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Be Prepared with Alternative Fuels

Sept. 26, 2014

A close-up photo of a compressed natural gas truck with a white Clean Cities sticker refueling at a CNG station.

Find out how states are beginning to incorporate alternative fuels into energy assurance strategies to protect and improve the resiliency of infrastructure in the face of disasters.

As September is National Preparedness Month, it's a great time to prepare for the worst situation, even if you're hoping for the best. In addition to stocking up on emergency supplies like food and water, every preparedness plan, whether for a government agency or an individual family, should also consider transportation. As emergencies can limit supplies like gasoline and diesel, alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles can play a major role in disaster response and recovery.

Superstorm Sandy was one of the most destructive storms in recent history, causing more than $50 billion in damages. Fortunately, local businesses and governments had alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles that could help minimize the danger and help with the clean up afterwards. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, a fleet of nearly 200 compressed natural gas (CNG) minibuses shuttled elderly and disabled residents to safety, transported patients to clinics, and delivered emergency goods. In Long Island, New York, fuel shortages delayed diesel vehicles that the community needed to clear roads and property of debris. Fortunately, the Town of Oyster Bay had a CNG station with a back-up generator, allowing their 54 CNG refuse trucks to start the clean-up process right away. In Connecticut, the Town of Fairfield accelerated the restoration of power and other public services by opening their CNG station to other fleets, including the Town of Bridgeport and AT&T. Advanced technology vehicles even came from outside of the region to help the effort. New Richmond Utilities, based in Wisconsin, sent a hybrid electric bucket truck to restore power to the nearly five million residents without it. Because the truck does not need to idle while workers carry out repairs, the hybrid system minimized the amount of fuel needed. All of these vehicles and stations were supported through the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities program via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Having learned from these examples, many states are now incorporating alternative fuels into their energy assurance strategies. These strategies help states protect and improve the resiliency of the energy sector—including electricity, oil, and natural gas infrastructure—in the face of manmade and natural disasters.

The Clean Cities program is working on both the national and local levels to support states in these efforts. This past summer, the National Association of State Energy Officials co-hosted a webinar with Clean Cities about integrating alternative fuel vehicles into energy assurance planning. As a result of collaborating with their respective local coalitions, both Arizona and New Mexico now include information about alternative fuels in their state energy assurance plans. To build on these efforts, the most recent Clean Cities' funding opportunity includes help for cities, regions, and states to incorporate alternative fuels into emergency management planning.

Even individuals can consider alternative forms of transportation in their own personal plans. Hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles use less fuel than conventional cars and flexible-fuel vehicles can use E85 if gasoline supplies are tight. And of course, walking and biking do not require any fuel at all. In the future, vehicle-to-building technology may even allow plug-in electric vehicles to supply back-up power to your home during power outages.

From refuse trucks to family sedans, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles can help us minimize risk and recover as quickly as possible from the worst disasters.

  • Shannon Brescher Shea, U.S. Department of Energy
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  • For more information:
  • Clean Cities Technical Response Service Team
  • technicalresponse@icfi.com
  • 800-254-6735
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