Natural Gas Vehicles Finally Set to Grow In U.S. Over Next 5 Years

naturalgasvehiclefuellingUpdated: True to the recurring motto of green power investor T. Boone Pickens, the top five countries for natural gas vehicle sales do not currently include the United States. Instead the top five countries that buy cars powered by natural gas are Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, and India, according to a new research report from Pike Research. But all that’s supposed to change over the next five years thanks in part to U.S. government and corporate fleets (cue smiley face from Pickens).

Pike Research says that the natural gas vehicle sector “is poised for a new period of growth” over the next five years and the U.S. will be among the top three fastest-growing markets for NGV, along with Canada and India. The increased sales in these three countries will lead to a boom in natural gas vehicle sales with the size of the market growing globally from 9.7 million in 2008 to 17 million vehicles by 2015.

Updated: Still, natural gas vehicle sales in the U.S will still pale in comparison to sales in the leading countries. In 2015 there will only be an estimated 31,347 natural gas vehicles sold in the U.S., compared to 684,980 in India, 490,866 in Iran, 327,106 in China, 218,217 in Argentina, 215,397 in Pakistan, and 151,005 in Brazil. In 2015 there will be a total of 223,583 NGV on the roads in the U.S., while there will be 3,559,623 on the roads in Iran, 2,645,238 in Pakistan, and 2,377,724 in Argentina. The U.S. still has a lot of catching up to do.

The bulk of the sales in the U.S. will be driven by government and corporate fleets. If you’ve been watching this sector for awhile, the concentration of demand in those sectors is a no-brainer. There’s very few consumer natural gas vehicle options out there and natural gas home refueling options like FuelMaker’s Phil have stalled. At the same time companies like AT&T have decided to invest in natural gas vehicles ($350 million for 8,000 compressed natural gas vehicles) as part of a way to green fleets and potentially tap into federal incentives.

The U.S. government is also taking a slightly closer look at natural gas vehicles. In July Sens. Harry Reid (Majority Leader), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation called the Nat Gas Act aimed at encouraging the development and purchasing of natural gas vehicles. Their hope was to get amended into the climate bill that is currently under debate in the Senate, but to my knowledge that hasn’t happened yet. Natural gas has certainly become a buzz topic in political circles — at the National Clean Energy Summit in August, Al Gore, John Podesta, and Sen. Harry Reid all gave the cleaner fossil fuel lip service.

The biggest driver behind a push for natural gas vehicles in the U.S. could actually be the new finding that there is far more natural gas available in the U.S. than previously thought. In recent years, through better technology and recovery tools, geologists and the natural gas industry have discovered that there’s an untapped natural gas resource in the shale formations in many states, and the U.S. now has an estimated resource of over 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s — in a word — massive.

Image courtesy of Pike Research.

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