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OPINION

Why Not NGVs?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

This column is co-authored by Timothy Nash and Josh Antonini, a McNair Center researcher; Tom Rastin, a retired energy executive; and Dan DeVos, chairman and CEO of the Orlando Magic and Fox Motors.

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Make no mistake, the U.S. is in the throes of a policy-induced energy crisis. In an unprecedented move to combat increasing demand, some State governments are asking citizens to keep thermostats to approved temperatures so as to avoid rolling blackouts. Some utilities are simply shutting off power with little to no warning “to avoid a system-wide blackout.” 

Our electric grid is now quite fragile. That makes the recent push for EVs and net zero an even more wildly unrealistic net zero energy transition. 

Foreshadowing an EPIC Problem

EVs are already a strain on the grid with 2,000,000 units on the road out of 284 million total vehicles in operation – or less than .8%; look no further than California, a state that has paradoxically both mandated only new EVs be sold as of 2035 while severely restricting drivers from charging them. The government of Switzerland has plans to limit the driving and charging of EVs “to essential trips only,” in the event of a worsening energy crisis.

EVs in the heavy-duty transportation sector are already showing signs of future problems. New York City’s Sanitation Commission found that its electric trucks “could not plow the snow effectively - they basically conked out after four hours. We need them to go 12 hours.” Furthermore, a 2022 study found that EV trucks will need enough energy to power a small town. Trying to add tens of millions of EVs to electrical grids while decreasing electrical supply is a recipe for disaster.

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However, so long as the political zeitgeist is tunnel-visioned on their crazed dash to net-zero carbon emissions, there needs to be a reasonable alternative to EVs that achieves lower emissions without crashing an already-challenged electric grid.

That alternative is natural gas vehicles, or NGVs. NGVs include compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) powered vehicles (though CNG vehicles have taken off more than LNG vehicles have).

NGVs offer impressive emissions savings, with around an 80% reduction in carbon monoxide, up to a 95% reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx), and up to a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions. They also emit “virtually no particulate matter.”

Fossil Fuels Continue to Be the Leading Source of Power

Important to the discussion between NGVs and EVs is the reality that, by their very nature, electric vehicles run on batteries: batteries that are powered by utilities that largely rely on coal or even natural gas. Given that it is not possible to run our electric grid on majority wind and solar energy and that nuclear power is nigh-criminalized under the current American regulatory structure, EVs and lowered carbon emissions are incompatible. As energy expert Alex Epstein points out, “the Tesla is a coal car.”

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Further in NGVs favor, they run on a resource that is utterly abundant in the U.S. and supports a "sizeable chunk" of GDP. According to a report from the American Petroleum Institute (API), the “estimated resource [of U.S. natural gas] is equivalent of up to 150 years of current production.” Natural gas is also significantly important to the American economy; a 2019 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analysis commissioned by API found that the oil and natural gas industry supported over 11.3 million jobs, or 5.6% of total U.S. employment, as well as produced almost $1.7 trillion, accounting for almost 8% of total U.S. GDP.

Natural Gas is a Wellspring for the United States

In comparison to EVs, whose batteries require complex (and ever more costly) supply chains that are heavily dependent on materials and labor from the Congo and China, natural gas is a wellspring for the United States.

If one is concerned about energy independence for the purposes of national security, EVs (and especially the solar and wind power that’s supposed to keep EVs carbon negative) lose to NGVs every time.

As far as a policy-induced energy transition is concerned, shifting towards NGVs is significantly more realistic than EVs, since existing gasoline or diesel vehicles can be “economically, safely, and reliably” retrofitted into NGVs. No need for all consumers to be required to buy a brand new EV.

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However, if NGVs are so great, why haven’t they taken off?

In some sectors and places, they have! 

The heavy-duty transportation sector has seen a large increase in usage of NGV trucks in recent years; runaway diesel costs have made CNG trucks more economical by up to $20,000 annually per truck, as natural gas’ prices are lower and less volatile than that of petroleum and diesel. 

The American transit bus fleet is comprised of around 30% NGVs as well, totaling over 20,000 buses in American cities. In addition, about 35% of new transit buses are NGVs.

Overcoming Politics

While the U.S. market for NGVs hovers around 175,000 vehicles, there are roughly 23 million worldwide. Keep in mind, there are only 600,000 EVs on the road in the U.S. in comparison despite robust EV marketing efforts and tax breaks, so that gap can be erased quickly if NGV policies and resources are so prioritized.

China boasts the use of over 10 million CNG vehicles and is expected to have hit 20,000 fuel stations by 2025. Iran has approximately 5 million NGVs (saving the country over $37 billion over 12 years compared to gasoline). 

When it comes to NGVs, the technology is understood and proven, its fuel is abundant and domestic, and its emissions are low. Further, according to the Federal Transit Administration, data collected over time has demonstrated natural gas vehicles to be safer than those powered by gasoline. Ultimately, if energy policy is going to push for vehicles powered by an alternative to gasoline, we contend NGV’s should be given equal consideration alongside EV’s and let the market decide.   

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Dr. Timothy G. Nash is director of the McNair Center at Northwood University, Mr. Josh Antonini is a research scholar at the McNair Center, Dr. Daniel DeVos is chairman and CEO of the Orlando Magic and Fox Motors, and Dr. Thomas Rastin is a retired energy executive.

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