Are electric and natural gas powered vehicles a fad or a trend?
Today I am giving Tom Wolf, the executive director of the Chamber’s Energy Council, the president’s message forum to update you on today’s realities and tomorrow’s potential for vehicles that don’t run on crude oil products and a DCEO program to look at if you’re considering installing a vehicle charging station at your place of business.
It was an electric event with a hybrid crowd that seemed naturally gassed up about the new types of cars on the market.
OK, puns aside, in mid-August the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and its Energy Council was excited to co-host an event with Argonne National Labs and the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet (a country club for people who like cars, not golf). The purpose was to allow elected officials, government staff, chamber members and other important guests the chance to drive the latest electric cars (EVs), hybrids and vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) on a private track.
Why did we do this event? First, the Energy Council is about using all kinds of energy to supply our future needs and we believe that should include our transportation needs. Secondly, we believe the burgeoning EV, hybrid and CNG market is not just a fad for collectors but an upward-moving trend that will be embraced by all kinds of consumers. We wanted to showcase what the manufacturers of the vehicles and charging stations are up to, and what progress is being made on the R&D side. To help us prove our point we had a wide range of manufacturers bring their latest models to our event, including Chevy, Chrysler/Dodge, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Cadillac, Fisker, VPG, Freightliner and more!
To get a flavor of the event, here is a link to the Joliet Herald News article on it that also included a photo gallery featuring shots of the cars and event participants. For those of you who prefer watching video, here is a link to an ABC7 Chicago story on the quietest test drive in town.
The driving experience
When people ask what electric, hybrid and CNG-powered cars drive like, I tell them “they drive like cars!” Electric cars have a bit more pick-up and are significantly quieter than the gasoline-powered cars, but they still drive like cars. Some of you in the Chicago-area may have ridden a CNG-powered cab without even knowing it – after all there are now more than 400 cabs that run on natural gas. They also drive and ride like regular vehicles even though they run on natural gas compressed to a pressure of about 3000 psi.
Do CNG-powered trucks make sense
The folks at Freightliner showcased its CNG-powered semi-truck at our event and they answer the question thusly: In the world of real estate, it’s location, location, location. In the CNG world, it all depends on fuel, fuel, and fuel.
If fuel is readily available, it must be considered. Quick Trip alone opened about ten fueling stations in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota in the last six months. Integrys is also rapidly expanding and has a division dedicated to putting in fuel stations around the country. The folks at Clean Energy Fuels are also marketing and building America’s Natural Gas Highway infrastructure. Here is a link to the location of the first 150 highway stations that will allow trucks to fuel up on long-distance trips.
In terms of return on investment, a diesel equivalent gallon (DGE) of natural gas ranges from $0.85 to $2.00 a gallon depending on where in the country you are. Diesel is now over $4.00 a gallon. Freightliner has customers today that pay off the CNG equipment upcharge in less than two years. After that they save as much as $30,000 a year in fuel cost per vehicle. That makes sense!
For a local example, Ozinga (a family owned ready-mix concrete company in Chicago that you might have seen featured in Bank of America commercials) now has 30 of its signature red-and-white striped trucks running on natural gas. On September 20th Ozinga unveiled its natural gas fueling station at its headquarters on Chicago’s near-South side. Here is the release! It will not only give Ozinga vehicles a chance to get CNG fuel but other vehicles that need to fuel up on natural gas. If it works for them, could it work for you? It’s a question worth investigation if you’re looking to update your vehicle fleet sometime soon.
All cars are getting better.
I was moderating a panel with Tony Reinhardt from Ford last week and he reminded everyone that manufacturers will have to meet new federal MPG standards one way or another. His take on the issue is to remember that advancements are being made on all of kinds of vehicles – whether they use gasoline, biofuels, electricity, CNG or a combination. To meet the new standards, Ford and others are going to have to embrace all types of fuel and advance the meter even further. And Reinhardt’s confident that they can do it. So fasten your seatbelts for new cars that run on less energy and different types of energy – giving consumers great choices and a chance to save money!
The glass is half full
We believe car manufacturers are stepping up to the plate when it comes to developing better cars of all kinds. Driving these cars on the test track reminded me the effort foreign and domestic producers are putting in to finding an affordable car that runs efficiently and safely on the least amount of fuel.
Infrastructure challenges will continue as battery charging stations and CNG stations aren’t close to being as ubiquitous as ExxonMobil, BP, Citgo and Marathon gas stations. But we’re optimistic that a different kind of transportation option is on the horizon – in part because some of the initial models have already been driven on test tracks in Joliet and in the highways and byways of Illinois.
Should my company provide charging stations?
There are hundreds of electric charging stations in Illinois – but many of the public ones are in the Chicago area in parking garages and parking lots of a few retailers. Walgreen has put two charging stations in the customer lot in its new Oak Park, Illinois facility and local EV enthusiasts are charging their cars while picking up prescriptions or other items.
So what’s the tipping point for businesses when it comes to installing EV charging stations for their employees or customers? Well, that depends on your employees and your customers. Are they starting to drive plug-in vehicles? Are they thinking about it? Will some of your customers become more loyal if they know they can charge their vehicles while they are in your place of business?
From time to time, governments offer incentives for companies taking a chance on a new technology and this is one of those times.
Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is providing rebates toward the installation of Level II EV charging stations. Rebates cover 50% of equipment and installation (materials and labor) costs up to the following caps: $3,750 per networked single station; $3,000 per non-networked single station; $7,500 per networked dual station; and $6,000 per non-networked dual station. Please refer to program guidelines for definitions of these station types and details on technical requirements. The maximum possible total rebate award is $49,000 or 50% of the total project cost for up to 15 stations, whichever is less.
Eligible applicants for this rebate program include: units of government, businesses, educational institutions, non-profits, and individual residents. EV charging stations must be purchased and installed prior to submitting a rebate application. Rebate applications will be processed on a rolling basis. The deadline for rebate applications is 4:30 pm on Thursday, December 20, 2012.”
The information and link below are also available on the website, www.IllinoisEnergy.org/EV.
The transportation sector is the only one that relies on imported resources. We heat and power our homes with domestic energy (wind, coal, nuclear, hydro, natural gas, etc.) Getting from point A to point B is where we rely on crude oil from imported countries ranging from Canada to Russia and from Kuwait to Venezuela. It’s only prudent to look at the possibility that people might have choices on what their cars and trucks run on in the future. Perhaps if our cars and trucks run on a combination of gasoline, biofuels, electricity and natural gas, we’ll be able to transport ourselves using North American resources….a good goal indeed.