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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Federal Fleet Electrification: Improving Mission Execution, Cost, Resilience, and Security

Electrifying federal vehicle fleets presents significant opportunities to increase federal agencies’ resilience to climate-fueled extreme weather and preserve their capacity to execute their missions – while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improving operational efficiency, and shifting demand from foreign oil regimes to domestic energy companies. 

To make these goals a reality, the White House set an ambitious goal with its Executive Order requiring 100% electric vehicle (EV) acquisitions by 2035, including 100% light-duty acquisitions by 2027. Even earlier, in 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) adopted a Climate Action Plan that includes fleet electrification as a key step to increase the agency’s sustainability and resilience. 

DHS has been one of the most proactive federal agencies pursuing fleet electrification.  

In September 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) became the first federal agency to debut a battery electric vehicle (EV) fitted for law enforcement functions. The Ford Mustang Mach-E is the first of a variety of EVs DHS plans to field across its varied law enforcement missions. While there are many logistical and operational challenges ahead of federal fleet managers and government agencies as they electrify, a proactive “learn-as-you-go” approach like DHS’s is the best way to maximize the operational, financial, resilience, and security opportunities presented by fleet electrification. 

Key Benefits

The operational savings from making the move to electric fleets are beyond significant. In fact, a recent study from the ICF Climate Center revealed that electrifying the entire federal fleet could save the federal government $6 billion over 15 years. To reach these findings, our team at the ICF Climate Center developed original modeling based on years of experience working with fleets across the country to electrify, as well as our recent work helping to electrify the U.S. Postal Service fleet. 

In addition, the positive environmental and public health impacts feel like icing on the cake. By switching the federal fleet to EVs, federal agencies could avoid nearly 1.7 million metric tons of GHG emissions yearly. To put it into perspective, it would cost more than $600 million to purchase carbon credits that represent the same amount of GHG reductions.

Outside of financial savings and environmental benefits, there are powerful arguments for fleet electrification from health, economic, and security perspectives. Shifting our federal fleet from petroleum to electric fuel reduces our reliance on foreign oil, decreases global demand for petroleum, and drains revenue for some of America’s key overseas rivals, all while supporting our own domestic energy production. There’s also the potential for additional social cost savings of $1.2 billion for avoiding crop damage, flood risks, increased heating and cooling costs, and adverse health impacts associated with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

A Phased Approach to Fleet Electrification

But all these benefits require careful planning and strategy from federal agencies and fleet managers, especially considering that EVs generally require a higher upfront investment than ICE vehicles. This is where taking a phased approach to electrification will serve federal fleets well.

In a phased approach, federal fleet managers are likely to first convert their high-mileage vehicles with predictable usage and routes. That way, they can use them as a jumping-off point and reap the benefits of electrification while still learning about their specific requirements and how to use the technology effectively.

After this first round of electrification, fleet managers will better understand how their teams interact with the EVs. They can then make any adjustments needed for future EV acquisitions. On top of this learning, there’s also the potential for greater economic benefits by taking a phased approach. As new EV technology is developed and introduced to the market, federal fleet managers will have access to more options and be able to choose the vehicle that’s the best fit for their fleets – both from a technical and financial perspective.

Taking EV fleet adoption one step at a time allows federal fleet managers to make the most out of current benefits while leaving room for more benefits in the future – the best of both worlds.

Security Considerations

While there are numerous reasons for federal fleets to begin their electrification journeys, maintaining operational security is a priority during the transition. Our federal fleet includes vehicles that patrol our borders, defend our country, manage our natural resources, and, of course, deliver our mail. 

The biggest security consideration is the impact of extreme weather on electrification, but with careful planning and the adoption of appropriate technologies, these risks are greatly mitigated.

To plan for an event like a weather-induced power outage that could impact EV charging, federal agencies need to implement distributed energy resources (DER) like solar and battery storage to create a more resilient fleet and offer alternatives in the case of an emergency. In addition, there are ways that EVs can start to act as a solution during extreme weather events. For example, EVs with bi-directional charging capabilities can be deployed to power buildings during outages, making the most out of the electric fleet.

Another major challenge of extreme weather is the impact on power sources. This is where careful planning and siting of EV charging infrastructure comes into play. When building an electric fleet, carefully siting where the infrastructure will be most secure and resilient will help it weather the storm. Climate vulnerability assessments and resilience planning can identify areas and assets most at risk from flooding or wildfires, and minimize charging infrastructure’s exposure to climate-fueled risks. 

As federal agencies switch to electric fleets, they can look forward to the environmental and financial benefits of electrification, and by taking a phased approach to the entire process, they can ensure that fleets are resilient and prepared for the future. Through careful planning, research, and infrastructure siting, federal fleet managers will enter electrification with the necessary tools to face any challenges that extreme weather may bring.

For further insight into the economic and environmental benefits of electrifying the entire federal fleet, read the ICF Climate Center’s “Electrifying the federal fleet could save $6 billion” report.

Scott Walsh
Scott Walsh
Scott Walsh has over 25 years of experience advising companies, governments, and nonprofits to improve strategy, operations, finance, and sustainability. At ICF, Scott leads teams to develop electric vehicle readiness plans for state, local, regional, and federal agencies, including policy analysis, demand forecasting, electrification planning, financial modeling, and infrastructure optimization. Scott’s prior experience also includes projects addressing sustainable agriculture, conservation finance, and environmental policy.

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