Clean energy gets the green light: exploring the push for alternative fuels

There has never been a more relevant time to discuss the shift toward sustainable fuel sources for cars and trucks, with carbon emissions and air pollution on the rise, and political tensions causing an unprecedented spike in petroleum fuel prices. Many countries around the globe, including the United States, have made commitments to decrease their carbon footprint and shift toward alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs). With this comes impending changes for both consumers and businesses who currently rely on traditional, petroleum-based vehicles.

In this article, we'll discuss what this shift might look like for both consumers and commercial fleets.

What's behind the movement?
While the technology for electric vehicles has been around for quite some time, around 90% of energy needed for transportation in the United States still comes from petroleum. As we have seen in recent months, this means continued carbon emissions and subsequent global warming, as well as air quality problems and a reliance on foreign oil sources. This last point has become a source of major contention in the United States in recent months, with fuel prices surging beyond six dollars per gallon in certain areas.

Alternative fuel sources, which include electricity, hydrogen, natural gas, and certain biofuels, can help decrease carbon emissions and rectify some of the other issues with petroleum fuel. For this reason, many European countries have already made commitments toward stricter carbon emission standards and incentives for adopting vehicles that use alternative fuel sources. North America more recently followed suit, with enactment of formal legislation at the federal and state (or province) level intended to encourage consumers and businesses to adopt green energy.

What does this mean for consumers?
The answer to this question is, it depends heavily on geographic location. There are a number of factors governments must consider when gauging readiness for a mass shift toward alternative fuels, including whether the infrastructure exists to support such a significant change. In the United States, Washington state recently emerged at the forefront of the AFV movement, with a commitment to phase out sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2030; California made a similar proclamation, however plans to do so by 2035.

While recently issued mandates toward AFVs may feel confusing or stressful for consumers, especially those raising questions of affordability and functionality, government agencies are offering guidance, for example locations of charging stations, in addition to longer-standing incentive programs intended to help people make the shift toward AFVs.

Currently, 45 states (as well as the District of Columbia) offer such incentives, as detailed by this helpful interactive guide from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Incentives range from sales and use tax exemptions from the purchase of electric vehicles, to special electric rates for charging at off-peak hours, and even high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane exemptions.

What does this mean for government and commercial fleets?
Alternative fuel utilization and energy independence have been on the federal agenda for longer than many people might expect. In the United States, the first legislation regarding these topics surfaced in the early 1990s, with the Energy Policy Act of 1992. This act set the stage for adoption of AFVs into fleets at both the federal and state level. The legislation has been updated since that time, but there remains a consistent focus on supporting American energy independence and clean energy for various modalities of surface transportation.

Many state governments have already begun adopting electric vehicles as part of an overall shift toward reducing their carbon footprint and encouraging energy independence. This has been driven, in part, by federal mandates regarding petroleum usage and carbon output.

When it comes to assessing the impact of these measures, the numbers are staggering. A retrospective study conducted by Washington state, for example, estimated that integration of electric vehicles into their vehicle fleet led to a savings of 91,989.96 gallons of fuel and an overall CO2 reduction of 816.87 metric tons in 2017.

Federal governments are also extending incentives to businesses willing to make an effort to reduce carbon emissions. In the United States, examples of incentives include tax exemptions for the use of alternative fuels (for example, in delivery trucks and other commercial vehicles) as well as installation of onboard idle-reduction devices in heavy duty vehicles.

There are changes ahead for both consumers and commercial fleets, as states and countries shift toward alternative fuel vehicles. With this in mind, it is important for individuals as well as businesses to consider when, and how, they might best begin the transition to more sustainable driving behaviors and fuel sources.

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