Tag: Fleet Profiles


Pioneering a Utility Drone Program

In 2015, Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) became the first utility to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for operational use of unmanned aircraft systems – also referred to as UAS or drones – under certain conditions for line inspection and emergency response applications.

So, three years and 250 flights later, how has it been going? Where does ComEd’s program stand today? What types of applications are they using drones for? And what are some of the lessons the utility has learned?

UFP recently spoke with Brian Cramer, UAS program manager at ComEd, to get the behind-the-scenes story of a utility company pioneering new drone technology that could have enormous implications for worker safety and operational efficiencies throughout the industry.

UFP: How are you currently using drones?

Brian Cramer: If there’s a problem that crews haven’t been able to identify using normal means – whether it’s ground patrols, helicopters and so forth – we’ll use drones to provide imaging for inspections to find out what’s happening. That’s because the drone can get closer to the problem area, and we can see it from every angle, including from above.

In a helicopter, you can get up close to the issue from above, but often only from one side – you can’t see both sides. So, if the problem is literally in the wrong place, you won’t find it.

And where we can’t get up close, some of our drones have 30x zoom cameras, where we can zoom right in to see things in detail. That’s our most frequent type of flight.

We also use drones for access, to get to hard-to-reach areas. Sometimes it isn’t safe for someone to go through the high grass or debris to try to climb around in there and see what’s happening. We can get up above and capture imaging to get better information without any risk to anyone.

I can imagine that level of visibility from drones is especially important when you’re talking about emergency preparedness.

Yes. Actually, when we first started talking with our [emergency preparedness] people three years ago, they said there were three things they were really interested in.

First was to find the scope of the area of damage – to get the big picture, so they knew what they were looking at.

The second thing was to go through the analysis. There’s a pole with a transformer, so we’ve got to replace that. The wire’s down; we need to get the detailed scope of repair.

The third thing was safe access – to be able to figure out how your crews can safely get to where they need to be to get the work done.

And these three things remain significant in our thinking.

What’s a unique application that you didn’t initially consider for drones but have since discovered to be an interesting use-case?

An application that comes to mind is the simplest one – a crew who does foot patrols, whether for planning new construction or inspecting lines. Every so often, they get to a point where it’s tough to get themselves physically closer to where they want to be.

So, it’s useful to have a drone in the truck where crews could take it out, set it up, go through the checklist and processes, and fly the drone the last hundred yards or whatever they need to see the thing that they wanted to see, instead of climbing down a ravine, which introduces risks.

If you ask most of these people, “Do you need a drone?” they would likely say no. But if you gave them one and asked them six months later, “Do you need this drone?” they would say, “Wow, absolutely – this is fantastic!”

ComEd owns eight drones but also outsources on occasion. In what scenarios do you contract with drone services companies?

There are three ways we use outside drone companies.

First is if we have a major storm. We’re prepared to bring in a number of crews from these organizations who would team up with our people who patrol for damage. So, you would have a drone operator or operator team with one of our patrollers. They would provide eyes that can see beyond the debris and the floodwater so that our patrollers can be much more effective in getting accurate information faster.

A second way is if we have a major project where we want to do a lot of inspections of certain areas or something for critical lines and we don’t have enough resources to do that. So, we will bring in a contractor to handle that.

The third is expensive technologies that we don’t use all the time, like lidar. If we needed to do lidar work, we would probably hire one of these contractors to do that for us because that equipment is costly. It takes knowledge to use it properly, and the technology is changing so rapidly. Right now, it doesn’t make sense for us to invest in that technology.

As your drone program expands, do you envision that your drones will eventually be managed by the fleet department?

At this point, that doesn’t happen to be the way that we’re organized at ComEd. I know of at least one utility where their drone operation is operated out of their fleet system. We have three different groups of air assets at Exelon [parent company of ComEd] – helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and drones. At this point, none of our aviation assets are under fleet. But is the idea of managing drones as a fleet asset a logical way to do it? Yes, it certainly can be.

What advice do you have to give to other utilities that are looking to launch or expand their drone programs?

I would say do your homework. Learn the rules. Learn how to do it right. As a utility company, you’re in an extreme safety culture. So, make sure that safety translates appropriately into your drone operations. And one of the things to remember and focus on is this: If you put together your internal rules for how you are going to operate your drones – and how you’re going to allow contractors to operate drones for you – make sure you set up the rules in a way that facilitates those safe and effective operations. It’s too easy to put rules in place that inadvertently obstruct the ability to do that work. You have to look hard at what you’re doing and make sure you find ways to facilitate safe and effective operations.

If you were to make the case as to why utility companies should commit to launching a drone program, what would you say?

Everywhere we look, we keep finding new places where having the detailed level of visibility [from drones] is useful, or where it could enhance the safety of our people and the reliability of our system.

We have poles that are 200 feet tall in our transmission system that have FAA lights on top. To check those lights, a [lineworker] has to climb up 200 feet. But I can use a drone, fly it up there, look at the lights, bring it back and land in five minutes. Nobody had to leave the ground. Now, [lineworkers] know what they’re doing. They’re as safe as it’s possible to be. But there’s always a risk, and to the extent that we can reduce those risks, I’m all over that one. So, when you’re trying to find your way through the high brush on a right-of-way or you’re climbing up in the air to do your job, if you can do less of that, we are all better off.


Utility Fleets to the Rescue in Puerto Rico

This story hasn’t been getting a lot of attention in the national press, but there has been a massive mobilization effort by utilities across the U.S. to send thousands of lineworkers, trucks and pieces of heavy equipment to help restore power to Puerto Rico, where many residents have suffered without electricity since Hurricane Maria pummeled the island last fall.

In December, several electric companies began mobilizing crews at the request of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), in a coordinated effort with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, deploying nearly 1,500 additional restoration workers and support personnel to the island as of press time.

One of those utilities is Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), based in Oklahoma City, which is assigned to the Arecibo region on the northwest side of the island, along with Dallas-based Oncor and Houston-based CenterPoint Energy.

On January 18, about 60 of OG&E’s trademark orange trucks arrived at the port in Ponce, Puerto Rico, taking about two weeks to complete the 1,900-mile trek from Lake Charles, Louisiana. The plan is for OG&E’s first wave of 50 crew members to work for 20 days and then relieve those workers by sending a second wave of 50 to continue work for at least another 20 days.

Although 60 vehicles is a small percentage of OG&E’s nearly 2,000 fleet assets, a mobilization effort that involves sending that many pieces of equipment to an island a couple thousand miles away is no small task.

So, what exactly is a fleet department’s role in coordinating an overseas mobilization effort like this one? What are the key factors fleet managers need to think through to ensure things go as smoothly as possible for the crews?

UFP recently spoke with Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at OG&E, to get a glimpse into the Puerto Rico storm-response process and any lessons he has learned along the way. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: When you received word that OG&E was going to participate in the Puerto Rico assistance effort, what were some of the initial steps from there? How did you determine the number of fleet assets to send?

Paul Jefferson: [EEI] asked for 50 linemen from us, and we needed to also send a couple mechanics, safety personnel and supervisors – so about 60 trucks total. Once OG&E’s [transmission and distribution] management figured out which crews were going, they selected the trucks to bring. Then my role was to review the list and approve or substitute units so we don’t send any equipment that’s not up to the job. 

There’s also a lot that goes into getting the barge ready to haul the vehicles. In the area [of Puerto Rico] we’re working in, we’ve teamed up with Oncor and CenterPoint. And CenterPoint has a lot of experience with barges, so they took the lead with the barge. But we needed to pull together quite a bit of information to give to the barge company – truck weight, size, height and so forth – for all the assets we were sending over.

Then you have insurance, where we needed to state the value of the vehicles so that our corporate risk department could get coverage in case something happens to the vehicles on the barge on the way over.

When you were evaluating the initial list of vehicles, what were some of the things you were looking for to help you determine whether to approve an asset or substitute it with something else?  

The biggest thing for me is that I didn’t want us sending over our oldest trucks or spare trucks or stuff like that. I wanted to make sure all the vehicles were good to go, and I ended up substituting a couple of them.

But even with the best equipment, things break down. How do you manage maintenance, parts inventory and repairs on vehicles that are operating on an island a couple thousand miles away? 

We’re primarily an International truck fleet, so I got online to see if there were International dealerships that we could use near us in Puerto Rico. And we found a dealership where we could use our fleet charge account, which was good because we get national pricing.

In terms of parts, we took quite a few of what we thought would be high-moving items with us on the trucks. And we’ll use those first. If we need any parts that we don’t have, we’ll then go to the dealer.

But one challenge is that we run Goodyear Tires but [Goodyear] doesn’t have a commercial tire center over there. They just have automotive stuff.

How did you and your team address the tire situation?

We ramped up the number of tires we took with us, putting them on our flatbed trucks and mechanics’ trucks for shipping on the barge, and then storing them at our staging area in Puerto Rico. Worst-case scenario, we may have to put on a different brand tire.

What has been the impact on your operations?

One impact on the company is that while the trucks were being shipped for two to three weeks, some of the linemen didn’t have a truck. So, they had to share equipment with each other during that time.

How does the fleet department go about planning for a large-scale mutual-assistance effort like this one – especially when it’s overseas?

A lot of it comes from our knowledge from past storms. We’ve worked ice storms and tornadoes and hurricanes on mutual assistance before. So, our team got together and talked about what we might need to come up with for a list. We then reached out to our vendors, telling them what we wanted and when we needed those things by. And they palletized the cargo for us, sent it to our garage and put it on our trucks.

And we have a document for storm response that we follow. We have a list of volunteers, mechanics who want to work on these mutual-assistance efforts. We have a list of standard truck parts and tires we take on mutual-assistance storms. And we have a list of phone numbers of our vendors. So, for example, Goodyear Tires has a special phone number for utility companies working on mutual assistance so that when you have a tire problem, there’s a phone number that puts you at the front of the list. And, for our International trucks, we have a fleet charge account that is part of the package that mechanics take with them that has our fleet charge number there, so if they’re at an unfamiliar dealership, they can still use our account.

Was there anything unique that wasn’t on your typical storm-response list because this was for Puerto Rico?

One thing we did is that we got with Altec and Terex to add Spanish versions to our warning decals on our bucket and line trucks, which typically are only in English.

Was that something PREPA requested or required?

No, we just did that on our own. We felt like it was the safe thing to do.

What advice do you have for other utility fleet managers on how they can best prepare and execute their storm-response plans?

I think the main thing is to make sure you have a base plan in place. It may change, but at least you have a starting point to follow. I never dreamed we’d be going to Puerto Rico two years ago. So, try to think outside the box of any place you might be going and think through plans accordingly.


Dominion Virginia Power’s Drone Program Takes Flight

Unmanned aerial vehicles – also known as UAVs or drones – offer the utility industry the promise of lower costs and improved worker safety with regard to line inspections, storm damage assessments, and other tasks that are traditionally performed using manned helicopters and third-party inspection services.

And the market appears ripe for rapid expansion, as drone technology becomes more advanced and hardware costs continue to plummet. In fact, global annual revenue for drone and robotics technologies for transmission and distribution is expected to grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024 – about a 30-fold increase – according to Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com).

But the U.S. market still has regulatory hurdles to overcome before utilities can deploy drones at a level where they can effectively realize the full business benefits of the technology. Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, such as having to maintain visual line of sight, have prevented utilities from being able to fly drones over longer distances and inspect large sections of power lines at a time – the holy grail for utility drone programs.

Yet despite these constraints, a growing number of U.S. utility companies, like Dominion Virginia Power, which launched its drone program in 2013, are getting into the drone business and seeing promising results. And there could be huge implications for fleet.

What exactly is involved with starting a utility drone program? How are these programs managed? And what’s the potential impact on fleet? Will drones replace certain types of ground vehicles? Will they eventually become fleet assets?

UFP recently spoke with Steve Eisenrauch, manager of transmission forestry and line services for Dominion Virginia Power and the leader of his department’s drone program, to explore these questions and more.

UFP: What motivated you and your team at Dominion to launch your drone program in 2013?

Steve Eisenrauch: The technology. Basically, at that point, I had come to the realization that it looked like the technology was going to be usable for utilities. It had advanced to where it was more commonplace in the market. There were some companies out there that were starting to offer drone services, and the FAA was looking at the ability for folks to start using drones commercially.

UFP: What often happens when launching a new program is that you encounter some level of resistance because people fear change. Was there any resistance you had to face when getting your drone program started?

SE: Interestingly enough, no. From a getting-it-started perspective, the only thing that we had to make sure of was that our vendors had FAA approval to do the flights. Of course, we had to make sure that they had all their proper licenses and certificates and insurance requirements. But we had an area that we could test that wasn’t going to be energized, so if there was an issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. Our folks looked at this as really a groundbreaking technology that could be a great tool for utilities to be able to use.

UFP: Who operates the drones right now for Dominion?

SE: We have a vendor that uses two operators for each drone flight – a licensed pilot who controls the drone and a sensor operator who controls the camera to point, zoom, tilt up and down, that sort of thing. Basically, the pilot will take the drone up and get it in position; then the sensor operator will control the camera to look at the different assets and structures to make sure there are no issues.

UFP: You’ve decided to outsource the drones and the personnel who operate them. What was the reasoning to go with that model versus owning the drones?

SE: Several reasons. One is the ability to get the program up and running very quickly. These vendor companies already had the drones, the FAA clearances to do the work and the pilots. When we first started flying the drones in 2014, a commercial pilot’s license was required to fly. That changed last year with the FAA’s new requirement for a commercial drone operator to only have a remote pilot certification.

And beyond the operator needing a pilot’s certification, there’s still a lot of on-the-job training and practice to operate drones around power lines. That’s one reason why we gave it to the third-party vendor.

We also had to consider that drone technology gets outdated very quickly. A third-party service provider is more likely to upgrade quicker than a utility would be able to do.

Yet that’s not to say that down the road, as drones become more autonomous, we won’t integrate them into our line crews. It’s just initially, and for the last couple of years, we haven’t chosen to go that route quite yet. We don’t think [the drone technology] is quite as far along as it needs to be at this point.

UFP: What department does your drone program fit under?

SE: Electric transmission is the main user of drones within Dominion. Now, once again, that’s not to say there aren’t a few other drones scattered around other departments at Dominion that are used occasionally. But the main drone program is housed here in electric transmission.

UFP: You’re currently operating three drones. Where do you see that number, say, in the next year? Do you see it remaining roughly the same or growing?

SE: If the FAA regulations remain the same, then from a day-to-day operations perspective I don’t see that number changing. But if the regulations change to allow for beyond line-of-sight operation, I think that number’s going to grow.

UFP: What’s the potential impact that the growth of drones could have on fleet? Do you envision drones impacting the composition of Dominion’s ground fleet, where they might replace all-terrain vehicles or other equipment that would get out to typically hard-to-reach areas?

SE: I think drones are going to be very helpful at providing information that identifies what’s needed to take care of issues in those areas. But I don’t think that drones are going to be replacing the bucket trucks and the ATVs for the guys that actually get to those locations once the issue is discovered.

One thing I would expect, though, is that drones eventually will become a fleet asset. That’s because one of the things we want to be able to do down the road is that when we have a line operation, if a line locks out, we’ll get an approximate location from our fault analysis group. Then we have somebody in our system operation center who dispatches the nearest drone to that location. The drones would be able to get real-time feedback, so they know precisely what equipment, people, access and material are needed to get to the site and repair the issue as quickly as possible.

What that means is that we’re going to have to have these drones stationed around our service area, not just here at our headquarters or at a vendor. Maybe we have them stationed strategically in some of our substations or other office locations so that we can be able to give a command from a central area and fly these things out.

Then, instead of having three drones – like we have right now – we may have 100 drones. And at that scale, I could see the drone becoming a fleet asset.

So, I don’t know whether we’ll see drones taking away from the existing fleet. But we may see them becoming fleet assets in the future.


3 Takeaways from Southern California Edison’s Fleet Electrification Initiative

Conventional wisdom says that as fuel prices drop, so does market demand for alternative-fuel vehicles – such as those powered by compressed natural gas, propane autogas and plug-in electric systems. That’s because the lower the price of gasoline and diesel, the longer it takes to recoup the premium for alt-fuel technologies through fuel-cost savings.

Yet despite fuel prices in the low two-dollar range per gallon as of press time, a growing number of electric utilities in the U.S. are making substantial investments to green their fleets – specifically in plug-in electric vehicle (EV) systems.

A major driver of this trend has been Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) Transportation Electrification Initiative, which in late 2014 garnered commitments from more than 70 investor-owned electric utilities to devote at least 5 percent of their annual fleet acquisition budgets to purchase plug-in EVs and equipment.

But for one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, Southern California Edison (SCE), the push for fleet electrification began nearly two decades ago, in 2000. And today, SCE (www.sce.com) operates 644 electrified units, comprising 11 percent of its total fleet. Last year, the utility invested 18.7 percent of its fleet spend in EVs, nearly quadruple the EEI annual target.

UFP recently spoke with Todd Carlson, principal manager for fleet asset management at SCE, to get more details about their fleet electrification initiative and uncover some of the lessons that Carlson and his team have learned in the process. Here are three takeaways that emerged from our conversation.

1. Look for smart opportunities for electrification.
While EVs are not a good fit for all fleet applications right now, there are opportunities for fleet electrification that offer a compelling business case, if you know where to look.

“We seek to electrify everything we possibly can in our fleet,” Carlson said. “Now obviously, we’re not going to electrify our helicopters or some of the real heavy-energy-intensive vehicles. We don’t have plans to electrify our 150-ton cranes. But we do seek to electrify everything we possibly can when it makes good business sense to do so.”

So, where does fleet electrification make good business sense?

Carlson shared one example that may not be on a lot of fleet managers’ radar: corporate security vehicles.

At SCE’s five-building complex in Rosemead, Calif., security guards were using gasoline-powered Ford Transit Connect vehicles to do around-the-clock patrols around the campus.

“We were in a position where there was so much idling and wear and tear on the engine, that the vehicles were constantly down,” Carlson said. “And since this was a very low-mileage, high-idle application, we were having to do more engine replacements and other maintenance to those vehicles. So, we built a business case that showed that it would be more cost-effective to replace the two gas-powered Transit Connects with four battery-electric Toyota RAV4s.”

How could doubling the number of vehicles – with more expensive EVs – be more cost-effective?

“First, since we went from two to four vehicles, we could extend a longer-term lease payment structure,” Carlson explained. “Instead of basically consuming the vehicle over a four-year period, we could expect a life expectancy of seven years because we had double the number of vehicles. And while one vehicle is charging, they’re using the other one.”

But what about the economics of operating the electric RAV4s compared to the gas-powered vehicle? What makes the EV a better investment in this instance?

“When we factor in the lower cost of maintenance [for the EV], the lower cost over the life of the vehicle and the cost of the electricity versus gas, it is actually a lower-cost solution for us to use two electric vehicles in place of one gas-powered vehicle that runs virtually 24/7,” Carlson said.

And Carlson noted there have been driver acceptance and health benefits from the switch to the EVs. “The guards who use EVs absolutely love those vehicles because they don’t have to deal with an engine running all day long that causes constant engine vibration in the vehicle and creates exhaust that they breathe in.”

2. Understand that the business case for ePTO trucks goes beyond financial payback.
SCE operates about 64 medium- and heavy-duty trucks with electric power takeoff (ePTO) systems that power the onboard equipment, such as an aerial platform, without the need to idle the engine. And while SCE has seen direct economic benefits from these trucks in terms of fuel-cost savings, lower maintenance costs and longer asset life, the substantial reduction of exhaust fumes and equipment noise is paying dividends in improved health and safety for the operators, Carlson said.

“The crews love these trucks because they don’t have to deal with fumes and noise – where they’re shouting over the engine noise of the large truck to talk to one another,” Carlson said. “You can talk in a normal voice from the ground to the operator up in the bucket, while he’s up working on the wires. And that’s a big deal with it comes to keeping our crews safe.”

What has SCE seen in terms of payback from fuel-cost savings with ePTO trucks?

Carlson said that the direct financial payback is still “borderline,” but “it’s close enough that we continue to lean into it to say, ‘We’re going to learn more about these trucks and keep doing it.’ Our hope is that this technology continues to move forward and the price keeps coming down, so that we will get a great payback on this type of system.”

3. Eliminate the “hassle factor” of EVs for users.
Carlson said that the biggest challenges SCE has experienced with fleet electrification have to do with take-home vehicles and range anxiety – both examples of the hassle factor.

“If you’re planning to charge the vehicle overnight, you need to have a solution for how that vehicle is going to charge,” Carlson said. “Is the employee expected to plug that vehicle into their own electric outlet at their home? If it’s a hybrid-electric troubleman truck that gets taken home, how will it get charged? If you park it in front of the house and you’re needing to run extension cords out to charge the truck, you’re going to be dealing with potential trip hazards or something else that makes it even more challenging. Charging at home for take-home vehicles can be a bit of a funny question to deal with.”

How has SCE addressed this issue?

“We use our telematics system to identify the trouble truck operators who regularly parked their vehicles at the service centers – where they would be able to safely charge the vehicles – as the target users of new trouble trucks equipped with the plug-in electric systems.”

To tackle the challenge of overcoming range anxiety – the fear of not having enough battery power to make it to a destination – SCE has focused on striking the optimal balance between the driver’s daily job requirements and a vehicle’s range capabilities.

“The solution may be either going with a plug-in hybrid unit that has the range extension of the gasoline engine or identifying a fully electrified product that has a large enough battery capacity to satisfy the 98th percentile of the driver’s daily missions,” Carlson said.

Carlson continued: “You can clearly borrow a vehicle, take from a loaner pool, rent a vehicle or find an alternate vehicle if you need to go on that long trip that the battery electric range doesn’t support. But that adds a hassle factor in logistics to the driver that they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have in a gas vehicle. So, you need to make sure you limit the hassle factor for the electric vehicles in the vast majority of situations for that driver.”

Next Steps
What advice does Carlson have for fleet managers who are considering expanding their own fleet electrification efforts?

“I would encourage them to lean into it because of the benefits of transportation electrification,” he said. “The driving experience with the quality products on the market is very high. And the users, once they drive electric vehicles, tend to always want to stick with those vehicles moving forward. I think that if fleet managers do the business case realistically and appropriately, then they’ll see that their maintenance costs are typically less with the electrified vehicles and the life of the vehicle is often expected to be increased.”


Eversource Energy’s New Approach to Change Management in Fleet

About a year ago, the fleet team at Eversource Energy (www.eversource.com) launched an initiative to standardize vehicle and equipment specifications across their three-state service area that includes Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Their objective: Cut fleet costs by limiting vehicle configurations to specific job descriptions. This would enable the fleet to strengthen its buying power (by purchasing a higher volume of same-spec units); streamline parts inventories across all their locations (by operating more equipment from fewer OEMs); and benefit from shorter order-to-delivery cycles (by ordering from fewer vendors).

“If you’re a lineworker, the function of a material-handling truck is going to be the same whether you’re in New Hampshire, Connecticut or Massachusetts,” said Steve Driscoll, vice president of operation services for Eversource, which is New England’s largest electric and gas utility, with about 6,500 fleet assets, including trailers. “In the past, we allowed for differences and customization in equipment, based on an operator’s personal preferences. We recognized the need for going to a standard vehicle across the board to be more efficient and reduce costs.”

But the Eversource team also recognized that many of their end users might not like the change. After all, operators had become accustomed to having their vehicles a certain way for years. And they would likely feel resentment toward fleet, especially if no one clearly explained the why behind the changes.

Effective Change Management
So, to help ease the transition, Eversource decided to take a new approach to introducing new vehicle and equipment models to operators. Beginning earlier this year, the Eversource fleet team began conducting comprehensive in-service events, each lasting about two to three hours, with classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations.

The events are led by each of the key vendor partners involved with the build-out of the truck, including the chassis manufacturer, body manufacturer and equipment upfitters. The utility’s insurance agency, Liberty Mutual, also sends an expert, who typically opens the event by teaching safe driving and equipment operation practices during the classroom portion of the agenda.

“We recognized that this change toward fleet standardization was significant, and we would need to address the change directly with those who would be affected by it,” Driscoll said. “We couldn’t simply have new trucks dropped off – as in, ‘Here’s your new truck’ – without explaining the changes. So, it’s helpful to have all the manufacturers there because they bring a lot of credibility in helping explain some of the benefits that come with the new specs.”

In the past, if an aerial platform truck was being delivered, only the aerial device manufacturer would conduct a brief in-servicing overview for the operators. “There was no involvement of the chassis manufacturer, no involvement of any of the other upfitters involved with the truck. They would come in, go over the owner’s manual and briefly demonstrate the platform operation,” Driscoll said. And in some cases, depending on the vehicle, “it would just be in-serviced by the mechanics in the garage, with a ‘come by and pick up your new vehicle’ approach.”

But now, Eversource puts on a full-scale in-service event whenever they introduce a new vehicle. “You’re taking the time to explain the whys behind the way things are, and I think this has been very helpful with our people accepting the changes,” Driscoll said.

A ‘360-Degree’ In-Service Event
By the end of 2016, Eversource will have conducted over 30 of these comprehensive in-service events – about two to three per month – with anywhere from five to 30 people in attendance, depending on the location and the vehicle being introduced.

What’s on the agenda?

Driscoll said the event starts right after the attendees’ departmental morning meeting. “We try to get the event started early in the morning so the crews can get out to the field.”

The first part consists of a 30- to 40-minute conference room session, with a welcome and introduction by Eversource leadership, a presentation by Liberty Mutual on safe driving techniques and an overview by the vehicle manufacturer. “If it’s Altec, for example, they’ll go over some of the highlights and what’s new in the equipment from previous years,” Driscoll said.

“I’ll do a ‘walk-around’ on PowerPoint,” said Adam Engel, senior account manager at Altec Industries (www.altec.com), who has participated in several in-servicing events with Eversource this year. “And whatever the option we’re going over – whether it’s a ladder rack, a cross-arm holder, a chainsaw box – the goal is to make sure [attendees] understand that there’s a function to each piece of equipment that was put on the vehicle.”

After the indoor session is over, the attendees take a quick break and head outside.

“We have a couple of the vehicles outside pre-staged to go through,” Driscoll said. “We’ll do a walk-around on the vehicle with the attendees, with the chassis manufacturer explaining all the options inside the cab. Then we’ll go through the body with the body manufacturers.”

If the truck is equipped with an aerial device, the manufacturer’s representative demonstrates the operation and the characteristics of the aerial itself. “We’re going to start by highlighting everything inside the cab that pertains to the equipment, such as all of the switches and anything that we’ve added inside the chassis that the operators might not be familiar with,” Engel said.

Then there’s an opportunity for hands-on driving for the participants. “We’ll have an area set up with cones, where Liberty Mutual will take each driver through a course to practice backing, using the mirrors or backup camera, and so forth,” Driscoll said. “Depending on the type of vehicle, we take people over the road so they can get the feel of towing a machine behind that specific vehicle.”

To minimize downtime for operators, the Eversource fleet team and vendor partners bring the in-service event to the area where the operators will be using the new vehicles. “We want to have an efficient session and be cognizant of their time – to get people back out doing what they need to do in the field as soon as possible,” Driscoll said.

What makes an Eversource in-servicing event different than typical new vehicle deliveries?

“Eversource’s in-depth and interactive in-service is unique in the industry,” Engel said. “With [an Eversource event], it’s a comprehensive, 360-degree model. You’ve got somebody who has ownership on each piece of this vehicle, who has the expertise to answer questions specific to their part of the truck. Altec is proud to be a part of Eversource’s in-service events, and we recognize the importance they bring with enhancing safety and streamlining the delivery process.”

Moving Forward
Driscoll said the company expects to continue the pace of two to three in-service events per month for the foreseeable future, indicating that the events have been helping smooth the transition to the new standardized specs.

“If you don’t take time to explain things when in-servicing a vehicle, you run the risk that there will be friction with drivers because of all the changes, and that can taint the perception of the fleet,” Driscoll said. “As the asset owner, we’re very sensitive to that. We want drivers to know that when we invest in fleet, we do it in a thoughtful way and understand how they’ll be using these trucks. These in-service events help us communicate that message directly.”


Mobile Command Centers Accelerate Emergency Response for Consumers Energy

Utility companies can’t control Mother Nature. When an ice storm, high winds, torrential rain or any major weather event knocks out power for hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers, a lot is at stake to get power back online fast – from the health and safety of residents to the economic impact of lost power and revenues on local businesses.

However, utilities can control how they prepare for and respond to Mother Nature’s wrath. And that’s precisely what Consumers Energy, the largest electric and gas utility in Michigan, has sought to do with its recent purchase of two 30-foot mobile command centers: provide better coordination between utility management, crews and first responders in the field, so they can restore power as quickly and safely as possible.

Each of the vehicles is built on a 2016 Ford F-59 stripped chassis with a Utilimaster step-van body, and the cargo area is furnished with workstations and state-of-the-art communications systems.

But what exactly is a mobile command center? What are its advantages for utility companies? UFP spoke with Aaron Kantor, director of emergency management and public safety for Consumers Energy, to get the utility’s story.

Conference Rooms on Wheels
Consumers Energy took delivery of the trucks this summer, with one deployed to Jackson and the other deployed to Clinton Township, Mich. Both are positioned to respond to local emergencies and to support the utility’s wider-spread storm restoration work.

Each unit is equipped with the latest communications technologies, including backup satellite internet and 800-megahertz radio equipment, to keep communication channels available in case typical systems aren’t operational. Inside the step van’s cargo area is the command center, with five laptop-ready workstations, a plotter to print large maps and blueprints, a conference table and a large television screen.

“What the vehicle really provides for is a conference room on wheels with redundant communications systems that can support our response to a variety of emergencies,” Kantor said. “During emergencies, our No. 1 priority is the safety of the public and our crews. These vehicles augment our emergency response capabilities by providing a mobile command center for our field leadership to work out of, with redundant cellular modems and satellite networks to provide access to our company network and internet. These vehicles will be extremely helpful, especially for the more rural parts of our service territory.”

More Effective, Efficient Coordination
The purpose of each mobile command center, according to Kantor, is to create a “one-stop shop” for emergency response, where all key team members can work together in close proximity in the field.

“Consumers Energy has adopted the Incident Command System as our common response structure that we use for any and all emergencies,” he said. “And part of that structure requires close collaboration among our field leadership for electric and gas operations and other support roles, including a safety officer, liaison officer – who interfaces on the scene with any police or fire departments that may be responding to that incident – and a public information officer who provides support for both internal and public communications. The new mobile command centers support this collaborative structure by providing key necessities for responding to emergencies effectively, including communications and fully functioning workstations with printing and plotter access.”

For more information about the Incident Command System, visit www.electricenergyonline.com/show_article.php?mag=97&article=773.

Prior to deploying the mobile command centers, Consumers Energy’s emergency response team couldn’t work together as closely as they needed to in the field. The vehicles they were using for the command center role – pickup trucks and service vans – only allowed for up to two employees to collaborate on-site, while the other team members had to work remotely to be able to access the technology tools they needed to effectively coordinate the emergency response efforts.

But now, all those tools are available in one truck, making it possible for all team members to work together in one place. And that means better communication and faster decision-making.

“What the new mobile command center trucks really provide is that one-stop shop – not only for our field leadership, but also for the supporting organizations within the business – to bring to bear one comprehensive effort to effectively respond to any emergency while ensuring the safety of our communities and crews,” Kantor said.

The mobile command centers also make a bold statement to the public: that the utility has all hands on deck to do everything in its power to get services restored to customers as quickly as possible.

An Expanding Fleet Segment
Consumers Energy is among a growing number of utilities – including Florida Power & Light Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Tampa Electric, to name a few – that operate large, highly advanced mobile command centers.

“We have seen other utilities across the nation deploying these types of vehicles as an expanded commitment to emergency response,” Kantor said. “So, with our planning efforts, we spoke with those utilities and incorporated their vehicle development and deployment learnings into our own processes.”

When designing the mobile command centers, the Consumers Energy team had one overarching vision in mind, Kantor said: “That when outages or other emergencies occur, these vehicles enable us to deploy competent leadership with the tools they need on hand that help them ensure public safety, while restoring services to our customers effectively and efficiently.”

Photo: Consumers Energy


Mobile Command Center Spec Sheet

Chassis: 2016 Ford F-59 stripped chassis

GVWR: 22,000 pounds

Engine: 6.8-liter Ford gasoline engine

Transmission: Ford TorqShift six-speed automatic

Body: Thirty-foot aluminum walk-in step-van body built by Utilimaster. Body design was a joint effort between Consumers Energy and Utilimaster.

Equipment: Backup satellite internet, 800-megahertz radio equipment, five laptop-ready workstations, plotter to print large maps and blueprints, conference table, large television screen

Source: Mark Wolski, fleet acquisition and disposition for Consumers Energy


Time Warner Cable: Forging a Path Toward Fleet Sustainability

To make a real impact on cutting carbon emissions, a fleet needs to make huge investments in new clean-fuel technologies, right?

Not necessarily.

Take Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC), for example. The telecommunications giant is on track to cut fleet-wide fuel consumption by nearly 1 million gallons in 2016, with only a modest investment in green technologies, such as plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles. The bulk of the fuel savings is coming from TWC’s vehicle replacement strategy; the company has recently changed its bucket and pickup truck specifications to generate substantial gains in fuel economy.

And it’s this progress in cutting fuel consumption and carbon emissions that has led TWC to become one of the first 10 companies in the U.S. to be named an accredited sustainable fleet as part of a new accreditation program launched by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) in 2015.

According to NAFA, the Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program (www.nafasustainable.org) recognizes fleets for “their commitment to sustainability with levels of recognition based on actual reductions in net environmental impacts,” including improving air quality through emissions reduction, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing fuel usage.

Utility Fleet Professional recently spoke with longtime fleet professional George Survant, senior fleet director at TWC, to learn more about how the company has been able to make significant progress toward sustainability in a way that’s also financially sustainable for the company. Here are three strategies that emerged from the conversation.

Strategy #1
Bucket Trucks: Switch to Diesel, Reduce Weight and Cut Idle
For years, TWC spec’d its Ford F-450 35-foot bucket trucks with V-10 gasoline engines. But a couple years ago, Survant began replacing the gas trucks with ones equipped with diesel engines, lighter-weight bodies and idle reduction technologies.

The impact? In 2014, TWC cut fuel consumption by 700,000 gallons in its bucket truck fleet alone. Last year, after replacing about half as many vehicles as they did in 2014, the company still reduced fuel consumption by 256,000 gallons.

How did the change in specs achieve these results?

First, consider the use of lightweight materials in the truck body and equipment specs. The lighter the truck, the less power – or fuel – it requires to propel the vehicle. “We incorporate aluminum and fiberglass wherever possible in our body designs, which has taken our rolling weight down between 700 and 800 pounds per truck,” Survant said.

Then there’s the idle mitigation technology, including electric power take-off, which eliminates hours of engine idle while service technicians operate the aerial boom.

Finally, take into account the switch to the more fuel-efficient diesel engine. How much of a difference has that made? “Excluding the impact of our idle mitigation systems, we went from about 5.6 mpg with our gas bucket trucks to getting 8.7 mpg with the new lighter-weight diesel-powered buckets,” Survant said.

That’s a 55 percent bump in fuel economy.

Strategy #2
Pickups: Right-Size Trucks and Powertrains
In 2014, Survant began replacing TWC’s Ford F-250 pickups powered by a V-8 with the redesigned F-150s equipped with the fuel-sipping V-6 EcoBoost engine.

“For years we bought F-250s on the operating premise that it took the big V-8 engine to haul around the loads we were hauling,” Survant said. “But today we’re doing exactly the same job with remarkably good performance with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost [V-6].”

According to Ford, the lightweight aluminum body design for the new F-150 sheds about 700 pounds from the previous model, which has enabled fleets like TWC to consider downsizing to a lighter truck, without sacrificing payload requirements.

What has been the impact on fuel economy?

“What we’re seeing with the new trucks fully loaded and fully burdened, month in and month out, is about 15.7 mpg, compared to about 10 mpg with the legacy trucks,” Survant said.

Going to a smaller engine was just one factor in the equation in reducing fuel use, Survant explained. “One of the most amazing things for us is the stop-start technology with the new engines. In New York City, some of our best-performing vehicles are actually these full-sized F-150 pickups because they turn off at stop signs and stoplights.”

But how has this change to trucks with smaller engines impacted driver acceptance? Has TWC experienced any sort of complaints or resistance from drivers?

Not so far. “Our acceptance of these vehicles has been so good that we’ve had a little bit of a dispute among drivers over who gets a new vehicle,” Survant said. “They’re keyed up to argue, ‘I need this truck more than you need it.’”

Strategy #3
Expand Biodiesel Use and Electrification
What is TWC doing with alternative fuels to cut carbon emissions?

“Our focus has been on [alternative] fuels in a few aspects of our fleet,” Survant said. “One, with our shift to diesel, we’re trying to structure a program where we can access biodiesel on a broader scale than we do today. Almost all diesel products have some percentage of biodiesel through the public distribution systems today. But we really want to ramp that up. We want to get our drivers to use, on average, a higher concentration of biodiesel. The second point is that we have hybridized all of our passenger car fleet. And third, we’re engaging an action plan where we’re putting motor pools with electric vehicles into places where we have high concentrations of employees who don’t have assigned vehicles.”

In terms of the EV motor pools, Survant offered this example: “We have 1,600 vehicles in 16 square miles in Manhattan. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to have pools used there. We’re embarking on a program this year to partner with Ford to put some Ford Focus electrics in place, and we’re working through permitting for the installation of recharging facilities as we speak.”

Survant said the company is looking to roll out similar EV programs in other urban areas, such as Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo., in the near future.

What about propane autogas and natural gas vehicles?

“Right now, we’re really not spending any money in propane and natural gas,” Survant said. “That’s because our trucks are domiciled at our drivers’ homes at night, and they’re not accessible to centralized fueling. We don’t have much control over where our technicians live for us to be able to take real good advantage of a public-accessible alt-fuel station. So, there are only a handful of co-located places in the country where we even have a remote opportunity to do that.”

The Bottom Line
For Survant and TWC, any fleet sustainability initiative needs to keep the overall business in mind. “We have not been as far out on the leading edge as some fleets have been with alt-fuel development or hybridization of service vans or trucks,” Survant said. “Instead we tie fuel reduction goals into our vehicle replacement strategy so that it’s not disruptive to our business and doesn’t require external funding. Our objective is that everywhere we operate, we’re going to make continuous and steady, if somewhat modest, improvements.”


What to Expect in a Telematics Deployment

There’s a lot of hype around telematics – and for good reason.

When properly configured and maintained, telematics works like a sophisticated air traffic control system for your fleet. It uses GPS tracking and wireless connectivity to stream real-time vehicle location and performance data, giving you all the information you need – at a glance – to make smart decisions that reduce your fleet’s fuel costs and carbon footprint, improve vehicle utilization rates and promote safer driver behaviors.

But the qualifier here is the phrase “properly configured and maintained.” That’s because even when you’ve selected the right telematics system for your fleet, the installations and ongoing maintenance can get tricky, especially when you’re trying to track hundreds or thousands of fleet assets across multiple locations in a large service area.

At least that has been the experience for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), a rate-regulated gas and electric utility headquartered in Collinsville, Ill., which completed its telematics hardware installations on about 2,300 vehicles and pieces of equipment in November 2014. The company currently has 3,300 total assets including trailers.

Overall Success
On one level, AIC has already received value from its telematics deployment, generating meaningful fuel cost savings the first full year (2015). This is largely attributed to engine idle reduction, according to Beth Daiber, CPA, supervisor of fleet administration for AIC.

Telematics has also helped AIC work with police to track down and recover a stolen asset, as GPS data showed the vehicle traveling through downtown St. Louis.

And AIC employees who are questioned about their driving or vehicle handling have found that telematics data can help set the record straight. “We can quickly pull the data and in many cases see that our drivers were operating safely,” Daiber said.

Data Quality Challenges
Yet, on a practical level, telematics is only as valuable as the quality of the data it generates. And sometimes that quality can be harder to achieve on a day-to-day basis than what you might expect, said Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for AIC.

Take, for example, disruptions in wireless connectivity, where the vehicle’s GPS signal gets lost, leading to false reports.

“We’d pull idle reports on vehicles and started seeing odd data, such as a vehicle showing that it idled longer than the actual engine hours,” Remmert said. “You know it’s not correct, but it took us some time to figure out what was going on. In some cases, a vehicle would be in a garage and lose connectivity for several hours, but because of the programming of the software, when the signal returned, the data indicated that the vehicle had been idling when in reality it was parked and the ignition was shut off.”

How did AIC resolve the issue? “It was actually a third-party contractor performing on-site repairs on our vehicles who noticed that, when these units pulled into a garage, they lost GPS connectivity,” Daiber said. “Once we told our telematics provider what we were seeing with the garage issue, they were able to rectify it by making adjustments in the software logic.”

But sometimes disruptions in connectivity have nothing to do with the telematics hardware or software itself; if a backup asset sits too long, the vehicle’s battery will eventually die – and so will the GPS signal. At that point, the vehicle disappears from view, along with its data, impacting the accuracy of reports.

Getting unresponsive GPS units back online can be a challenge, especially for larger fleets, Daiber said. “The problem is, it’s never the same asset. You fix one, but then you’ve got three other ones that aren’t working. It’s a moving target.”

Real-World Advice
So, what are some lessons learned from AIC’s telematics deployment that you can apply to your own fleet? Remmert and Daiber offered these tips.

1. Network with peers.
“Network with other fleet managers in the utility industry to learn what has worked and what hasn’t,” Remmert said. “I think you really need to focus on getting advice within the utility industry because utility fleets have a unique set of needs and challenges that are different than those of, say, a delivery fleet.”

2. Plan for ongoing maintenance.
“Before you even start installations, have a plan as to how you’re going to maintain those units,” Daiber said. “That was something that I don’t think was fully on our radar before we got into this. We didn’t anticipate the amount of time it would take to maintain the hardware.”

3. Test data definitions during the pilot phase.
“When you’re doing a pilot [where the telematics provider allows you to test the system], really get down into the weeds about the data itself and test the reports so you’re actually getting what you think you’re getting,” Remmert said. “We really struggled with setting up our data definitions correctly upfront. I don’t blame that on the telematics provider. We had to understand what we wanted. What defines idle? What defines a backing event? You have to spend time working with your internal customers to determine what definitions they want set and then work with your telematics provider to help you get it done right.”

4. Get buy-in across the organization.
“Involving stakeholders throughout the company has been essential in the success of our telematics deployment,” Remmert said. “As an organization, we agreed that fleet would be responsible for managing the installs, maintenance and the reporting aspects of the system, but it’s really a full company initiative – not just fleet’s. We focused on getting all of senior leadership’s and other stakeholders’ buy-in before moving forward, which helped make the transition to GPS tracking go more smoothly.”

Daiber agreed. She said that when the fleet team set out to create an idle reduction policy to coincide with the telematics capabilities, they worked closely with AIC’s human resources group and equipment end users to craft a policy that would be practical and acceptable to all parties. “We went out into the field and received input from the end users, learning about their challenges, finding out why they idle their vehicles and uncovering ideas where we could reduce idle without negatively impacting driver productivity,” Daiber said. “We avoided creating an environment where the end users feel like they’re being watched and judged. That’s important to ensure that everyone is committed to continuous improvement.”

The Bottom Line
Despite some of the challenges his team has encountered with ensuring the quality of the data, Remmert said that, overall, telematics has transformed AIC’s fleet operations and is already generating actionable results. “At first you might feel like you’re beating your head against the wall, trying to manage all the complexities involved, but it’s worth it to get a final product that will help you manage your fleet performance more efficiently today and into the future,” he said.


Executing an Effective Fleet Rightsizing Strategy

About four years ago, East Central Energy, an electric distribution cooperative headquartered in Braham, Minn., underwent a corporate restructuring that shifted fleet from operations to the finance department. This reorganization, along with a drop in demand for new services, sparked an initiative to rightsize the fleet, said Holly Giffrow-Bos, East Central Energy’s fleet supervisor.

“When fleet was moved to finance, that’s when we started doing a lot more analyzing and measuring the financial performance of our fleet,” Giffrow-Bos said. “And when the scope of our business changed [with lower demand in new services], we analyzed the impact on our fleet. We measured and ranked our assets at each of our five locations, based on set criteria, to determine which assets we should keep, replace, reassign or eliminate.”

The result: about a 13 percent reduction in fleet assets, from 205 to 178 units since 2011, which has generated tens of thousands of dollars in annual savings for East Central Energy.

A reorganization of sorts also prompted a fleet rightsizing initiative for Matt Gilliland, fleet services manager at Nebraska Public Power District, which operates more than 1,100 fleet assets.

A few years ago, Gilliland’s fleet organization served only the transmission and distribution business units. But in 2012, his department’s responsibilities were expanded to oversee the fleets of all the district’s business units – a total of eight – creating opportunities for fleet consolidation and reduction.

“When we onboarded those business units, we rightsized their fleets, identifying about 70 assets that could go away,” Gilliland said.

Rightsizing Defined
Both Giffrow-Bos and Gilliland will tell you that rightsizing refers to more than simply downsizing. It’s about striking the optimal balance between fleet composition and business requirements. This is because, depending on changes in the business, rightsizing might actually mean having to add assets to maintain proper service levels to customers.

Rightsizing also relates to the right size or spec of a vehicle. In some applications, you might be able to downsize to a vehicle that offers a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine and lower purchase price. But in other instances, you might discover that you need to bump up to a larger truck because the current one has been consistently overloaded, creating premature maintenance issues and excessive downtime.

And it’s important to consider the right type of asset when formulating your rightsizing strategy. For example, you might have assigned someone an SUV, when a less expensive, more fuel-efficient passenger vehicle could still do the job. By making this switch, you may not be reducing the overall fleet size, but you are rightsizing both operational and capital expenditures.

Fleet Manager as Adviser
Any time there’s a proposed change – especially when it impacts a business unit’s access to equipment – there are politics involved. The fleet managers who know how to navigate those politics will be the most successful in implementing positive change for all affected parties.

This starts with the fleet manager taking on the role of an adviser to the leaders of each business unit, said Paul Lauria, who has conducted numerous rightsizing studies for government and utility fleets for more than three decades as president of Mercury Associates (www.mercury-assoc.com), a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Md.

“In my view, the fleet manager’s role should be to help business units make sound fleet resource decisions that save money and do not impair the operators from doing their jobs,” Lauria said. “It’s not the fleet manager’s responsibility to force operators into accepting a particular type of vehicle. Instead, it’s their role to outline what are the most cost-effective types of resources to perform particular jobs.”

Gilliland agreed. “The role of the fleet manager is mostly tied to information,” he said. “It’s fleet’s job to identify what we should replace and when based on utilization history and life-cycle costing. We take that data and sit down with the supervisor of each independent business unit. We convey to them what we plan to replace and when, and they have an opportunity to provide good feedback on what they really need to do their jobs. It’s more of a collaborative process.”

Lauria said that business unit input is essential before making final decisions about whether to retire an underutilized asset. “That supervisor might say, ‘Yes, I have two backups. But that’s because we’re not doing a great job replacing our frontline units. So now I have to put those backups into service fairly often, while my frontline units are in the garage for repairs.’ Or it might be a situation where the supervisor says, ‘We’ve analyzed the demand for these types of assets during certain times of year and these assets are going to be heavily utilized in the winter months.’”

According to Giffrow-Bos, “If we see something underutilized, we get with the supervisor of that business unit and find out why they aren’t using it. Has the scope of the business changed? Or is it that we haven’t had any jobs that require this piece of equipment? If so, is this something you think you can live without? Or is this something you could rent when the need arises?”

Seeing the Big Picture
While business unit supervisors are best equipped to provide field-level insight into their equipment needs, the fleet manager sees the big picture.

“Fleet managers have enterprise-wide visibility into the costs of the fleet, and the deployment and utilization of vehicles,” Lauria said. “You wouldn’t expect individual business units to have that same visibility.”

And sometimes that difference in perspective can create tension between fleet and the business unit. “One of the key challenges when rightsizing is getting supervisors to see beyond their own business,” Gilliland said. “When it comes time to share or reassign vehicles, it’s somewhat difficult to get leadership of those units to see beyond themselves – to get one business unit to give up an asset for the benefit of another.”

So, how do you navigate a situation like this to help bring about consensus? “It comes down to communication and relationship building. You need to cultivate a relationship with that supervisor so you can have frank yet respectful conversations about what’s best for the organization as a whole,” Gilliland advised.

Lauria recommended using objective data to help business unit supervisors see the financial impact of keeping an underutilized vehicle. “A well-defined cost-chargeback system, for example, creates economic incentives for the business units to pay attention to the fixed cost of adding or keeping fleet assets,” he said. “If a business unit is charged $1,300 a month for the fixed cost of a piece of equipment they barely use, you’re empowering them to say, ‘You know what, this is crazy to keep this. We use this thing six hours a month and we need to explore other options for meeting this particular type of need.’ In some cases, there are no other good options, but the point is that a good charge-back system engages fleet users in the management of fleet costs.”

Rewards of Rightsizing
Even relatively small changes through rightsizing can yield considerable cost savings from a reduction in capital purchases and the elimination of ongoing maintenance, tax and insurance costs for each asset retired from the fleet.

For example, three years ago East Central Energy began the process of retiring or reassigning 12 vehicles by switching over to an IRS-approved driver reimbursement program managed by Runzheimer International (www.runzheimer.com), a Waterford, Wis.-based firm that provides mobility program management services. “We were able to take the 12 vehicles and reassign or eliminate them from the inventory,” Giffrow-Bos said. “If it was a decent truck and worthy to keep in our fleet, we would reassign it to another district and fulfill a need of another driver, without having to go outside and purchase a new one.”

The result? “We’ve saved about $38,000 annually with the 12 drivers on the program,” Giffrow-Bos said.

So, how often should you conduct a fleet rightsizing analysis for maximum benefit?

“If you’re talking about doing an enterprise-wide rightsizing study, I’d say once every five years,” Lauria advised. “If you’re identifying individual assets that are clearly being used less than the norm for that type of asset and application, then you could evaluate those opportunities for rightsizing at any time.”

An Ongoing Effort
The key takeaway here is that rightsizing is not a one-and-done project; it’s an ongoing, continuous improvement effort. That’s because the scope of your business can change at any time, directly impacting the number and type of assets you need to ensure that you’re maintaining a fleet that’s the right size.


The Millennial Challenge: Attracting and Retaining Younger Workers in Utility Fleet Operations

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is the fifth habit in Stephen R. Covey’s perennial best-seller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

And it could also serve as a guiding principle for today’s baby boomer and Gen X fleet managers as they grapple with replacing a large swath of workers retiring over the next few years with millennials who bring a substantially different perspective toward their work and lives.

Also known as Generation Y, millennials – ages 18 to 34 as of 2015 – are projected to surpass the baby boomers – ages 51 to 69 – as the nation’s largest living generation this year by a total of 75.3 million to 74.9 million, according to Pew Research Center. They represent a much larger generation than their Gen X parents – ages 35 to 50 – who aren’t expected to eclipse the boomer population until 2028.

Millennials are often labeled as too idealistic, entitled, lazy and obsessed with instant gratification. But as the seismic generational shift occurs in the job market, smart fleet managers must look beyond the perceptions and “seek first to understand” to compete for the best young talent.

So, whether you’re a boomer, Gen Xer or millennial yourself, how can you more effectively attract, retain and motivate millennials? Consider these five strategies.

1. Talk about your industry, organization and the job in the context of purpose.
Millennials are looking for more than just a paycheck; they want to be part of something they perceive will make a difference in their communities and the world.

“The main characteristic we’re observing in millennials is that they’re purpose-driven – more so than other generations,” said Jim Finkelstein, author of “FUSE: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace” and the president and CEO of FutureSense Inc. (www.futuresense.com), a San Rafael, Calif.-based professional services firm that was founded in 1995 to advise, consult and support clients in the areas of people, organization and strategy. “When you look at old-school industries, such as the utility sector, you often see that they have a challenge of connecting with younger workers because they don’t address the ‘why’ question for millennials: ‘Why do I want to be involved with this industry?’”

Finkelstein said this priority of purpose versus paycheck is largely because millennials have become disillusioned by observing their parents, who would grind it out in jobs they didn’t enjoy, sacrificing family time in the name of career advancement and financial stability, only to get burned by layoffs and market crashes, like what happened in 2001 and 2008.

“They’ve seen the impact of economic disaster and the emotional toll it has taken on their parents’ generation. And they’re saying, ‘You know, maybe I can get by with a little less.’ They’re much more minimalistic in how they approach the acquisition of assets, and more focused on fulfilling their passion and purpose,” Finkelstein said.

How can the utility fleet industry tap into a millennial’s pursuit of a purposeful career?

Finkelstein advises fleets to frame the job in these terms: “Why is it important to have a fleet that is well-functioning and fuel-efficient? How will this impact creating a cleaner environment? How will it help advance the causes they believe in? Millennials need to see the purpose, the big picture that draws them into a movement – something more than, ‘Oh well, I need to get to work to fix a few trucks today.’”

Matt Gilliland, fleet services manager for Nebraska Public Power District, said that his utility’s purpose-driven focus has helped substantially with recruiting younger workers. “We’re all about doing what’s right for Nebraskans,” Gilliland said. “And that commitment to serving the community really connects with millennials who share that service-oriented attitude. They like to see an organization, a team or even a boss that has objectives larger than just completing work by the end of the day.”

2. Accommodate for work-life balance.

According to a recent survey by Ernst & Young, “Global Generations: A Global Study on Work-Life Challenges Across Generations,” U.S. millennials are the most likely generation to say they would change jobs – 77 percent, versus 71 percent for Gen X and 49 percent for baby boomers – or give up an opportunity for a promotion – 65 percent, compared to 56 percent for Gen X and 47 percent for boomers – to more effectively manage work-life balance.

A major driver of this trend, the report stated, is that close to 80 percent of the millennials surveyed are part of dual-income couples, with both spouses working full time. And that means they share more responsibilities at home, compared to the majority of baby boomers, where one spouse works full time. As a result, millennials value increased schedule flexibility and paid parental leave more than other generations, the report said.

Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), has observed this trend firsthand with younger mechanics in his organization. “There were several mechanics we would hire, and six months to a year later, they would go on and work for someone else. They would even lose money to go somewhere else.”

When looking deeper into this issue, Jefferson realized the existing shift schedule didn’t work well for younger mechanics with family responsibilities. “In the past, we had 95 percent of our mechanics scheduled to work the evening shift [2-11:30 p.m.] and a handful work the early shift [7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.],” he said.

Jefferson worked with his team to develop a compromise, so that all mechanics would be on a rotation with two weeks of day shifts and two weeks of evenings. He also changed the evening hours to 1-9:30 p.m., so those who worked the late shift would still get home two hours earlier than the previous schedule. That way, his team could accommodate the work-life balance needs of his mechanics by providing more day shifts, while ensuring all shifts are fully staffed to meet the service needs of the entire organization.

The new schedule went into effect in September 2014. A year later, it seems to be working. “We haven’t lost any mechanics since the change,” Jefferson said.

3. Become a more collaborative leader.
Beyond being purpose-driven and offering a more flexible schedule, what should utility fleets consider to attract and motivate millennials?

“Create a highly collaborative, team-oriented environment, where people are tapping into each other’s potential and where leaders are seen more as mentors and guides,” Finkelstein said.

Gilliland agrees. “Traditionally, it has been that those who exhibited a high level of technical knowledge would get promoted into management,” he said. “But millennials put more value on strategic thinking and seeing the big picture than technical expertise. They want their leader to be more of a team leader, an inspirational guide who collaborates with them to get things done, and there’s less emphasis on someone who has the technical knowledge.”

This also means the command-and-control leadership model is likely to be a turnoff to most millennials. “It used to be, if the boss says it, you do it. Not anymore,” Gilliland said.

He recommends that fleet managers take a more participative management approach, getting workers involved in the planning and decision-making processes. “Instead of me sitting in a meeting and dictating the steps we’re going to do, it’s more of this: ‘Here are our challenges, here’s what would be ideal and here are the expectations of what things should look like in the end. What are some ways we can get there?’”

4. Tap into instant gratification as a motivator.
Millennials have become accustomed to on-demand conveniences. They’ve grown up in a digital world where, with a few keystrokes on a computer or swipes on a smartphone, they can order food, watch videos or even direct message the most famous celebrities. And with social media likes, shares and comments, they’re conditioned to get instant feedback on their thoughts and ideas.

In other words, millennials are conditioned to expect instant gratification. So, how does this impact your management style?

Jefferson said that one adjustment he has made is to “react quickly and communicate frequently. Especially with the positive stuff. Often, that motivates [millennials] more than a raise.”

Finkelstein recommends that when you’re giving raises, bonuses or other type of rewards, don’t wait until the end of the year. “We often wait too long to give somebody a bonus, the money that recognizes their accomplishments,” Finkelstein said. “Make those rewards more episodic throughout the year – that’s great for keeping millennials engaged.”

This goes for nonfinancial rewards as well, according to Finkelstein. “Based on their desire for work-life balance, a real big driver for millennials is time off,” he said. “We might assume they’re lazy, but in fact, if you give millennials more opportunities to take time off throughout the year, they refresh, renew and come back even more juiced to do the work that is necessary.”

5. Personalize your approach.
Despite some of the common characteristics of millennials, avoid the trap of assuming all millennials fit the same profile. “We have to recognize unique motivators and customize our approach on how we lead people in the marketplace,” Finkelstein said.

He recommends fleet managers put together what he calls a “UMP” – a unique motivational profile. “Millennials who don’t have kids have a very different motivational profile than others that have kids. We also have real diversity in needs and interests. So if we start generalizing and say all millennials want time off, there may be millennials who don’t. I think we have to resist the urge to generalize.”

That’s the hard part. And it takes time. But it’s imperative to personalize your approach if you’re going to get the most out of your people, Finkelstein said. “Everybody who works on the shop floor, everybody who works as a mechanic – they are not all cast in the same mold. They are all different and unique. Once we get that, then we’re going to be able to build a system of interaction with them that’s customized and truly effective, tapping into their unique humanness, potential and motivations.”

The Bottom Line
All five of these strategies point back to Covey’s maxim to “seek first to understand.” It’s only with deep understanding and genuine empathy that you can effectively connect with the minds and hearts of millennials – and maximize their potential in your organization.

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