Saturday, November 1, 2008

A look at the Fuel Economy Guide

Do you want to know how to be more fuel efficient? The U.S. government, specifically the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), operates fueleconomy.gov to provide resources that help you choose more wisely and be more fuel efficient.

The top level navigation says a lot about this site:-

  • Find and Compare Cars
  • Gas Mileage Tips
  • Gasoline Prices
  • Your MPG Will Vary
  • Why is Fuel Economy Important?
  • Your MPG
  • Hybrids, Diesels, Alt Fuels, Etc.
  • Tax Incentives
  • Extreme MPG

Clearly this site is focused on "cars".. and cars that burn a 'fuel'. Where are motorcycles (which are known to be more fuel efficient)? Where are electric vehicles? Where is information on mass transit? And what is the point of listing gasoline prices? Okay, gasoline prices are on a lot of peoples minds and perhaps are the driving factor behind a lot of people looking for fuel efficient vehicles.

Why be fuel efficient? Their suggestions are are pretty decent and hits all the right points.

a) Saves You Money: Using a fuel efficient vehicle means using less fuel to accomplish the same travel, which means buying less fuel, which means you spend less money to accomplish your travel. As fuel prices rise the cost is more noticeable than when fuel prices are low.

b) Strengthens National Energy Security: Here the argument is to look at oil production from domestic sources versus imported oil sources. There is a growing gap in the percentage of imported oil. Given the deep addiction the U.S. has to oil, foreign powers have an inordinate power over the financial stability of the U.S. Through controlling the price for oil they can deeply influence the U.S. But the fueleconomy.gov site doesn't describe this issue very clearly, instead they pussyfoot around it.

c) Protects the Environment: Their page on the environment only focuses on climate change. To the extent that burned fossil fuel affects climate change this is accurate, but what of the other negative effects from burning fossil fuels? The production and use of fossil fuels puts other poisonous chemicals into the environment, from well to wheel there are negative effects every step of the way.

d) Conserves Resources: Here's where they could explain more about the reality of available oil, such as the peak oil model. But they do not. They could connect the rising percentage of imported to domestic oil, but they do not.

Their Gas mileage tips are pretty good. Driving more efficiently is possible by keeping speed moderate, don't race around, etc. By keeping your car in shape it can operate more efficiently, such as keeping the tires properly inflated. Making better choices of when and where to drive is a good idea. Choosing a more efficient car will obviously save much more fuel than buying a humongo-SUV.

What they do not mention are non-Car choices. Like walking, mass transit, bicycling, motorcycles, etc. There are plenty of ways to transport your butt around town which do not involve a car and which are more energy efficient. Their focus here is on how to increase fuel efficiency of driving a car, but what about improving overall energy efficiency? To accomplish, for example, a daily commute which is more efficient? Being a solo driver driving a Prius to the office? Or walking to a train station, riding a train to the station near your office, and walking from the train to the office? Or maybe your office is only a couple miles away? Riding a bicycle is perfect for a short trip under five miles, so why not use a bicycle for something utilitarian like the daily commute?

Their Gas prices area offers a good set of statistics and resources to find better gas prices. To focus on gas prices is to miss many of the reasons to be fuel efficient (see the above).

Many factors affect miles/gallon explains various reasons why the efficiency you see with your car may differ from the official measurement. This is pretty good and can give you some ideas for further efficiency improvements.

They have a guide to 'alternative fueled' vehicles that covers hybrid, diesel, flex fuel, electric, fuel cell cars and more. Each of these has a selection guide among models available in the U.S. Well, this is true for those vehicles that are widely sold in the U.S. They do not have a selection guide for electric or fuel cell cars. And again they're ignoring non-Car alternatives.

They have a list of Energy efficient technologies which are aftermarket modifications you can make to a car to make it more efficient. It's useful to see this comparison.

What about the relative efficiency of an electric drive train versus an internal combustion drive train? Electric motors are highly efficient (90%) versus the extremely poor efficiency of internal combustion engines. Why is this information resource focusing on fuel burning cars when it's clear an electric vehicle would be more energy efficient?

Their Fuel economy guide is again focused on "cars" as the solution to transportation need, and specifically fuel burning cars. It is a useful summarization of the information on their site and does give a listing of fuel economy for several classifications of fuel burning cars.

Clearly the fuel economy guide is a useful resource to help you improve efficiency in your fuel burning car. But it does nothing to help you understand the alternatives outside that narrow range of transportation choices.

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