Cary and Chapel Hill First to Try Idle Reduction Technologies

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 29, 2011

North Carolina municipalities are joining cities and towns across the country in exploring ways to reduce fuel use and harmful emissions that come from idling.

Cary and Chapel Hill will be the first to try idle reduction technologies that will be financed with grant money through an Alternative Fuel/Advanced Vehicle Technology program administered by the North Carolina Solar Center’s Clean Transportation Project. The $500,000 initiative is being funded with American Reinvestment Act money awarded to the N.C. Department of Commerce State Energy Division.

The town of Cary was selected to receive funding to install Energy Xtreme idling reduction systems in three police cars and two utility trucks, according to Emily Barrett, the town’s sustainability manager. “The idea behind that is both an environmental and resource conservation issue,” Barrett said, “because it is typical for police units and utility trucks to leave their vehicles running in order to operate auxiliary equipment.”

Police officers responding to the scene of an accident or crime, for example, may need their lights and radios for safety reasons. “The same with utility trucks,” she said. “When they’re doing maintenance work or working in the medians, they tend to need lights on their trucks … in order to alert drivers.”

The Energy Xtreme battery packs will allow police officers and utility workers in the five vehicles targeted for the project to turn off their engines while continuing to run auxiliary equipment. In addition to cutting fuel costs (an hour of idling burns an average of one gallon of fuel) and reducing the town’s carbon footprint, Barrett said the system is also expected to reduce maintenance costs and lengthen the lives of the vehicles’ engines.

“Something that a lot of people don’t know is that idling is very hard on the engine of a regular, gasoline-powered vehicle,” she said. “It reduces engine life.”

Berrett, who has served as Cary’s sustainability officer since March of last year, said the grant money will be used to purchase the Energy Xtreme units. “We will be installing them ourselves at our own cost,” she said. “They may or may not go onto new vehicles. They will go on Town of Cary fleet vehicles.”

Fuel Consumption from Idling Reduced 87-92 Percent

In Chapel Hill, Havis IdleRight battery voltage sensor systems will be installed in five Crown Victoria vehicles currently in the town’s police department fleet and four new Crown Victorias to be purchased as part of this year’s vehicle replacement plan, according to Sustainability Officer John Richardson. The equipment will monitor the vehicles’ existing batteries so that the engines will only turn on when the voltage is too low to sustain on-board power use. Case studies have shown this technology can reduce fuel consumption from idling by 87 to 92 perce

“What we’re hoping to do is study the fuel reduction capacity of that technology,” Richardson said. “It’s not as sophisticated as some of the other idling technologies out there mainly because it does not run the air conditioning units.” This means that police officers may have to continue idling vehicles on extremely hot or cold days.
Both towns will be reporting cost savings to the North Carolina Solar Center. Richardson, Chapel Hill’s sustainability officer since 2008, said the center usually requests 12 months of actual data and an estimate for 12 additional months. “What I’m curious about is to see which one gets a little more bang for our bucks,” he said, “and I don’t think any of us knows that at this point.”

Chapel Hill has a policy on idling for employees who drive town vehicles as part of its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Richardson said transit bus operators, for example, are instructed to shut down buses if they idle for more than a set number of minutes per stop. The only exception to that, he said, is when there are extreme hot or cold temperatures which would affect the passengers.

“We have a similar policy for our public works department where people are not supposed to idle when they don’t need to,” he said. “In other words, they’re instructed not to use it as a luxury with air conditioners running on a hot day unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Though Cary has not established an official policy, Barrett said town officials have related their expectations for staff to turn off their vehicles and not idle.

As part of the Alternative Fuel/Advanced Vehicle Technology grant awarded to Chapel Hill, the town will receive funding for 50 percent of the incremental cost of four hybrid Ford vehicles.

Barrett said Cary is using money from the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, also funded with stimulus money, to purchase an all-electric Nissan Leaf.

“The town added five alternative fuel vehicles to its fleet in 2010,” she said, “two hybrid Camrys in its police department fleet, a hybrid Camry in the public works and utilities department, a Prius and an Escape in its inspections and permitting department and an all-electric small utility vehicle for the parks, recreation and cultural resources department.”

Barrett said town officials’ intention was to try out the hybrid vehicles to see if they meet operations expectations and to compare costs. “So far, our staff satisfaction has been high,” she said. “They’ve met operations needs and, as far as I’ve heard, their maintenance costs haven’t been very different.”

Again, Barrett said Cary only used the grant money to cover the increased cost for the hybrids in its regular vehicle replacement plan.

Richardson said Chapel Hill is also looking at acquiring all-electric vehicles. “Of course, you’re still using electricity and the source of that power is something to consider,” he said.

The town began looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions in the late 1990s, Richardson said, and has a plan in place to achieve a 60 percent reduction by the year 2050. Neighboring municipalities such as Durham and Raleigh have similar commitments, he said.

Other Grants

Other grants awarded through the Alternative Fuel/Advanced Vehicle Technology project administered by the North Carolina Solar Center’s Clean Transportation Project, will go to:

* Gaston County to convert nine existing Ford E350 vans to operate on propane with refueling infrastructure to be provided by Alliance Autogas;
* East Carolina University Student Transportation Authority to purchase two new transit buses, which will be converted to operate on compressed natural gas with a commitment to add three more new compressed natural gas buses in each of the subsequent three years;
* Greenville Utilities Commission to install a compressed natural gas refueling station to serve the East Carolina University buses;
* Hill Oil Company to install two ethanol dispensers and two biodiesel dispensers at a service station planned for Lexington. The new Sparky’s station will provide biofuel access to the motoring public on Business I-85 and will also be convenient to N.C. Highway Patrol and Forestry Service ethanol flex fuel and diesel vehicles.