There are two Federal agencies that we would hope are working hard to pioneer use of renewable energy technologies: the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DOD). While the DOE and DOD have failed for years to produce a clear clean-energy mandate, another Federal organization has quietly made pioneering forays into advanced renewable technologies for energy generation and transportation: the United States Postal Service (USPS).
That’s right, the Post Office! In fact, the USPS recently installed a 910 kW solar power system atop its processing and distribution center in Oakland, CA, as highlighted in the ASHRAE Journal. This installation ranks among the world’s 150 largest photovoltaic arrays and is the largest solar installation atop any Federal building. Across the bay in San Francisco, the USPS installed a hybrid solar/fuel-cell system, including a 250-kW fuel cell, 185 kW of sun-tracking crystalline-silicon solar panels, and 100 kW of roof-mounted, amorphous-silicon panels. Installation at both facilities was managed by Chevron Energy Solutions.
In addition to these impressive stationary power improvements, USPS vehicle fleets in various regions of the country also capitalize on several new cleaner-than-gasoline technologies: 32 all-electric vehicles in NYC; 35 propane-fired vehicles in Key West, FL; 10 hybrid-electric vans in Boston, MA; one hydrogen-powered vehicle in Washington, DC and a second in Irvine, CA; 5000 compressed natural gas vehicles; 1000 bio-diesel vehicles; and 30,000 flex-fuel or ethanol-fired vehicles nation-wide.
As an organization, the USPS maintains the largest fleet of vehicles in the nation, over 210,000 cars, vans, and trucks. About 17% of that fleet runs on some kind of non-petroleum fuel. Compare that rate to the national fraction of less than 3% non-gasoline vehicles, and the magnitude of new technology penetration in the USPS vehicle fleet looks even more impressive.
As highlighted by a nice article in the February 2007 edition PE Magazine, massive adoption of renewables by the USPS is being pushed by Dr. Han Dinh, P.E., USPS Director for Research and Development. Dr. Dinh won the 2006 White House Closing The Circle Award for his efforts on alternative transportation fuels, and he has certainly earned the praise of this blogger.
Nonetheless, something still bugs me about the USPS effort. As pointed out in PE Magazine, USPS actually breaks even or saves money when it adopts new alternative energy technologies. The USPS example proves that the US could become a renewable energy nation, if only we had a mandate to do so.
The USPS does have such a mandate: the 1992 Energy Policy Act states that 75% of newly acquired federal vehicles must be powered by alternative fuels. If the USPS has already proven that adopting renewable technologies brings economic benefits, and changing to domestic energy sources frees us from military entanglements in the Middle East, why can’t the Federal Government extend the Energy Policy Act to mandate adoption of renewable energy technologies for everybody?