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Agencies Could Play a Critical Role in Modernizing Transportation, Cutting Carbon Emissions

President Biden’s mandate for “lean and zero-emissions vehicles” in government fleets creates an important opportunity.

The electrification of transportation has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Recognizing this, President Biden issued an executive order on January 27 that mandates “lean and zero-emission vehicles for federal, state, local, and tribal government fleets” as part of a larger strategy to tackle global climate change. The mandate codifies the direction toward which many federal agency fleet managers have already been working.

Fleets are a powerful lever for reducing global carbon emissions. Electrification can also lead to lower operation and maintenance costs, decreased reliance on fossil fuels, greater vehicle flexibility, and an opportunity to increase environmental justice and preserve and create American jobs, including union jobs highlighted in the executive order.

As federal fleet managers respond to this, there are numerous considerations for updating or creating a fleet transformation strategy:

  • By 2025, there will be over 100 electric vehicle (EV) models available across all duty classes. This will provide new zero emissions options for organizations to consider as they look to modernize their existing fleets. With increased model availability comes the opportunity to better match EV options with the specific needs of an agency.
  • The evolution and buildout of charging infrastructure varies by region, as does the ability of the electric grid to handle increased load. Meeting future needs will require in-depth knowledge of utilities and grid operations, charging infrastructure (current and planned), and informed modeling of scenarios. Several agencies, including the Energy and Transportation departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Patent and Trademark Office, and others, already provide charging stations at select locations for fleet vehicles and the privately owned EVs of employees. Additionally, legislation from 2015’s FAST Act, or Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, authorized any federal agency to install charging infrastructure where the parking facilities are owned by the government. The federal government is moving aggressively to understand the impact on federal buildings and facilities, the interplay of these facilities with the electric grid, and alternatives for renewable energy capture and storage.
  • An important factor for success will be stakeholder education. While mandates can drive more aggressive conversion to zero emissions vehicles, employee users, fleet managers, procurement, engineering and facilities managers can slow progress if they are not involved in the transformation. Careful attention to users’ needs, attitudes, and motivations is critical. Involving and educating stakeholders will increase the likelihood of widespread acceptance and success of an electrification initiative.
  • Agencies will have to consider grid resiliency. The grid’s resiliency, nationally, is generally increasing due to diversified generation sources and technology improvements. EVs can add to this resiliency by functioning as a mobile resource. The battery capacity of an average EV today will power a typical home for three days; larger vehicles like buses can power larger structures for longer periods of time. By deploying capabilities such as bidirectional power flow (vehicle-to-grid integration, or V2G), EVs can increase grid resilience.
  • Finally, financing is of critical importance. While there are significant savings in the total cost of operation of converted fleets, agencies must identify funding and the ability to access financing from public-private partnerships to achieve zero emissions fleet goals. The current price of an EV is significant; this premium, however, is expected to disappear within a few years as battery costs decrease.

Agencies revamping their fleet decarbonization strategies will need to consider a combination of disciplines: fleet electrification, utility and grid operations, infrastructure, fleet management, strategy and strong program management. Agencies can build off of the “Framework for Identifying Optimal Electric Vehicle Strategies” in the Federal Energy Management Program’s recent Core Principles in Sustainable Fleet Management. To create a strategy, they should engage stakeholders, define desired performance outcomes in detail, and create the comprehensive models to show funding requirements, timing of resource investment, returns and operations costs in various scenarios. Strategies should project vehicle adoption and charging needs. After gathering and analyzing the information, a sound strategy should include:

  • Prioritized plans, to include pilot regions or programs, along with rationale for the priorities
  • Resource requirements and timing of investments
  • Anticipated job creation, preservation, and redefinition
  • Benefits and considerations of the impacts to underserved communities
  • Performance metrics and anticipated targets to include evaluation, measurement, & verification (EM&V) of emission reduction and fleet performance, energy usage, vehicle mileage, costs, job creation

By embracing new approaches to fleet management and the shift to electrified and net zero transportation, federal agencies have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to U.S. carbon reduction efforts. Agencies have an opportunity to lead by example and further unlock the power of electrification to build more efficient and sustainable fleets.

Karen Wilson is a partner with consulting firm Guidehouse, where she leads the company’s public sector work within its Energy, Sustainability, and Infrastructure segment. Wilson helps clients manage risk and increase resiliency, including the Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce and Energy departments, NASA, and the General Services Administration.

Ajay Chawan is an associate director in Guidehouse’s Energy, Sustainability, and Infrastructure segment, helping clients shape strategies for future mobility options made possible through the development of autonomous, connected, electric, and shared technologies. Ajay has worked with clients from the automotive, charging infrastructure, software, and electric utility industries to help them navigate the transition to electric transportation. ​