Two-and-a-half years ago I first started to realize the tremendous potential of natural gas vehicles (NGVs). I got a job at a one of the largest natural gas producers in the United States and quickly saw how the fuel was transforming our economy and drastically reducing our emissions. We heat our homes with natural gas and cook our food with it too. Across the country, coal-fired power plants are making the switch. Across the globe, millions of NGVs are on the road, but in the United States, where we have 100-year supply of the fuel below our feet, there are only around 200,000 NGVs on the road. Our mission is to change this.
As a newly minted advocate, it was time for me to walk the walk. So just over a year ago, I converted a 2011 Chevy Tahoe to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). It’s a bi-fuel commuter truck that has an 8 GGE (gasoline gallon equivalent) CNG tank and the 26-gallon gasoline tank that comes standard. It was converted in Okarche, Oklahoma, at a cost of around $9,000. This isn’t including state-incentives that would be available to many of you. To learn more about converting your vehicle, click here.
CNG is significantly cheaper than gasoline, but there is a conversion cost associated with it. Because of this, we primarily see it being used by fleets — those who put heavy miles on a vehicle and can therefore see a quicker payback (click here to calculate your payback period). Still, I wanted to see how much I saved over the last 12 months.
I drove 20,816 miles, with an average MPG of 15.68. I used 799 GGE of CNG and 528 gallons of gasoline. I was able to drive 60% of the time on natural gas. In Oklahoma, a state that boasts nearly 70 public stations, finding fuel was never a problem. In other parts of the country, driving an NGV takes some planning. As I traveled to places like Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Texas, I sometimes had to tailor my route in order to fill up with CNG. It was a slight inconvenience, but one that I thought was worth it for the opportunity to get a 50% discount on fuel.
The average price I paid for CNG was $1.74. For unleaded, it was $3.43. I saved $1.69 on every gallon — that’s a total savings of about $1,350. If I had driven entirely on CNG, I would have saved more than $2,200. That would put me at a four-year payback for the conversion. After that, I would cut my fuel cost in half for the remaining life of the vehicle. Not too shabby.
Environmentally, CNG reduces my emissions drastically: CO2 is cut by up to 30%, CO by up to 75%, NOx by around 50% and particle matter by as much as 95%. By driving my natural gas Tahoe, I’m actually reducing my impact on the environment and I’m doing so without being captive to OPEC oil. Win-win!
Some of you might read this and think that it all sounds great, but that the payback period isn’t reasonable. That’s a valid concern, but if we’re ever going to break free from OPEC oil and become an energy-independent country, we need early adopters, energy patriots and strong advocates. We need you to convert your vehicle if it’s economically feasible — and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you can’t afford to convert your current vehicle, write to your favorite auto manufacturers and their local dealers and demand that they build factory-finished cars and trucks that can run on CNG. That will bring the price down and make it possible for your next vehicle to be an NGV.
If you’re really on a roll, why not contact your elected officials and encourage them to save tax dollars and support the local build-out of CNG fueling infrastructure by moving government fleets to run on a cheaper and cleaner American fuel — natural gas?
CNG is a viable solution to our energy crisis, and people need to know about it. Get involved by signing up for CNGnow. If you’ve already made the switch, tell us about your experience in the comment section below.