Remember way back when alternative fuel for the US Department of Defense meant biofuel? What about compressed natural gas, how’s that going? Well, it’s going for now, but the future of military mobility is looking more and more electric. A new report produced through the US Department of Energy suggests that the Army is primed and ready to lead the way into the electric vehicle future — just as soon as they get those charging stations installed, that is.
US Army Hearts Electric Vehicles…
The new report comes under the somewhat meaty title, “Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment — Tiger Team Site Assessment Findings from Army Facilities.”
The report does not necessarily represent official Energy Department policy, as noted in a disclaimer. On the other hand it was produced by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory under the direction of the US Army, which also funded the project, so there’s that.
The Army is in the process of purchasing more electric vehicles, and the new report is intended to identify cost-effective pathways for ensuring that sufficient charging infrastructure (aka EVSE or electric vehicle supply equipment in Army parlance) is in place when the new vehicles arrive.
…Despite EO 13834
Why does the Army prefer to say EVSE instead of charging stations? Who knows! If you know, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Meanwhile, the real question is why the Army is still buying electric vehicles. Last year President* Trump revoked a 2015 Obama-era executive order (#13693, for those of you keeping score at home) that set aggressive targets for switching to EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles.
Is nobody paying attention?
Well, yes and no. The Department of Defense was already pursuing electric vehicle technology before President Obama laid down the 2015 order, along with related technologies like autonomous vehicles and microgrids powered by renewable energy.
The key point is that the Trump order did not — and legally, could not — nullify the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which provided the basis for the Obama order.
The affected agencies are still required to meet the law. Instead of laying out specific targets, though, the new EO only requires that agencies meet their obligations “in a manner that increases efficiency, optimizes performance, eliminates unnecessary use of resources, and protects the environment.”
Yes, More Electric Vehicles For US Army
If part of the intention of EO 13834 was to shield biofuel stakeholders (aka American farmers) and natural gas stakeholders from the EV revolution, it’s pretty clear where the strategy falls short.
EO 13834 leaves a lot open to interpretation. Back in the day it would have left plenty of wiggle room for biofuels and compressed natural gas, too.
However, that was then. Today’s technology landscape is different. EV tech is improving rapidly, battery costs are dropping, and maintenance costs for EVs are lower. In addition, the falling cost of renewable energy provides opportunities to reduce or offset the cost of electricity for refueling EVs.
The Army Turns An EV Trickle Into A Flood
The new report summarizes results from 30 Army sites examined by the Tiger Team (aka teams of engineers and other specialists) between 2016 and this year. They conclude that an additional 252 EVSE need to be installed across those sites in order to support pending fleet acquisitions totaling 236 electric vehicles over the next three to five years.
In addition to the 236 fleet vehicles, the new EVSE will need to accommodate charging for charging privately owned vehicles and other vehicles at Army facilities, which accounts for why they recommend more charging stations than fleet vehicles.
The new fleet vehicles alone will make a significant difference. Once on board, they will account for 17% of sedans and station wagons at the participating sites.
As for the whole rest of the Army, the plan is to focus on those selected sites, to refine EVSE installation strategies and develop best practices. Those sites can then act as mentors and ambassadors for others — many others, if all goes according to plan.
The authors note that overall the anticipated EV acquisitions will account for 3% of the light duty fleet at participating sites, which suggests “a sizeable impact as well as opportunities for continued expansion.”
What About Biofuel & Natural Gas?
That’s just the near-term plan. The report notes that NREL also provided “lessons that will assist with a longer-term, large-scale transition to EVs,” the ultimate goal being to “improve fleet efficiency and help reduce petroleum consumption, fueling costs, and vehicle maintenance.”
They mean biofuel as well as fossil fuel, and that does not bode well for fuel crop farmers in the US. The new report notes that the biofuel-to-EV trend is already under way in government fleets:
“As the U.S. Army and other federal agencies strive to comply with EPAct 1992 requirements, many are transitioning to EVs from a heavier focus on biofuels, including ethanol flex-fuel vehicles.”
As for compressed natural gas, the report notes that the Army is looking at CNG to service locations with a high proportion of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. However, apparently those plans are up in the air.
The report notes that “because the Army may only install one or two CNG stations in the near future and CNG stations are much more expensive than EVSE, NREL recommends consulting with experts before developing CNG installation plans.”
That thing about “more expensive” is a key factor weighing in against CNG. Space is another consideration. As the report notes, electric vehicle charging stations (okay, so EVSE) take up a lot less space than CNG or liquid fuel stations.
Wait, What About Hydrogen Fuel Cell EVs?
Last year the Army and the Energy Department entered into an agreement to develop fuel cells and HFCEVs for military and civilian use. That probably means you’ll be seeing more HCFEVs at Army facilities in the coming years, but not necessarily in competition with battery electric vehicles.
The Army is planning to replace light duty biofuel vehicles with battery electric vehicles at a fairly rapid pace in the coming years. HCFEVs could replace natural gas in other vehicles, particularly tactical vehicles in addition to medium and heavy duty vehicles.
Meanwhile CleanTechnica is reaching out to NREL for its thoughts on hydrogen fueling stations at Army facilities, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Image (screenshot): Potential for new EV charging stations at Army facility (page 25 of report).
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