Looking for a smart way to reduce your fuel costs?

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Those tasked with reducing their fleet’s fuel consumption face many technology and training choices and a lot of calculations before they can select solutions that will be cost-effective for them. Recognizing this challenge, Natural Resources Canada developed the Fleet Efficiency Tool (FET  ), an on-line decision-making tool  and resources centre to determine energy savings, create action plans and measure their impact.

   Available free, it is designed to help freight and municipal fleets analyse the relative merits of adopting various fuel-reduction strategies. Fleets supply their actual fleet data and the FET calculator uses average fuel savings obtained from research trials. Possible strategies include fuel-saving technologies such as aerodynamic devices, low rolling resistance tires, driver training and anti-idling programs.

   “You will see a lot of calculators on the market but they give estimated values. We wanted actual values. We gathered everything there is in North America on vehicles to see what we could do with that. We examined all the information available on the market for trailer skirts, etc. Our engineers and economists studied all the research projects and tests results. This is what the calculations are based on,” explains France Pelletier, senior manager, ecoENERGY Effiency for Vehicles, NRCan.

   NRCan also assembled a library of information on fleet efficiency topics to complement the FET calculator. They are divided among three vehicle classes: light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. The many topics include aerodynamics, driver training and behaviour, idling, oils and lubricants, freight logistics and vehicle selection. There are many subtopics and very useful explanations to help readers understand what solutions might be relevant to their situation, because there are few one-size-fits-all solutions.

   There is also a small glossary with definitions for some of the terms found in the FET library.

   Those who want to access the FET website, <fleetefficiencytool.ca>, must first email Bronson Consulting Group, the company that built the calculator and website and populated them for NRCan. Bronson will supply a site user name and password, and for those who want to use the tool, an individual account user name and password.

   To briefly illustrate how the FET works, imagine a fictitious carrier with some in-city delivery trucks and a few long-haul trucks. The carrier wants to reduce his fuel consumption. Using a quick reference guide called the “Place Mat” that takes users through all the steps in the correct sequence, this is roughly what the carrier would do:

   Armed with his user names and passwords, he first enters some truck information into the FET calculator, or he might simply upload the information from his company spreadsheets; e.g., truck model, engine size, fuel type, city and highway kilometres driven and the amount of minutes spent idling per day. The FET calls this step Calculate Baseline.

   After reading up on some of the possible solutions, a good assortment of which is available in the FET’s Resources & Tools section, the carrier uses the calculator to test drive different potential solutions to see what savings each offers. The FET will calculate the energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction based on the truck use data supplied and the relevant research result data stored in the FET. This step is called Calculate Energy Savings.

   Having figured out the best solution for his fleet, say, trailer side skirts for the long-haul trucks to reduce aerodynamic drag, and a battery-powered system to power the city trucks’ on-board systems as a way to reduce the need for idling, the carrier proceeds to the next step, which the FET calls Create Action Plan. It can include timelines, budgets and other information. The carrier can see  totals for his trucks, in terms of overall projected annual savings and GHG reductions – the sum effects of his plan, in other words, should he execute it.

   The last phase is called Measure Actual Impact. Here, after the carrier has taken the plunge and purchased and installed the hardware, the FET tracks current fuel consumption and determines the impact of the fleet efficiency actions the carrier has taken.

   With his well-maintained operations data, our fictitious carrier has it easy. Using the FET on a fleet without neat and tidy data is quite another matter, however, as Allison Ashcroft, senior planner – Environmental Issues, Department of Sustainability, City of Victoria, discovered. But even though the FET required input that she couldn’t provide right away, such as accurate and complete odometer data, she found that the FET helped focus the city’s attention on ways to begin reducing fuel consumption.

   About three years ago Ashcroft began taking steps to report the city’s carbon footprint to the provincial government. Looking at the city’s vehicle fleet, she recalls, “It became apparent that there wasn’t a focus on fuel management. We lacked the systems and tools to gather and analyse our fuel usage.”

   Ashcroft approached NRCan to find out what tools it offered fleet managers to help them reduce fuel consumption. The city began by giving most of its drivers the half-day to attend NRCan’s SmartDriver training program. From this Ashcroft learned that a fleet replacement plan and reducing idling time were the city’s best options.

   Then a dozen city staff received training on the FET during NRCan’s one-day Fuel Management 101 workshop. “We had mechanics, parks people, a financial analyst and end users in the room – people who normally never get together. We dived into what the FET could do. The FET training and the Fuel Management 101 was, for me, a way to get people together to talk about fuel management, fuel efficiency and more,” Ashcroft explains.

   “Right now what the FET shows me is that I don’t have enough good data to put into the FET for it to deliver good information to me. But the FET and the training did highlight that our best strategy is reduce idling and enhance our fleet replacement plan by incorporating better fuel efficiency analyses into our decision-making,” Ashcroft says. “The FET will give us greater impetus to ensure our mileage and fuel consumption data is detailed, compete and accurate, and better analyse the impact of different savings strategies.”

   Although NRCan began developing the FET about five years ago, it is only just coming out of its pilot program phase. It has yet to gain much traction. In an effort to improve the tool, in late July this year NRCan awarded a contract to Project Innovation Transport (PIT), a group of FPInnovations, to find out what potential users think of the tool in its English and French versions.

   “NRCan has asked us to find out what could be done to make the FET more useful to general freight companies and municipal fleets. For example, is anything missing or is it a lack of promotion that explains its lack of acceptance,” says Yves Provencher, director, PIT.

   PIT’s mandate is to contact 200 fleets across Canada and hold workshops to discuss the FET. PIT will hit the road this September and tour the country until September 2014. . Anyone who wants to attend one of these workshops is welcome to contact PIT by sending a note to Frederic.Faulconnier@fpinnovations.ca.

FleetSmart training programs are offered across Canada. Call us at 613-253-1086, or email us at FuelManagement-101@bronson.ca.

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