The use of natural gas in truck fleets is on the rise. According to the National Petroleum Council (NPC), under an “aggressive” scenario, they predict that by 2050 natural gas vehicles (NGVs) will capture 50% of the light-duty market, upwards of 35% of the medium-duty truck market, and almost 50% of the heavy-duty truck market.
Some of the fleets taking advantage of growing their natural gas fleet include transit, refuse, airport, and utility/energy fleets.
One such fleet growing its NGV fleet is Piedmont Natural Gas, a business unit of Duke Energy. The company serves about 1 million natural gas customers including homes and businesses in Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The company also sells, installs, and repairs natural gas appliances and equipment and offers repair plans.
Growth of an NGV Fleet
Of the 1,215 vehicles in Piedmont’s fleet, the natural gas company has converted approximately 38% to NGVs since 2009. As of June 2017, it expects that percentage to grow to approximately 42% by the end of the year.
The NGV fleet is predominantly used for customer service-related calls and natural gas pipeline construction and maintenance.
“We have several different models of NGVs in our fleet, with the majority being Ford F-150, F-250, or F-350 trucks. We also have some transit vehicles, such as the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Tahoe, and Ford Transit Connect. We also have been adding CNG dump trucks to our fleet,” said David Nestor, director of CNG for Piedmont Natural Gas.
Piedmont Natural Gas Fleet
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SOURCE: PIEDMONT NATURAL GAS
Piedmont Natural Gas is committed to promoting the use of natural gas vehicles as part of its commitment to sustainable business practices.
“We’ve experienced an approximate 30% growth in CNG from 2015 to 2016, and we expect our CNG business to grow up to another 30% in 2017,” Nestor said.
In 2016, Piedmont and its CNG customers together displaced more than 5 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Challenges to Using CNG
The CNG industry is still relatively new, but as more companies choose to convert their fleets to natural gas vehicles, CNG infrastructure and technology will become more widely available.
CNG’s popularity is increasing as more fleet operators are realizing the benefits of compressed natural gas for transportation. According to NGVAmerica, there are currently more than 165,000 NGVs on U.S. roads and more than 1,640 CNG and 123 LNG stations in the U.S. to serve their fueling needs.
“Piedmont is doing our part to promote this technology by helping to build a network of both public and private refueling infrastructure throughout our service territory,” Nestor said.
Piedmont strategically locates its publicly accessible refueling stations near interstates and along major trucking routes.
“We just opened our 11th station, strategically located near the junction of I-40 and US 321 in Hickory, N.C., and we are continually looking at opportunities to expand our footprint and strengthen the CNG infrastructure at our existing stations,” Nestor added. “Our stations are professionally maintained by experienced Piedmont CNG technicians to ensure reliability for our customers. Our public CNG stations accept all major fleet cards for payment to make it easier for our customers.”
Piedmont is also building stations with larger horsepower compressors to accommodate the larger truck tank package and to also reduce the amount of time required to fill the tanks.
Tips from the Field
Piedmont’s experience in growing a natural gas fleet has been positive, with continued growth on the horizon. For fleets looking to start a conversion, or convert even more vehicles to natural gas, Nestor had some advice.
“Businesses that are considering alternative-fuel sources as part of their sustainability initiatives should consider natural gas. NGVs produce significantly fewer emissions when compared to gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles,” Nestor said.
In addition, Nestor said the largest growth opportunity is in fleet operators who operate heavy-duty trucks. Furthermore, fleets that run regular routes and return to a fixed refueling base, such as delivery vehicles and refuse trucks, can benefit from using CNG.
National and regional fleets can use the CNG station locator on the Department of Energy’s website (www.afdc.energy.gov) to explore more strategic transportation routes that can help a fleet owner increase their CNG utilization.
One major recommendation Nestor had for fleets looking to grow the number of NGVs in use is to have vendors in place to help configure the vehicle correctly for its application.
“In addition, have access to maintenance providers who have facilities set up to work on natural gas vehicles with trained technicians,” Nestor said.
Also, don’t forget to contact your local Clean Cities coalition for networking opportunities and additional assistance.