The following article is a substantial revision of the popular FSEC Energy Note “Energy Efficient Transportation for Florida.” As the price of oil passed $80 per barrel in late 2005, Danny Parker, a Principal Research Scientist at FSEC, updated his original article for this issue of the Energy Chronicle because of its timeliness and importance to drivers in all parts of the country.
Parker was also recently asked what the effects on U.S. oil imports would be if we all started driving hybrid vehicles. He crunched a few numbers and came up with the feature article Would a U.S. “Prius Lifestyle” Make an Impact on our Oil Imports? Check that story out after you finish this guide to saving money on your transportation expenses.
Energy Choices for the Road
Nearly 30 percent of the energy used in Florida is consumed by our 13 million personal automobiles that use about 7-1/2 billion gallons of gasoline every year. Florida has more registered cars per capita than any other state, with nearly one car for each person.
The average Florida automobile is driven more than 10,000 miles a year, burning about 550 gallons of gasoline and costing its owner about $1,200 in fuel costs alone at today's average prices (not to mention payments, insurance, service, repairs, tires, tags, license, etc.). Based on a comprehensive analysis, total automobile operating costs for the typical car owner average more than $800 per month.
Beyond that is the fact that the more gasoline we use, the more pollution we create. For instance, the average car that travels 10,000 miles produces 650 pounds of carbon monoxide, 105 pounds of hydrocarbons, 50 pounds of nitrogen oxides and 12 pounds of particulates. Besides saving on fuel costs and reducing pollutants, lowering automobile fuel consumption will also reduce our state's dependence on unreliable foreign oil supplies.
So what can you do to save money on your driving costs? Consider the following:
Choose an Efficient Automobile
For most Floridians and people in many other parts of the country — especially where reliable mass transit isn't readily available — a car is essential. Consequently, the most important single decision you can make is to choose a fuel-efficient automobile. Check out the guide at www.fueleconomy.gov to select the most efficient cars produced over the last ten years. New cars are not always more efficient than used ones. The guide gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rated mileage, both for city and highway driving.
Choosing an energy efficient car doesn't mean just buying a small car. For instance, the average fuel economy of a new car sold in the U.S. is now about 22 miles per gallon. However, if you simply bought the most efficient car in the weight class considered, the average fuel economy would immediately rise to 28 mpg.
Note that you also might consider one of the new hybrid electric-gasoline automobiles — particularly if you do a lot of stop-and-go city driving. These include the Toyota Prius (60 mpg city/51 mpg highway), the Honda Civic Hybrid (46/51) and Ford Escape Hybrid SUE (36/31). Not only do these vehicles get substantially better gas mileage, but they also do extremely well with fuel economy in around-town driving.
Avoid fuel thirsty options. These include large SUVs, heavier automobiles, larger engines/higher horsepower ("performance packages") and four-wheel drive.
Follow these suggestions for improving fuel efficiency:
Maintain Your Car
A car in top-running condition will achieve up to 20 percent better gas mileage than one that has not been maintained. Periodic maintenance will improve fuel efficiency and performance.
"High efficiency driving" can substantially improve your gas mileage (see figure above). Tests conducted at FSEC showed mileage improvements of approximately 14 percent by using the following habits versus "average driving habits." The improvement was nearly 21 percent when compared to "bad driving habits," which were defined as consistently driving contrary to the recommendations below:
Reduce Your Use of Auto Air Conditioning
Your car's air conditioning drains your engine's power, particularly in Florida's climate. Each time you avoid using it, you increase your mileage by between 5 to 20 percent, depending on your car and the driving conditions. It has the largest impact on efficiency when you drive around town in stop-and-go traffic. The FSEC test car used 15 percent more fuel with the air conditioner as compared to identical trips completed without its use.
A number of developments will affect the efficiency of transportation in Florida's future. Hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles offer dramatically improved fuel efficiency, particularly in stop-and-go driving. These hybrid vehicles are rapidly growing in popularity, with many new battery technology developments.
Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of research is the use of hydrogen as an automotive fuel. Hydrogen has an extremely high heat content, burns cleanly and has the potential for very low engine emissions. For instance, gasoline engines operate at just below a 40 percent efficiency, whereas similar engines operating on hydrogen would operate at 50 percent or better efficiency. Hydrogen can also be produced directly from water by electrolysis, using solar electricity from photovoltaic cells. FSEC is conducting research on the production, storage and utilization of this promising fuel. While hybrid gasoline electric vehicles (HEVs) occupy the spotlight today in achieving more fuel-efficient options for personal transportation, they likely represent a transition point to the long-term solution — fuel cell automobiles. HEVs still require gasoline or diesel fuel for operation. Hybrid fuel cell vehicles potentially can wean our economy off potentially limited supplies of petroleum fuel. Burning gasoline in millions of automobiles produces massive emissions of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) and other effluents associated with global warming, smog and air pollution. Also, since the United States must import 60 percent of our petroleum products, continued dependence on oil still leaves the U.S. relying on countries in the Middle East and elsewhere with volatile or hostile political conditions.
Within a potential hydrogen economy, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) would utilize compressed hydrogen gas at filling stations around the country. Although the costs of the infrastructure will be very expensive, the potential benefits are equally large. Hydrogen can be produced from water by electricity from wind, solar, nuclear or gas-fired electric generation as well as from natural gas or methane. One analysis which appeared in "Science" magazine shows that hydrogen produced by electricity from wind energy would be comparable in price to current gasoline prices — although reducing the costs of the fuel cells themselves remains a challenging task. Fuel cell powered automobiles are under rapid development now. For instance, a project in California will soon see 35 Toyota Prius models converted to run on hydrogen with fuel cells. Honda also has introduced the first fuel cell-powered automobile in North America — the FCX. Ford, DaimlerChrysler, GM and BMW are also soon to be deploying fuel cell-powered automobiles in the U.S. in the near future.
The trip to work is changing too. Newly available communication equipment can reduce the daily travel to offices. Telecommuting can reduce energy use and air pollution. And as Florida becomes more urbanized, we can expect to see more transit options. Buses, trolleys, monorails and high-speed trains may serve Florida's largest cities.
With adequate planning, Florida's future transportation needs can be met with less waste of our resources. Use the tips presented here to save energy now, and be open-minded to new vehicles, innovative work habits and new transit options. Transportation energy efficiency can keep us moving to a better future for everyone.
"A Guide to Saving Gasoline," Consumer's Research, November, 1990.
D. Parker, "Some Measured Influences on Automobile Gasoline Mileage," Florida Solar Energy Center, FSEC Research Report RR-25, Cocoa, FL, December, 1991.
Bob Rackleff, “The Economic Drag of Florida's Over Reliance on Personal Vehicle Transportation,” National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, March 3, 2000.
U.S. Department of Energy, 1982-1992 Gas Mileage Guides , DOE/CE-0019/10, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of Energy, Fuel Economy Guide, 2005, Washington, D.C. www.fueleconomy.gov .
Alexandra Baker, "Fuel Cell Market Survey: Automotive Hydrogen Infrastructure," Fuel Cell Today, May 25, 2005.
M. Z. Jacobson, W. G. Colella, D. M. Golden, "Cleaning the Air and Improving Health with Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles," Science, June 24, 2005
*At FSEC in the 1990s, we tested many of the tips associated with improving automobile efficiency to verify the savings potential. We used a 1986 Volkswagen GTI, which has an on-board computer, to track instantaneous and trip mileage. This automobile has a nominal EPA mileage rating of 28 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway.