Energy Audits On the Go
Transportation accounts for 26 percent of Minnesota’s energy consumption. Despite our state’s car-centric development and extreme winters, many of us could change our most energy-intensive transportation habits. ReGo, a mission-driven Twin Cities-based business, recently introduced a Transportation Makeover that determines each client’s transportation costs and environmental impact, and then offers recommendations to reduce them. In this interview, ReGo’s Shay Berkowitz and Garrett Ferderber explain how they help families and businesses understand their contributions to the big picture of transportation in Minnesota.
Anna: Which metrics go into the Transportation Makeover?
Fuel costs and CO2 are the big, concrete measurements, but we also include qualitative measurements in terms where people are driving and what their needs are. A lot of this usage information is anecdotal, unless the client keeps really good records. We have an online survey about the trips that they make, who uses their vehicles, and information about those vehicles.
Many factors inform the environmental impact. We look at emissions besides CO2. A coal power plant produces CO2, but it’s scrubbed and doesn’t affect air quality as much as a small gas engine. We consider product life cycle: electric vehicles produce more CO2 during manufacturing because of batteries, but how much is offset by not burning fuel in operation?
Anna: How do you present the results to your clients?
The first part of our report presents measurements and the customer’s transportation baseline. Graphs and charts to illustrate how many dollars per year they spend on fuel and which areas of transportation - flights or daily commute or long trips - have the most impact. We recognize what clients are already doing: if they’re taking the bus twice a week, we separate that out to show exactly how much CO2 they’re avoiding, and how many fuel and vehicle costs they’re saving.
A lot of times the recommendations are vehicle-centered. We research the best vehicles to meet their needs then do side-by-side comparisons with their current vehicle. We tell them how much they can expect to save annually and how much the initial investment will cost. We do the same with public transportation, biking, reducing flights. The makeover looks at each client’s transportation needs, and suggests technologies and methods to save themselves money while reducing their environmental impact.
Anna: When you say “technologies,” do mean just electric vehicles, or do you include communication technologies?
Both. A lot of it is vehicle technologies, because the industry is transforming rapidly as major manufacturers release electric vehicles. Electric vehicles have been around for a while, but what have been available are neighborhood electric vehicles, so the big changes in that are a focus of what we’re tracking and what people want and want to know about. But the measuring technologies are key, as well as our ability to show clients their usage in different ways.
Communication technologies that can give feedback play an important role, in terms of the clients understanding the environmental impact of their transportation, and how they can reduce it.
Anna: What are a couple examples?
One product we offer for older vehicles is an onboard meter that shows miles per gallon. Those can be plug-in and stand-alone or work with a smartphone to give that instantaneous measure: for these trips, what are you actually getting? Versus an EPA estimate. There are also easy to use tools that measure the recharge energy.
And you can measure how you’re offsetting gasoline with electricity.
Anna: What do you find to be a better selling point - saving money or reducing environmental impact?
It varies. Some of our clients want to do whatever they can to reduce their environmental impact. Others are much more interested in how transportation affects their budget and bottom line. We take a lot of direction from customers’ goals. As a mission-driven company, our goal is to reduce the environmental impact of transportation. But we do realize that people will not adopt new technologies or make changes unless they’re economical.
Anna: What are your most common recommendations? Is it behavioral choices like driving less? Or is it buying a new car?
Each client’s needs are so different, and how they use transportation and their relationship to transportation varies. There can’t be a most common recommendation. Most of our customers support our mission of helping people and the planet while still making a profit. They consider transportation from that perspective: “how can I reduce my impact, if I have to get my kids to sports practice seven times a week? Well, I only take a flight across the country once a year.”
A big impetus for the transportation makeover is making a major transportation change. A client’s current vehicle is getting old, or they're adding a driver to their family, or their fleet is having some vehicles age out. They comes to us: “I’m looking to buy a new vehicle. What should I get?” They bring that expectation, and we take them outside of it and ask, “What are your transportation needs? What do you already have to meet them, and what other transportation resources could help you meet them?”
For example, if a client needs a big vehicle three times a year, does it pay for them to drive a big vehicle every day? Or could they rent a truck three times a year and drive a much more efficient vehicle the rest of the time? Carpooling and car sharing can factor in. People don’t necessarily make those connections or come up with a plan for themselves. So we offer the big picture, looking at those combinations.
Anna: How is the makeover different for a business or a fleet versus an individual?
Individual drivers are all over the map: some track their mileage to the mile, others are totally guessing. We meet them where they’re at and try to talk them through. Rather than asking “what’s your annual mileage,” we help them break it up and get a more accurate measurement going in. A fleet tends to want more in-depth measurements. They have different methods of tracking what they spending and how they use their vehicles. Fleets have more resources at their disposal, so there’s more opportunity to use what they have in optimal configurations. A family might only have one or two vehicles. But fleets also have limitations: it’s hard to tell UPS to take the bus or ride a bike.
Many federal and state agencies are mandated to reduce their carbon footprint. The transportation makeover can identify and quantify how they can meet some of those goals in creative ways by working with their fleet.
Anna: What are the major barriers to implementing electric vehicles in Minnesota? Weather, infrastructure, urban planning, driving habits?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
When people think electric vehicles in Minnesota, the first thing they think of is the snow and winter weather. The temperature presents an engineering challenge, but there are calculations you can do and equipment you can add to deal with it fairly easily.
The big problem that remains is education and people’s willingness to adopt new technology; their preconceptions about new technology. There’s a lot if weird misinformation there is out there. People have a lot of assumptions; they're not getting accurate information in a way that they can absorb. That’s what we’ve found to be one of the biggest challenges to plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles or even just more efficient vehicles.
We can work with the climate and infrastructure that we live in. Many perceived barriers that aren’t really there. You can just plug into your household outlet rather than invest in in a home charge station. The vehicles work in the wintertime, in snow. The range that you drive on a daily basis is much less than you think.
It's all about education; letting people know that it’s possible in Minnesota. 100 percent of people could make a change. 90 percent of people could have access to some kind of electric vehicle technology that would meet their needs. But people think that it won’t work for them.