GreenGov
May 7, 2012

Driving change: Turning the wheel on hybrid vehicles

In 2007, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador released the province’s first-ever energy plan, Focusing our Energy. This comprehensive plan laid out the government’s long-term vision to develop the province’s energy warehouse, which includes significant oil, gas, wind and hydro resources, such as the 3000-megawatt Lower Churchill project located in central Labrador.

At its core, the energy plan dedicates the province to long-term environmental leadership and sustainability. A key component of this effort will be ensuring that Newfoundland and Labrador is a highly efficient consumer of energy, an endeavour that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower costs for households and businesses, and help make the province’s significant energy resources go further.

The transportation sector is currently responsible for approximately 40 percent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions and 35 percent of its energy use, and was identified in the energy plan as a priority area to advance energy efficiency. Focusing on the transportation sector has been commonplace for many provinces’ efforts on energy efficiency, but action in Newfoundland and Labrador presents unique challenges that require unique solutions.

The challenges

Newfoundland and Labrador is the most rural province in Canada, with over 50 percent of the population living in rural locations. Further, the province’s largest centres are too small to economically support many forms of mass transit such as commuter rail systems. As a result, energy efficiency in the transportation sector depends largely on thousands of individual decisions concerning vehicle purchases, driving habits and distance traveled.

One promising area to advance energy efficiency is through the use of hybrid vehicles, which offer significant fuel-efficiency benefits over regular vehicles. However, while most carmakers offer a variety of new hybrid models, they still make up a small percentage of total vehicles in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Canada.

The introduction of new technology can take time. Consumers may question the usefulness and reliability of the technology, costs may be initially high, and there may be uncertainties about access and service in all locations, especially in smaller rural locations. However, the government recognizes the opportunities presented by these vehicles and has made a commitment to use its procurement power to help transform the marketplace.

Government action

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has a great demand for transportation, and currently owns a large fleet of passenger vehicles, ferries, airplanes, and heavy trucks and equipment. As a result, it recognizes that it can play a leadership role to advance energy efficiency in the transportation sector and influence consumer decisions.

Capitalizing on this opportunity, in 2007 the government set a target that 25 percent of new car and SUV purchases must be energy-efficient or hybrid vehicles. The government has also committed to extend this target to pickup trucks when the market can support adequate competition.

To date, the government has met and exceeded this commitment. Since April 2008, over 50 percent of new car and SUV purchases for departments have been hybrid vehicles. These vehicles have been placed throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, in both urban and rural locations. While this measure has helped build a more fuel-efficient vehicle fleet, the government is also working to achieve:

1.Competitive, lifecycle-based procurement: The government has been able to meet and exceed its target through a competitive process that is based on the lifecycle fuel-efficiency of vehicles (per 100,000 kilometres) rather than just the upfront capital cost. Through this approach, the merits of fuel-savings presented by hybrid vehicles become ever more apparent. This approach can make financial sense by reducing the government’s operating costs.

2.Market transformation: The wide-scale production and purchase of hybrid vehicles will take time, but the importance of early adopters across markets cannot be understated. Through its purchase of hybrid vehicles, Newfoundland and Labrador is helping to transform local vehicle markets. Service for hybrid vehicles is typically only available in urban locations like St. John’s, but the government hopes that by contributing to the development of a critical mass of vehicles in other parts of the province, car dealerships will eventually have a commercial incentive to provide servicing in other locations.

3.Technology demonstration: The government is helping to showcase this new technology to the general public and those employees who drive the vehicles. The vehicles also provide a very visual means of reminding citizens that the government is leading by example in its own operations.

 

Patrick Griffin is the director of government relations with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading.

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