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Energy Efficiency

Utah Sparks Up Its Streets As American Roadways Go Electric

America is starting to use the nation’s highways and city streets in a whole new way: with electric trucks and buses. The move from diesel to electric is an integral part of the United States’ sustainable future. And it’s not just about how we do business, transport goods, deliver products or even move garbage to landfills. It’s about how we as individuals move around cities and towns as well. Utah is at the forefront of this big transition as numerous municipalities from Salt Lake City to Ogden are making the move to electric public transit and school buses.

This spring, the Salt Lake City School District replaced eight diesel school buses with electric ones thanks to a grant from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality – making the city the first in the state to use the EV buses. The new buses will run in an area of town known for high air pollution levels.

“[These first buses will run where] we’ve got the dirtiest air in the state. So hopefully that’ll help us with that issue. We plan on running these all summer on the summer routes and utilizing the heck out of them,” said Ken Martinez, the School District’s Transportation Fleet Manager.

Though the buses are initially more expensive than their diesel counterparts, they have zero fuel costs and require limited maintenance. In the end, they will not only be more sustainable, but far cheaper than the older models.

Nearby, the Utah Transit Authority and Park City Transit spent $44 million in May on 44 Gillig electric buses. With an option for 95 more buses over the next five years, the city is converting its fleet rapidly. And, further north in Ogden, the state’s first all-electric rapid transit system just broke ground. The $120-million 5.3-mile service project includes free fare for the first three years for all riders. The route will be fully functional by 2023.

Diesel-powered trucks and buses like the ones being replaced in Utah are a significant source of air pollution and carbon emissions across the United States. Three years ago, though they made up only six percent of the vehicles on the road, they contributed 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.  As cities, states, and the federal government ramp up clean air campaigns through stringent emissions regulations – and as the price of oil remains unstable – a huge market for clean alternatives is developing. At the same time, businesses are realizing that the long-haul cost of moving towards electric vehicles is less than maintaining diesel power vehicles. Right now, there are over 14 million large trucks and buses on American roads. Wood Mackenzie predicts a growth rate of over 27 times more electric trucks on the road by 2025. That truck market will explode to $47 million by 2030. Numerous alternative fuel-powered vehicles are vying for the lion’s share, with electric moving to the front of the line. By 2023, there will be nearly 200 zero-emission commercial vehicle models on the road, a figure that will more than double 2019’s numbers.

World markets are a part of the push toward electrification. Global manufacturers are triggering innovative start-ups in the U.S., pushing creativity and innovation at a breakneck speed. The competition is fierce worldwide – conscious countries are moving forward with green initiatives and no one wants to be left behind. Case in point, large truck fleet owners like Amazon, Walmart, Ikea, Anheuser-Busch, and Pepsi are using more and more electric trucks for transport and delivery. In fact, Amazon recently ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans. Programs like the Hewlett Foundation’s Zero Emission Road Freight Strategy are setting an admirable standard. The pace of zero-emission transportation announcements from major truck manufacturers like General Motors, Rivian, Nikola Motors, Volvo, Mack, Peterbilt, and Ford

continues to increase.  The demand for these new electric trucks is also a much-needed economic boon for an industry that took a significant financial hit during the COVID pandemic.Utah is not the only state pushing for more electric vehicles on the road. Fifteen other states recently teamed up in a Medium and Heavy Duty Electric Trucks (MHDET) Task Force. Their goal? At least 30 percent of all MHDETs in their states will be electric by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.

Major metropolitan areas like Houston, Los Angeles, and New York City are currently exploring converting their public transit bus fleet to electric. It’s all tied into the new federal administration push for a green America. Getting diesel-powered buses and trucks off the road will make a huge dent in air pollution and carbon emissions. This is particularly impactful in disadvantaged neighborhoods, often located near interstates and major roadways, which contribute to health problems for those residents. In the end, however, it is great news for us all, making roadways quieter, healthier, and more sustainable.

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