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Is your facility factoring transportation energy into its energy management program?

June 30, 2020
Peter Garforth says it may be challenging to calculate, but you too can build a broader, more accurate view of energy usage.

In most industrial and commercial energy management programs, the priority is on increasing efficiency, and reducing energy costs and climate impacts in stationary facilities – buildings and processes. When transportation energy is included, it is typically limited to the vehicles operated by the company. This narrow view may substantially understate the company’s impacts and opportunities of its transportation energy and emissions footprint.

About the Author: Peter Garforth

The first step is to be clear which company activities use transportation energy, such as the company’s fleet of on-site and other vehicles, which has readily available data in terms of fuel use, cost, and emissions, along with details on vehicle efficiencies, operating hours, and journey distances.

Employees’ daily travel to work locations can also be a major part of a business’ energy and emissions footprint. Some of the energy data for this grouping may be available from travel company contracts and employee travel reports, and some from commuting surveys. It is rare to see this systematically managed with other energy uses.

A company’s vendors, which supply materials or services, or transport goods by rail, road, air, or sea, use energy on the company’s behalf. Interestingly, many of these suppliers may have detailed energy data to share, but this is an area that generally requires some creativity to define and measure.

The company’s actual or prospective customers can incur transportation energy use from something as simple as organizing customer events. Customer training locations and structure will have different transportation impacts.

All these transportation energy uses can be actively managed, and the priority will depend on the potential benefits each could bring. Setting priorities can only be done if the baseline impact is understood. The data for understanding the transportation energy needed to move a single person or load is straightforward: How long is the journey? What kind of vehicle was selected? What kind of drive train does the vehicle have? What is the efficiency of the vehicle?

Estimates for each these grouping can use actual data or sometimes use reasonable assumptions. With the energy user and fuel type, it is a small step to estimate costs and emissions. The scale is often much larger than most companies expect.

As with any energy efficiency plan, the first area to explore is demand management. This will generally entail eliminating or shortening journeys. The coronavirus crisis is showing that a lot of employee, vendor, and customer travel can be eliminated, and still maintain effective work patterns. As routings are better understood, identifying ways to reduce their length can be developed, increasingly facilitated by real-time GPS data. Reorganizing on-site workflow or the siting of a new plant may be influenced by the effect on transportation energy.

Next, the choice of vehicle mode to deliver the individual journey will have significant energy impacts. As an example, 20 employees commuting 10 miles in their own cars use 200 vehicle miles; the same 20 on a bus use only 10 vehicle miles. Creating options for completing some journeys by walking and cycling effectively eliminates energy use.

Whether the chosen mode is driven by diesel, gasoline, electricity, CNG, hydrogen, or some hybrid will be a key element of the transportation energy plan, as well as targeting the efficiency of the drive train used, today and tomorrow.

Few organizations have a clear picture of transportation in energy and emissions plans because, in part, most of these arise from activities that are not under their direct control. Another obvious challenge is gathering credible data to gain a clear baseline understanding and deploying an ongoing system to measure and manage performance.

However, with the trend of successful decarbonization of electricity and thermal processes along with the global proliferation of high-efficiency buildings and manufacturing processes, the spotlight is turning toward transportation efficiency. The fact that this is challenging is not an excuse to ignore it.

Corporate energy managers are used to starting and managing difficult energy efficiency conversations for sustained competitive advantage. It is now, more than ever, time to add transportation to their companies’ plans.

Energy Expert

This article is part of our monthly Energy Expert column. Read more from Peter Garforth.

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