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UVM Emergency Vehicles Go Green

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Source: Eva Hoskin

The University of Vermont has been making strides towards mitigating emissions; one of the hardest to tackle are emissions from fleets of vehicles that work for the university. The university has started by dealing with emergency vehicles, one of the highest emitting fleets, considering their need to spend time parked with the engine on. This idea stemmed from the Burlington Department of Public Work’s project using IdleRight technology; the success of that pilot is what helped Zach Borst, of UVM’s Office of Emergency Management, be able to pitch the idea to the Clean Energy Fund. 


            UVM’s Clean Energy Fund is a small fee on student’s tuition bills which goes towards making improvements to the system’s infrastructure, making UVM more sustainable and environmentally friendly. 


IdleRight allows for vehicles to remain “on” when parked, while shutting the engine off; this dissipates the need for unnecessary greenhouse gases to be released from the exhaust while cars aren’t moving. However, the benefits of IdleRight don’t end at the environmental aspect- while pitching this idea to the Clean Energy Fund, Borst mentioned the many other perks. The system tends to extend the life of each vehicle, as well as pushing off many required maintenance services to later dates. Borst also boasted that the technology can help emergency vehicles have quicker response times to incidents.


            The Clean Energy Fund accepted the pitch and administered money to get it rolling, UVM now has 8 IdleRight units. So far, only one of the units have been installed on an emergency vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe; this will serve as a quick test round for a couple of weeks. Once data has been collected on that unit, the remaining units will gradually be installed one at a time over the next couple of months. The remainder of the units that will be installed include 6 UVM Police cruisers (SUVs), and one pickup truck in the UVM Department of Transportation and Parking Services. 


            Abby Bleything, of the UVM Department of Transportation and Parking Services, states that there has recently been a green procurement policy written for all UVM fleets, this requires departments to look at alternative fuels or other green vehicles before buying a new vehicle or set of vehicles. This means that not only emergency vehicles will become more sustainable, but the various other departments as well, such as Physical Plant, Risk Management, Parking Enforcement, etc. 


That being said, UVM generally has quick turnover times with the vehicles that it uses- and recently, most new vehicles on the market are made with technologies similar to IdleRight as a standard model. Because of this, Bleything stated that they might not invest in the individual IdleRight units in too many more vehicles because most fleets will be replaced in the very near future anyways. She stated that the few cases of cars that won’t soon be replaced altogether will be the targets for future IdleRight purchases. 


            When asked about the return on investment (in terms of money saved on gas and other services), Bleything stated that the ROI hasn’t been brought up as a factor of effectiveness. Rather, they would like to gather research on their effectiveness as well as the lessons that can be taught by UVM’s efforts. The idea is to report to emergency fleets elsewhere about its successes, using data to show not only how effective it is for the environment but for the life of the vehicles and the response times for emergencies as well.