. 

Ongoing Research and Development

Significant research and development efforts by DOE, the national laboratories, and other H2USA partners have brought the hydrogen industry to where it is today (http://energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/accomplishments-and-progress). Through their Fuel Cell Technologies Office (http://energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/fuel-cell-technologies-office), DOE continues to support research in the areas of hydrogen production, delivery, and storage, as well as technology validation, manufacturing, and market transformation. 

Additional Resources

 

 

05.21.15

Question of the Month: How can I improve my gas mileage while driving this summer?

Answer: Whether you are taking a summer road trip or just running errands around town, there are things you can do to improve your fuel economy and save money on fuel in the summertime.

You may notice an increase in your fuel economy as the weather gets warmer. This is because vehicle engines, transmissions and other components take less time to warm up and summer gasoline blends can have slightly more energy per gallon than winter blends. However, if you use your air conditioning (AC) a lot or drive with the windows down, you might actually see your fuel economy drop. 

AC is the main contributor to reduced fuel economy in the summertime. In fact, using the AC can reduce a conventional vehicle’s fuel economy by as much as 25%, or even more if you are driving a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV). Driving with the windows down can also reduce fuel economy due to greater aerodynamic drag (wind resistance) on the vehicle. Though this has a small effect on fuel economy, aerodynamic drag is more apparent when driving at the highway speeds typical for road trips.

The following tips can help you use the AC more efficiently and therefore improve fuel economy in the summer:

  • Read the owner’s manual for detailed information on how your vehicle’s AC system works and how to use it efficiently.
  • Park your vehicle in shady areas or use a sunshade to keep the interior from getting too hot.
  • Do not use the AC more than needed. If you need to use the AC, avoid using the “max” setting for extended periods. 
  • If you are driving at high speeds, use the AC instead of rolling down the windows. If the vehicle is too hot, you may lower the car windows to expel hot air for the first few minutes. Once the hot air has left the vehicle, switch to using the AC. 
  • Avoid excessive idling. Idling can use a quarter to half a gallon of fuel per hour, and more if the AC is on. Do not idle the vehicle to cool it down before a trip; most AC systems actually cool the vehicle faster while driving.
  • PEV owners, pre-cool your vehicle with the AC while still plugged in. Since PEVs use battery power to provide AC, it can drain the vehicle’s batteries and reduce the vehicle’s overall range. If you need to use the AC to cool down your PEV, try to do so while the vehicle is still charging.

The following tips should be used year-round to improve fuel economy:

  • Use cruise control while driving on highways to maintain a consistent speed and conserve fuel. 
  • Remove any unnecessary weight from the vehicle. Vehicles with heavier loads tend to have reduced fuel economy. An additional 100 pounds in your vehicle can reduce fuel economy by 1%.  
  • Avoid transporting cargo on the rooftop of the vehicle. Traveling with cargo on the roof increases wind resistance and can significantly lower your fuel economy. Rear-mounted cargo has a much smaller effect on fuel economy than rooftop cargo. 
  • Avoid aggressive driving. Aggressive driving (speeding, quick acceleration and heavy braking) can reduce fuel economy by as much as 33% at highway speeds and 5% at city speeds. This informational video shows real-world effects of aggressive driving on fuel economy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zWXwqqqHm0
  • Ensure your tires are properly inflated. Tires that are not inflated to the proper pressure can reduce fuel economy by 0.3% for every one pound per square inch (PSI) drop in pressure in all of the tires. Having your tires inflated to the proper pressure is also safer and can help tires last longer.
  • Pay attention to the speed limit. Not only is this a safe practice, but gas mileage tends to decrease when driving at speeds above 50 miles per hour. 

For more information on how to improve your fuel economy, please refer to the following FuelEconomy.gov websites:

Clean Cities Technical Response Service Team

technicalresponse [at] icfi [dot] com 

800-254-6735

 

03.25.15

What are the key terms and considerations I should remember when discussing emissions?

 

Answer: When discussing emissions, it is important to use the appropriate terms, know the context, and present a complete picture. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a number of tools and resources available to understand and calculate the emissions benefits of alternative fuels and vehicles (see below). But first, let’s get back to the basics.

09.29.14

What are the new credit allocations that were established under the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE)'s Alternative Fuel Transportation Program (Program) earlier this year? How can I help spread the word on these new Energy Policy Act (EPAct) compliance pathways?

Answer: DOE issued a final rule on March 21, 2014, that establishes credit levels for additional means by which covered state and alternative fuel provider fleets operating under the Program's Standard Compliance (follow the link below:  http://www.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/epact/state_standard_compliance.html
option may earn credits. These credits may be used toward compliance with a fleet's alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) acquisition requirements. DOE promulgated the rule pursuant Congress' direction, set forth in Section 133 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Vehicles
The new credit allocations address the acquisition of various types of electric drive vehicles and allow covered fleets to earn credits under Standard Compliance for some vehicles that do not meet the EPAct 1992 definition of an AFV. Newly eligible vehicles include the following (with their credit allocations):

  • Certain hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) - one-half credit
  • Plug-in electric vehicles - one-half credit
  • Fuel cell electric vehicles - one-half credit
  • Neighborhood electric vehicles - one-fourth credit

Medium- and heavy-duty HEVs are also eligible for one-half credit after a fleet has met its light-duty AFV acquisition requirements.

Infrastructure
Acquiring the electric drive vehicles noted above is not the only new way to earn credits under EPAct Standard Compliance. Fleets may now earn credits for investments of their own funds (not grant funds or other monetary awards) in qualified alternative fuel infrastructure. For every $25,000 invested, a covered fleet may earn one credit, with a limit of five credits available per fleet per model year for private infrastructure investment, and ten credits per fleet per model year for public infrastructure investment.

Other Investments
Fleets may also earn credits for investments in alternative fuel non-road equipment and/or emerging technologies associated with the Section 133-identified vehicles. The credits for non-road equipment are similar to infrastructure - one credit for every $25,000 invested and a maximum of five credits may be earned per fleet per model year. Emerging technologies investments will earn a covered fleet two credits for the initial investment of $50,000 and one credit for every $25,000 invested thereafter, with a limit of five credits per fleet per model year.

Fleets may begin taking advantage of these new credit allocations for their efforts undertaken in model year 2014 and future model years.

How Can You Spread the Word?

Are you aware of any covered utility or state fleets that are building new fueling infrastructure?

  • Inform them they can earn EPAct credits.

Do you have an EPAct covered fleet stakeholder that needs an extra push to buy or lease HEVs?

  • Let them know that certain HEVs are now eligible for EPAct credits.

Do you or your stakeholders have questions regarding EPAct compliance?

Note that covered fleets are currently compiling their Program reports for model year 2014 (September 1, 2013 to August 31, 2014) activities, which are due by December 31, 2014.

For more information, refer to the following resources:

Webinar: Final Rule on Electric Drive Vehicles and Infrastructure (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9LixPTkA7M)       

03.26.14

Several weeks ago at the NASCAR Plaza in uptown Charlotte, officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, NASCAR, and Sprint announced their involvement in the DOE’s Workplace Charging Challenge, a collaborative effort to increase the number of US employers offering workplace charging.

Centralina Council of Governments
9815 David Taylor Drive
Charlotte, NC 28262

Part of the U.S.
DOE Clean Cities
National Network