Navigant Research Blog

How to Save a Half Billion Gallons of Diesel

— April 16, 2014

Hosesteps_webTrying to reduce fuel use by Class 8 over-the-road sleeper cab tractors is a key challenge facing the trucking industry and regulators.  The trucks use a tremendous amount of fuel (averaging about 6.6 mpg and traveling 80,000 to 100,000 miles per year) and have to provide the driver comfort as the trucks stop overnight.  In order to provide the overnight creature comforts (sometimes referred to as hotel power), the trucks need to have a source of energy, whether an off-board source, the large truck diesel engine, or a small energy source called an auxiliary power unit (APU).  The APU industry has been espousing the fundamental truth that utilizing APUs reduces fuel use, emissions, and associated costs by reducing idle times of the large truck engines.

Yet, one of the challenges is trying to understand just how much fuel and emissions are being offset by APUs.  Having spent a large amount of my time at the Mid-American Trucking Show (MATS) this past March, I was able to speak with almost every APU manufacturer displaying at the MATS and have been able to pull together an estimate for these savings.

First, a little more background; it is not entirely clear when APUs first became widely available, but by the early-to-mid-2000s, Bergstrom, Thermo King, Carrier, and RigMaster, along with a number of other competitors, were all offering APU systems.  Today there are a lot of commonalities between the machines.  The vast majority of APUs are of two designs, either all-electric or diesel-powered.  Diesel-powered APUs use diesel from the truck’s fuel tank to fuel two cylinder small diesel engines from Yanmar, Caterpillar, Perkins, and others.  All-electric systems store energy in absorbed glass mat lead-acid batteries that can then be used to provide power to air conditioning compressors or inverters.  Other technologies that are being tested include fuel cells, lithium ion batteries, and compressed natural gas systems, but the cost-effectiveness of these systems remains essentially unmarketable.

Methodology and Findings

For the purpose of this macro analysis, I had to make several assumptions when it comes to the number of APUs on the road.  First, since there isn’t consensus on when the Class 8 sleeper cab APU market even started, I considered the start date to be roughly 2005, with about 35,000 units on the road by the end of that year.  While recognizing that this is a rough estimate, this at least gave me a starting point for calculating the scrappage rate of APUs.  Based on conversations during MATS and some combing of forums, I assumed the average lifespan of an APU to be about 6 years, and from there the number of APUs on the road today, which is estimated to be about 309,000 units, with about 25% being all-electric.

These 309,000 units translate into 486.5 million gallons of diesel saved by APUs on Class 8 sleeper cabs in 2013 (or about 1,576.5 gallons per APU).  Put into economic terms, at the average retail price of $3.89 per gallon for diesel in January 2014, the fuel costs offset by APUs are a staggering $1.89 billion.  Even taking into consideration the cost of new APU units ($8,000 estimated) and maintenance ($145 annually), the offset is $1.49 billion.  Put into environmental terms, the Argonne GREET model calculated the greenhouse gas emissions per gallon of diesel fuel consumed to be 20.2 lbs carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) per gallon of diesel fuel, so the emissions offset are 9.827 billion lbs of CO2-eq.  Of course, this analysis does not take into account the 116 truck stops that have electrification to allow drivers to shut off the engines overnight, which would further improve these fuel savings figures.

Estimated Gallons of Diesel Used by Class 8 Sleeper Cabs for Hoteling: 2013Dave H. APU chart for blog

(Source: Navigant Research)

Certainly from a macro standpoint, it’s hard to argue the benefit of APUs.  Fleets with a large number of trucks are likely to see cost benefits that are compounded over a number of trucks.  The picture is more complicated for truck owner-operators that have to justify the extra upfront cost and calculate the payback on a single unit.  This payback typically ranges between 2 and 4 years depending on the APU selected and the cost of fuel, which makes the owner-operator market seem like a good place for some targeted tax incentives.

 

Criticism of EV Battery Environmental Impacts Misses the Point

— April 2, 2014

The environmental impact of electric vehicles (EVs) remains the subject of debate, with Tesla Motors becoming the latest scapegoat for allegedly contributing to acid rain in China.  Bloomberg News points out that EV batteries require the use of graphite, which is mostly mined and processed in China.  Graphite mining pollutes the air and water and harms agricultural crops.  The average electric car contains about 110 lbs of graphite, and Tesla’s proposed Gigafactory is expected to single-handedly double the demand for graphite in batteries.

While these are valid concerns, they ignore a few larger facts: the oil industry has far greater overall environmental impact; the production of electricity is much cleaner than refining and burning gasoline; and recycling and reuse techniques are revolutionizing the battery industry.  Tesla, meanwhile, has responded to the graphite concerns. The recent 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill reminds us of one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, in which 10.8 million gallons of crude oil was spilled into Prince William Sound, off the coast of Alaska.  Ironically, the congested Houston Ship Channel (one of the world’s busiest waterways) was partially closed over the Valdez anniversary because of a weekend oil spill of nearly 170,000 gallons of tar-like crude.

Compared to Gas

Overall, the equivalent lifecycle environmental impact of electricity is much less harmful than gasoline – assuming it isn’t entirely generated by coal.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a gallon of gasoline produces 8,887 grams (g) of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned in a vehicle.  An equivalent 10 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity emits about 9,750g of CO2 when generated in a coal-fired power plant, 6,000g when generated in a natural gas plant, 900g from a hydroelectric plant, 550g from solar, and 150g each from wind and nuclear.  These figures include the entire lifecycle analysis, including mining, construction, transportation, and the burning of fuel.  Since 63% of the 2012 electricity mix in the United States was derived from non-coal energy sources, it has been estimated that EVs emit about half the amount of carbon pollution per mile as the average conventional vehicle.

At the same time, innovative recycling and reuse techniques are significantly increasing the sustainability of EV batteries.  In the United States and Europe, all automotive batteries are required by law to be recycled.  This has made the lead-acid battery industry one of the most sustainable industries in the world, with nearly 99% recycling rates of all the batteries’ components.  Additionally, the world’s first large-scale power storage system made from reused EV batteries was recently completed in Japan.

Second Lives for Batteries

While these approaches do not fully solve the problems associated with graphite mining, the environmental impact created by the manufacturing, transportation, and disposal of batteries is significantly lowered for each additional cycle a battery supplies.  If battery lifetimes can be doubled, the negative environmental impact is cut in half.  Navigant Research’s report, Second-Life Batteries: From PEVs to Stationary Applications, also points out that a global second-life battery market will create new businesses and jobs in addition to improving sustainability.  The global second-life battery business is expected to be worth near $100 million by 2020.

Even with the negative externalities associated with graphite production, EVs still offer an improved overall environmental picture than traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.  And Tesla, perhaps in response to pollution criticisms, has announced that it will source the raw materials for the proposed Gigafactory exclusively from North American supply chains. Producing graphite in North America is a much cleaner process than in China.

 

Utilities Enter the Era of Distributed Generation

— March 31, 2014

From the “Internet of energy” to the “utility death spiral,” the causes and effects related to the distributed generation (DG) transformation go by many names.  Faced with what is increasingly recognized as DG’s inevitability, utilities and the companies that supply DG technologies are faced with the difficult challenge of defining viable business models in a multi-dimensional technology landscape.

Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu and outspoken NRG CEO David Crane have loudly pointed out the futility of business-as-usual thinking in the face of DG’s advance.  It’s a mistake to think the power sector is oblivious to the changes enveloping it, though: most utilities do not actually have their heads in the sand, as recent headlines suggest.  According to Utility Dive’s 2014 State of the Electric Utility survey, 67% of U.S. utility professionals believe their company should take a direct role in supplying DG to their customers ‑ either by owning and leasing distributed assets or by partnering with established DG companies.  At the same time, key suppliers like GE, recognizing a dawning opportunity, are positioning themselves for growth.

Tip of the Iceberg

Although solar PV has provided a blueprint of sorts, a suite of technologies – collectively called distributed energy resources (DER) – is primed to usher in a reimagining of DG’s value proposition.  Composed of renewable and fossil-based generation, diverse fuel sources like the sun and biogas, power generation and storage assets, and applications from microgrids to combined heat and power (CHP), DG’s multi-dimensionality suggests that existing business models are just scratching the surface.  An estimated 37 million homes in the United States, for example, now have natural gas lines running directly to them, which opens up the possibility of micro-combined heat and power and fuel switching.

For utilities, the challenge is fairly straightforward.  Demand-side generation is leading to death by a thousand cuts, as the cost of maintaining and operating the grid is spread over a gradually declining revenue base due to eroding customer demand.

In its widely-cited Disruptive Challenges report, published in 2013, Edison Electric Institute lists the financial risks created by DG: declining utility revenues, increasing costs, and lower profitability potential.  Simply charging higher rates – one solution offered by the most entrenched utilities – risks accelerating the revenue ”death spiral,” as rising rates make it increasingly attractive to adopt otherwise expensive DG technologies.  Recent experiences across Europe have demonstrated that utilities must adapt (see RWE) or risk obsolescence, at least in the traditional revenue sense.

Transforming is Grand

On the supplier side, companies like GE are positioning for what is an inevitable expansion of DG globally.  The company announced last month the creation of a new business unit called GE Distributed Power, targeting the global distributed power opportunity.  Merging three existing business lines – Aeroderivative Gas Turbines, Jenbacher Gas Engines, and Waukesha Gas Engines – GE will invest $1.4 billion to combine formerly niche generation products into a cohesive distributed power offering.

The move coincides with the publication of a recent white paper, “The Rise of Distributed Power,” in which GE forecasts that distributed power will grow 40% faster than overall global electricity demand between now and 2020.  The trend, according to GE, is nothing short of a “grand transformation.”  The company estimates that globally, about 142 gigawatts (GW) of distributed power capacity was ordered and installed in 2012, compared to 218 GW of central power capacity.

Four key trends are driving the distributed power transformation, according to GE: the expansion of natural gas networks; the rise of transmission infrastructure constraints; the growth of digital technologies; and the need for grid resiliency in the face of natural disasters.  While these trends are playing out in the U.S., GE’s efforts are focused primarily on the fast-growing Asia Pacific market and the expansion of natural gas.

Big in Bangladesh

The momentum behind DG is especially strong in the developing world, where electricity demand outstrips the pace at which centralized power stations and transmission infrastructure can be financed and built.  The IEA estimates that in 2009, 1.3 billion people lacked access to electricity, representing around 20% of the global population.  A significant proportion of this population lives in Asia Pacific.

While the DG era represents a degree of complexity that has yet to be fully grasped, initiatives from both utilities and their suppliers point to increasing acceptance of its inevitability.

 

EVs at Home on the Texas Range

— March 21, 2014

Selling electric vehicles (EVs) in oil-rich Texas is comparable to Nixon going to China, and the effort thus far has had similarly unexpected but successful results.  Cars that do not use gas are proving surprisingly popular in the Lone Star State, and one of the main drivers for EVs has nothing to do with the cars themselves.

Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report estimates that Texas has around 5,000 registered EVs currently and that this number will grow to nearly 100,000 by 2023.  While the well-to-do from Texas’ oil & gas industry can afford the higher price of an EV, the state’s utility structure is playing a major role in supporting EV sales.

As a deregulated state, Texas allows utilities to directly participate in EV charging, which provides a new revenue stream for power distribution companies that, in other states, are focused on reducing load through energy efficiency measures.  Because they can (and because it increases their profits), utilities NRG, Austin Energy, and CPS Energy have all begun installing EV charging stations across the state.  A visible, reliable network of charging stations is essential to increasing consumers’ confidence that they won’t have to worry about getting stranded with a dwindling battery while about town.

Among the Drillers

CPS Energy’s network of charging stations helps to prevent the state from running afoul of federal air quality laws.  NRG’s eVgo network has several subscription options to reduce the cost of home and public charging.  Nissan LEAF drivers in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas also have access to free charging thanks to Nissan, which is subsidizing the NRG eVgo network in an attempt to bolster vehicle sales.   Another EV charging network growing in Texas is Tesla Motors’ SuperCharger network, which encircles the Dallas, Austin, and Houston areas.

Power providers in Texas are also interested in promoting EVs because the vehicles can help offset the variability of the vast wind resources being installed across the state, which will make it one of the largest producers in the world.  Texas’ grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, is working with the Southwest Research Institute to demonstrate using EVs to counterbalance wind energy production in the state.

Austin Energy has made the smart decision to use only renewable energy from wind and solar to power its charging stations.  This negates the argument that EVs merely transfer emissions from the tailpipe to the smokestack of a power plant.  The city of Austin now has nearly 1,000 EVs, according to the Austin American Statesman.

Texas is also under consideration as a location for Tesla Motors’ proposed Gigafactory, which could produce batteries for hundreds of thousands of EVs.  If that happens, we’ll see even more gasless cars roaming between the oil & gas wells in Texas.

 

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