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Local, state and federal agencies, under mandates to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of their vehicle fleets, are increasingly considering a switch to cars and trucks that rely on battery power. But because much of the nation’s electricity is generated by coal, many agencies are left to wonder whether the move to battery power will yield major cuts in pollution—or potentially even make emissions worse.
“Your vehicle is only as clean as your electricity,” says Reid (Rusty) Heffner, PhD, a Booz Allen Hamilton transportation engineer who works on a team of alternative fuels and advanced vehicles experts. “In regions where power comes mainly from coal, plug-in vehicles are often not the best choice to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
That thorny issue is one of several that are gaining in importance with the expected arrival late next year of commercial “grid-connected,” or plug-in, vehicles that are either hybrids or all-electric.
President Obama has called for one million grid-connected vehicles to be on the road by 2015, and Booz Allen is playing a major role in helping local, state and federal agencies do their part.
“In regions where power comes mainly from coal, plug-in vehicles are often not the best choice to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
- Reid (Rusty) Heffner, PhD
Micro- and Macro-Level Green-Fleet Planning
One of Heffner’s roles in Booz Allen’s transportation business is to assist government clients in “green-fleet planning.” Booz Allen baselines a vehicle fleet’s current greenhouse gas emissions, and recommends the combination of vehicle technologies and fuel types that will help the agency best meet its emissions goals.
Booz Allen often develops scenarios showing how much emissions will be cut by, for example, switching a certain number of light-duty vehicles to hybrids, and a certain number of heavy-duty vehicles to compressed natural gas.
Heffner’s team has done green-fleet planning on a micro level, for cities, but also on a macro level—recently completing a study of how the entire country might transition to grid-connected vehicles. The study looked at all light-duty vehicles across the United States, evaluating how quickly the new technologies might be adopted. The study also examined the benefits, such as lowered greenhouse gas emissions and reduced dependency on foreign oil.
Booz Allen is active in another emerging and potentially controversial issue—as governments build new infrastructure to charge vehicle batteries and deliver special fuels, to what extent will these facilities be made available to the public?
Those and other questions require innovative thinking in both policy and technology, says Heffner. “Most of our clients don’t have the luxury of a full staff of experts on these issues,” he says. “But there are so many alternative technologies out there, that’s kind of what you need.”