Tag: Green Fleets


The Low-Hanging Fruit for Greening Your Fleet

What if you could convert the majority of your fleet to run on a cleaner-burning, renewable fuel with minimal capital investment. Would you do it?

According to NTEA’s 2019 Fleet Purchasing Outlook, a growing number of fleet professionals are saying they would, with survey participants naming biodiesel as their top alternative fuel choice – and their top choice for future interest.

Think of biodiesel as the low-hanging fruit for fleets to make a significant dent in their green initiatives without breaking the bank. That’s because the fuel is relatively easy to get, and biodiesel blends up to B20 (20% biodiesel and 80% petrodiesel) can be used in most diesel engines without modification. Compared to petrodiesel, B20 reduces carbon emissions by 16% on average, according to the National Biodiesel Board. And you can use biodiesel in conjunction with your fleet electrification efforts, such as with hybrid-electric diesel trucks.

One fleet that has gone all-in with biodiesel is Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co., which began using the fuel in 2001. In February, ComEd was recognized by the Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition for their extensive biodiesel use by receiving two Green Fleet Leadership Awards – the first for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 5,000 tons in 2017 with biodiesel and electric vehicles, and the second award for reducing nearly 370,000 gasoline-gallon equivalents of fuel by using biodiesel.

What has ComEd’s experience been with biodiesel? What lessons have they learned? And what advice do they have for other utility fleet professionals who are considering making the transition? 

UFP recently spoke with Les Faul, fleet operations manager at ComEd, to get his perspective.

UFP: What blend of biodiesel does ComEd primarily use?

Les Faul: It depends on the time of the year. When we first started our biodiesel program, we were running B20 year-round. But as the manufacturers and the tolerances have changed, we have adjusted our blend. We still run B20 throughout the summer months, but in the winter, we have pared back to B11.

One of the common criticisms of using biodiesel is the issue of fuel gelling in the winter. What has ComEd done to mitigate that issue?

Glycerin and moisture in the fuel [which can lead to gelling] don’t seem to have any effect on the fuel in the summer months. The warmth thins out the fuel mixture, allowing it to flow through the engine. But as the diesel gets cold, you’ve got a cloud point where the fuel begins to crystallize – a cold filter plug point, where the diesel will no longer flow through the equipment, including the filters and the fuel system. And that’s where you’ve got the issues with your vehicle.

We monitor both [the glycerin and moisture] levels through testing throughout our winter months to ensure that we’re targeting where our threshold is.

And what we have found works for us is to go with a lower biodiesel blend in the winter – B11 – while also using a Number 1 oil, a dryer diesel [than the standard Number 2 diesel] to minimize moisture.

This winter, Chicago encountered record-cold temperatures. How did the biodiesel hold up?

We consider ourselves first responders, so we want to ensure the highest operability standards for our equipment – that we’re not sitting on the side of the road due to any issues concerning our fuel. We always err on the side of caution.

In the Chicago area this winter, when we had a few consecutive days of nearly -30 [degrees Fahrenheit] actual temperature, our fuel was not a major concern for us. We weren’t running straight Number 1 oil like a lot of the arctic utilities might be; we were still running our biodiesel even during the coldest parts of the year.

What does ComEd’s biodiesel fueling infrastructure look like? How do you go about fueling off-site?

It’s a little bit of a mixed bag. We have on-site fueling at 19 of our 21 sites. All of those locations have our biodiesel blend, whether it’s our summer or winter blend.

Also, because of how we run and operate, especially during storms and in remote areas, our drivers can get fueling at an off-site or public facility. But they are encouraged to use our on-site fuel. That’s because we’ve got much better control over the quality of our fuel than we have at the public fuel stations.

Where do you see ComEd’s use of biodiesel fitting into your overall green fleet strategy? Is it a “bridge fuel” to full electrification? Or does it fit in combination with your fleet electrification initiatives?

Biodiesel is not going to be a bridge. It has been one of our core strategies for quite some time. I would say our biodiesel use will continue in combination with electrification, especially in our fleet. That’s because we don’t have a lot of opportunities to go 100% electric with the duty cycles that we’ve got to run, especially when we’re in storm mode, running 24 hours a day.

But we definitely do have a strategy to increase the electrification of our fleet, especially when it comes to [electric power takeoff] trucks. So, we’re running biodiesel vehicles with electric power takeoff units to run our bucket trucks’ HVAC cab comfort systems. And anywhere that we can go 100% electric, we will.

What advice do you have for other utility fleet professionals about what to consider when transitioning to biodiesel?

If you’re making the transition to biodiesel, especially into the higher biodiesel blends [like B20], make sure you do your prep work. Clean your in-ground storage tanks, have a filter exchange program going at least for the first month as you clean out your vehicle tanks, and then put in place a good change management program with your end users.

In most cases, the end users will never know the difference [between diesel and biodiesel]. But if you don’t engage them at the start, sometimes there can be a negative perception of the biodiesel product. It’s one of those culture changes that if you manage it well, you’ll be fine. Biodiesel is a very reliable product. There will be no performance issues that the driver will ever notice.


Going Green and Lightweight: How Suez North America Saved $20,000

Suez North America is an environmentally friendly water utilities company, providing water and wastewater services as well as recycling and waste recovery services to almost 8 million people in North America. Known for placing sustainable environmental practices at the forefront of their operations, Suez employs innovative strategies to shrink their environmental footprint. The corporate headquarters for Suez’s North American operations are found in Paramus, New Jersey. In northern New Jersey alone, Suez serves 800,000 people with clean, sustainable water, while preserving the local waterways.

Bruce Ottogalli, transportation manager, oversees Suez’s fleet in New Jersey and New York. As the company’s only transportation manager, he is responsible for maintaining, servicing and updating the fleet’s work trucks – an integral part of Suez’s operations.

“As a sustainable company, the biggest thing for us is to have a limited environmental footprint with the vehicles, curb our carbon footprint and go green,” Ottogalli said. “We’re limited in our area as we can’t use propane or natural gas, because the suburban areas we serve don’t have that kind of fuel to fill our trucks.” Because the fleet’s vehicles must be powered by diesel or gas, Ottogalli has had to find other ways to follow the company’s green mandate.

Spec’ing Trucks for an Environmentally Friendly Fleet
Suez replaces their fleet trucks every 10 years, and in 2016 the fleet was due for an upgrade. Keeping the green mandate in mind, Ottogalli had some specific requests for his truck suppliers.

First, the truck bodies had to be aluminum – this would allow the rear body of the truck to be recycled when it was no longer being used in the fleet. The chosen upfitters, Jersey Truck Equipment and Auto Truck, were supplied the cab chassis from Ford and the aluminum truck bodies from Reading Truck Bodies.

Second, the vehicles needed to be lighter than the previous trucks for better fuel economy. “We replaced most of the F-650s with new F-650s, but we also replaced three F-650s with F-550s, to allow our trucks to get around better in the tighter streets of some of the cities we work in,” Ottogalli said.

Third, the new trucks had to be equipped with anti-idling devices – this fuel-saving technology has been installed on all new Suez vehicles since 2016. The LGS Group supplied Suez with the Ecostar Systems by Intermotive Vehicle Controls, which were installed on the vehicles in Suez’s own shop.

Equipment Upgrades
With the truck updates also came equipment updates. Suez trucks are equipped with air compressors, as the crew uses air tools to make repairs to water mains. “Jackhammers are required to break pavement for us to access the water mains, while other air tools are used to blow away material near the water main and complete the repairs,” Ottogalli explained.

With this fleet upgrade, Ottogalli took the opportunity to speak with the crew to find out what was on their wish list. The crew’s No. 1 request was to have more space on their trucks. To free up space, Ottogalli sought to replace their bulky, 1,000-pound diesel-driven air compressors with something more compact and lightweight. Ottogalli recalled learning about VMAC air compressors at NTEA’s The Work Truck Show in 2013 and thought an under-the-hood air compressor solution would solve the space and weight challenges. As VMAC dealers, Jersey Truck Equipment and Auto Truck were able to outfit the trucks with VMAC UNDERHOOD 150 Air Compressors.

The VMAC UNDERHOOD 150 Air Compressor is powerful enough to power one jackhammer and complete the necessary jobs. “We get air on demand, and it puts out the air that we need. For our application, it’s well worth it,” Ottogalli said. 

A More Sustainable Fleet
Between January and October 2017, Suez was supplied with Ford F-550 and F-650 trucks and equipped them with VMAC UNDERHOOD 150 Air Compressors. In total, these changes resulted in thousands of pounds of weight savings.

“With the aluminum body and VMAC, we dropped 3,200 pounds from the curb weight of the F-650,” Ottogalli said.

The VMAC UNDERHOOD 150 Air Compressors weigh just 200 pounds compared to the 1,000 pounds the previous compressors weighed. The under-the-hood placement of the VMAC air compressor also achieved the crew’s goal to have more space freed up on the truck – there’s now about 3 extra feet of storage available in the back of the truck. 

It Pays to Go Green
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that for every 100 pounds of weight reduction, a vehicle’s fuel economy can be saved by up to 2 percent. Suez’s grand weight reduction of thousands of pounds, coupled with the vehicle-driven air compressor and anti-idling devices, creates the perfect combination for maximum fuel savings, leading to some notable improvements to the department’s bottom line.

It’s now been just over a year since Suez received its first new truck, with the fleet being fully completed in October 2017. With less than a year of having the fleet fully upgraded, Suez has already seen big payoffs, with almost $20,000 in diesel fuel savings.

The new trucks run on gas instead of diesel, and the new VMAC UNDERHOOD 150 air compressors run off the truck engine instead of requiring additional diesel fuel to run. Overall, about 8,000 gallons of diesel have been saved, and it hasn’t even been a full year with the new fleet. “Besides saving almost $20,000 dollars in such a short time, we’ve also reduced our carbon footprint by about 155,000 pounds,” Ottogalli said. 

Environmentally Friendly Options From VMAC
Known for being lightweight and compact, each of VMAC’s air compressors are significantly lighter than many competitive compressors. In Suez’s case, VMAC was 800 pounds lighter than their diesel-driven compressors. But in addition to being lightweight, VMAC also has its own kind of anti-idling technology, which is present in various air compressors. This proprietary technology automatically idles the compressor’s engine up and down with air demand, and it turns the engine off and on with air demand, limiting engine idling. VMAC air compressors are an attractive option for utilities and public works companies, as well as government fleets, due to their green technology. 

The Future is Eco-Friendly
Suez’s innovative and eco-friendly business practices can serve as inspiration to other companies looking to limit their mark on the environment, and, as a bonus, save money. But it’s only possible with forward-thinking and creative individuals such as Ottogalli, who was empowered to make substantial changes to his fleet, from changing to aluminum bodies to choosing VMAC UNDERHOOD air compressors.

“It’s great to report the fuel and cost savings year over year since making these changes to the fleet,” Ottogalli said. “It’s rewarding to see that we continue to reduce our environmental impact, and it’s great motivation to continue finding new ways to keep innovating.”

About the Author: Anne Fortin is a digital marketing specialist for VMAC Global Technology Inc.


Should Your Utility Fleet Consider Using Biodiesel?

Sustainability is a goal for many utility fleets, but there may not be enough money in the budget – or full stakeholder support – to do all it takes to meet that goal, including overhauling infrastructure, adding new vehicles to the fleet and training staff.

That’s where biodiesel can come into play.

“Biodiesel can be burned in any vehicle, and you don’t have to make infrastructure changes,” said Patti Earley, fleet fueling operations specialist for Florida Power & Light Co. “The fuel tanks don’t need modifications. The fuel equipment isn’t different. It’s very easy. And with biodiesel, you can burn B20 one day and use ultralow sulfur diesel the next without any problems.”

Biodiesel – a fuel made from feedstocks including recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and animal fats – typically is named based on the percentage of biodiesel found in a particular blend. B20, for instance, is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel; it also is the most common blend. Florida Power & Light has used biodiesel since 1999, up to B35. The utility runs all of its diesel equipment on biodiesel and has logged more than 150 million miles.

Proving just how seamless the conversion is, Earley noted that crews from other utilities who have helped out in storm recovery efforts have used biodiesel from Florida Power & Light and “weren’t aware” they were doing so.

Standards, Specifications, Support
Biodiesel production continues to increase year over year, from approximately 25 million gallons in the early part of the century to nearly 3 billion gallons in 2016, according to the National Biodiesel Board (http://biodiesel.org/), which – among other things – has worked on developing standards to help ensure biodiesel users reap measurable benefits. “It doesn’t do any good to put a new fuel out in the marketplace that there will be issues with,” said Scott Fenwick, the board’s technical director.

That has meant working closely with vehicle and engine manufacturers on specifications. Today, most diesel vehicles and engines are approved for biodiesel use up to B20, with the exception of some European OEMs that only approve B5. “That’s not to say that you can’t use biodiesel or that it voids the warranty,” Fenwick said. “It does not. Engine warranties cover parts and workmanship, not issues related to fuel.”

The National Biodiesel Board continues to work to gain greater OEM support, Fenwick said. PACCAR (www.paccar.com), a manufacturer of light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks under the Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF nameplates, recently approved the use of B20 in its new vehicles.

Benefits of Use
So, what are some other benefits of using this fuel? According to Fenwick, biodiesel is nonflammable, nonhazardous and biodegradable. “If there happens to be a spill, you don’t have to call in the hazmat trucks,” he said. “The reduced particulate matter makes for cleaner air to breathe.”

The environmental benefits hold sway with some. Energy security – creating American jobs while reducing dependence on foreign oil – resonates with others.

For utility fleets, Fenwick pointed to improved combustion and less smoke – a benefit that is particularly useful when it comes to vehicle idling. “[W]ith today’s engines, there is improved lubricity. When diesel reduced its sulfur content 10 years ago, it put more and more stress on the engine. Biodiesel improves all of that, leading to less wear and tear on the engine, less maintenance and a longer life.”

With its many benefits, why isn’t biodiesel the standard? Earley noted that before ASTM specifications were adopted, some users had issues with biodiesel. “That gave biodiesel a black eye,” she said. “But we’ve never had a problem because we pay close attention to make sure the biodiesel meets the standards, and we pay attention to how we handle and store it.”

With the improvements that have been made over the years, biodiesel might be worth another look.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Getting Started
Without the need to alter equipment, getting started with biodiesel is relatively simple. However, there are several steps to consider before putting the nozzle in the fuel tank. Here are four tips from Scott Fenwick, technical director for the National Biodiesel Board, and Patti Earley, Florida Power & Light Co.’s fleet fueling operations specialist.

  • Know your vendor. Some early problems with biodiesel were related to poor-quality fuel. While much of that has changed with the adoption of ASTM specifications, it still is important to verify quality. Fenwick suggested suppliers meet both Top Tier standards as well as BQ-9000 quality management standards. “Top Tier is a product quality guarantee similar to the Top Tier gasoline program in place for a number of years,” he said.
  • Prepare storage tanks. “If you have storage tanks that you’ve been using for a long time, you may want to clean them out,” Earley said. “The biodiesel will clean the tank. If there’s gunk in your tanks, it will get caught in the filters.”
  • Anticipate vehicle maintenance early on. Earley noted that older equipment may need fuel filter changes often in the early stages as the biodiesel cleans the engine.
  • Make sure you’re getting financial incentives. Fenwick noted that many states offer incentives for fleets to use biodiesel. Illinois, for instance, exempts the motor fuels tax for blends higher than 10 percent. Fenwick also said that B20 blends can be as economical as straight petroleum fuel.

Joining Forces to Accelerate Green Fleet Adoption

If you’re looking to green your fleet in a way that’s good for both the environment and the business, you don’t have to go about it alone.

That’s the message of Clean Cities (https://cleancities.energy.gov/), which was formed in 1993 by the U.S. Department of Energy and, today, has nearly 100 local coalitions that bring together businesses, fuel providers, vehicle fleets, government agencies and community organizations all pursuing the same goal: cutting petroleum use in transportation. Some of the program’s recent utility fleet success stories include Pacific Gas and Electric, Public Service Company of New Mexico and Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey.

The idea behind Clean Cities is that investing in green technologies at a meaningful scale can be a high-risk, high-cost endeavor for most fleets to shoulder alone. But what if you could connect with other fleet managers and experts who have real-world experience with vehicle electrification, natural gas, propane autogas, biodiesel or whatever technology you’re looking to deploy?

You could significantly reduce risk and tap into economies of scale that make your green initiative more affordable – and more compelling to the business.

It’s Clean Cities that helps make those connections happen at the local level and across the country, said Dennis Smith, Clean Cities national director, who, prior to joining the program in 2001, served as director of energy services at Atlanta Gas Light Co., a large Atlanta-based utility.

“The basis of what makes the Clean Cities coalition network successful is this idea of teaming up – not just locally but also with different cities around the country – to share their experiences and lessons learned,” Smith said. “And by joining forces, they can really accelerate the adoption of the technology.”

Matching the Technology with the Application
One area where Clean Cities assists fleet managers is providing access to technical experts who can help you determine which alternative fuel technology would best fit the fleet application and your organization.

For example, what fueling infrastructure do you need to have in place to ensure the technology is practical for day-to-day use in a particular application? What will be the impact on vehicle maintenance and the qualifications of the technicians you need to work on those vehicles? What modifications, if any, do you need to make to your maintenance shop to safely accommodate working with certain alternative fuels?

Getting informed answers to questions like these is important because, when you consider that the technology could add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of each vehicle, along with any capital investment for fueling infrastructure and potential shop modifications, a major mistake today could seriously undermine support for future green fleet proposals in your organization.

“A lot of what Clean Cities does is to play matchmaker – to help fleets decide which fuel or which specific vehicle would work best in a particular application,” Smith said. “Each of these green technologies performs a little differently or would be better suited for a different application.”

Smith said that fleet managers can also get access to tools and calculators through Clean Cities that can help them perform feasibility studies to determine which types of technologies could save them the most fuel and achieve the quickest payback.

The Power of Collaboration
When it comes to adopting green fleet technology, fueling infrastructure is a major hurdle for many fleets to overcome. Clean Cities provides a forum where you can connect with other fleets that are looking to engage in similar initiatives, presenting opportunities to collaborate in ways that might reduce infrastructure costs for all parties involved.

“With most of these alternative fuels, you need to have a new kind of fueling station or electric charger or something,” Smith said. “And it’s not cost-effective for everybody to always have their own fuel station. So, you need to combine forces with other fleets, utilities or other entities in the area to see who’s like-minded and wants to do something similar. And maybe by teaming up, you’re going to use enough fuel to make it cost-effective for either you or another outside group to come in and help build those fueling stations.”

But you not only have to consider potential capital costs of building on-site fueling, you also need to learn about the logistics and permitting processes to make those projects happen.

“If fleet managers have never done this before and don’t understand what permits they need from the city to install their fueling station, many times the Clean Cities coalition can help with that by introducing them to the fire marshal or to another fleet that did exactly the same thing and can show them how that was done,” Smith said. “So, a lot of what happens is forming the right teams and partnerships so that people can benefit from all of that kind of knowledge. That’s the real value, I think, of why people would want to be involved [with Clean Cities]. Otherwise, they’re left feeling that they’re doing it on their own, or they’re the first to try to do this, and they’re a pioneer. But they can really do it so much more quickly and effectively – and almost guarantee success – if they’re teaming up with people who’ve done it before.”

Navigating the Funding Landscape
Government incentives and grant programs for certain alternative fuel technologies are in a constant state of flux and differ across states and municipalities. So, how do you keep up? How do you navigate this shifting landscape to determine which programs your fleet qualifies for?

“One of the first things that people usually think about when they approach the Clean Cities coalition is, ‘Do you have access to any grant money or any funding sources to help us?’ And that is something that the coalitions are good at,” Smith said. “Sometimes, over the years, Clean Cities has had some grants or award money where we can help with projects, and other times when we don’t, sometimes the states have funding. Or there may be other incentives available. Clean Cities can help connect the dots to make sure that fleets are aware of all of the incentives or the local or regional or state laws that may have benefits for them.”

Getting Involved
What level in the organization usually takes the lead in working with Clean Cities to launch a green fleet initiative? Is it the fleet manager, or does senior management drive this process?

“Most of the time it’s the fleet manager, but with some of the big fleets, senior management does get involved, particularly when you’re talking about large vehicle purchases and the millions of dollars that need to be justified to a board of directors or at public hearings, particularly where utilities are involved,” Smith said. “But fleet managers definitely have to be involved because they’re usually crunching the numbers and specifying the vehicles. And they’re the ones responsible on a day-by-day basis to make sure the vehicles do what they need to do.”

So, what’s the first step for fleet managers to get involved with Clean Cities?

“Each Clean Cities coalition is a little different, but the best starting point is to go to the Clean Cities home page and enter your ZIP code to see where the closest Clean Cities coalition is to you,” Smith said. “It tells you who the local coordinator – the lead person – is, along with their contact information. Then contact them to find out when the next meeting is scheduled.”

What can fleet managers expect at the meetings?

Smith offered this description: “It’s like a Rotary Club of sorts for people who are interested in [alternative fuel technology] topics. Sometimes the meetings are at fleet locations so that you can talk to the fleet manager or drivers at that location to see what their experiences have been with a particular technology.”

Utility Fleets Leading the Way
Smith said that many utility fleets have been especially active leaders in Clean Cities over the years. “The utility fleets have a unique perspective in that many of them serve as the pace-setters – the pioneers – in trying out these technologies. Whether it’s a gas or electric utility, they’re some of the first organizations that get out there to try the natural gas or the electric vehicles. They feel like they should lead by example, and many of those utilities have served that role.”


Could Cutting the Cord Accelerate Electric Vehicle Growth?

If your fleet operates plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) – or is planning to do so – there’s an emerging technology you’ll want to put on your radar that could impact your vehicle selection and charging infrastructure decisions within the next year or two.

It’s wireless EV charging, which proponents believe holds the key to widespread transportation electrification.

That’s because one of the friction points of operating EVs is the inconvenience of charging with a conventional cord and plug-in system, said David Schatz, vice president of business development and sales for WiTricity (http://witricity.com), a firm that develops wireless charging systems for EVs, headquartered in Watertown, Mass.

Schatz cites a major automaker’s internal study that found that 70 percent of all plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners never plug in and opt for fueling only with gas because of the “inconvenience” of plugging in their vehicle.

The idea here is that if you cut the cord, you make EV charging more acceptable to a larger market because you’re not forcing users to change their behavior. “PHEV and EV drivers simply park over a charging pad in their garage, or at work, or at a shopping center and charge up with no hands, no effort,” Schatz said.

Wireless charging uses electromagnetic induction to transfer energy from the primary coil – that’s encased in a pad on the garage floor or ground surface of a parking area – to a secondary coil that’s installed on the vehicle’s undercarriage. When the vehicle is parked in the proper position – with the secondary coil directly over the primary coil – an indicator light goes on and charging begins.

Most major automakers are developing wireless EV charging systems, with a few of the OEMs introducing wireless capabilities in the next year or so, including Mercedes with the S550e plug-in hybrid and BMW with the i3 electric vehicle and i8 plug-in hybrid. Evatran LLC (www.pluglesspower.com) has been selling its Plugless Level 2, a retrofit wireless charging system available for Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR.

Experts Peer Into Their Crystal Ball
So, what developments can we expect in wireless EV charging in the next five years? How will it impact growth in the EV market? UFP reached out to industry experts to get their outlook.

“In the next few years, we should see the rollout of wireless charging as an option for plug-in vehicles,” said Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst for Navigant Research (www.navigant.com). “I think it’ll be more widespread among the premium [plug-in electric vehicles], but it will be available from other OEMs as well. We’ll also see it being tested in controlled fleet applications. In five years, that could grow to fleet operation in city centers, perhaps electric taxi or rideshare programs. I don’t anticipate it becoming a huge part of the market within five years, but we should see a growing push to use it in electrified urban fleets.”

Andrew Daga is president and chief executive officer at Momentum Dynamics Corp. (www.momentumdynamics.com), based in Malvern, Pa. The company has developed a technology that provides “dynamic charging,” which is currently being tested on a couple municipal electric bus fleets, where vehicles can be recharged wirelessly while they’re in motion or stopped briefly at each stop on the route.

Daga’s outlook: “Every EV produced in the passenger vehicle space will have inductive [wireless] charging technology built in at the production line [in the next five years]. This is not a crystal ball view, it is what we see clearly. We envision that wireless charging is the key to enabling technology that will allow all types of vehicles to become electric, and that it will cause an S-curve adoption acceleration of EVs when fueling becomes an automated background operation. Drivers and fleet operators will not need to think about fueling; it will simply happen. Wireless does for charging what E-ZPass electronic toll collection has done for collecting tolls.”

John Boodhansingh is senior director of product management for Qualcomm (www.qualcomm.com/products/halo), which has developed the Halo Wireless EV Charging (WEVC) system for a number of automakers, including Daimler AG with its upcoming 2018 Mercedes S550e.

“The future of wireless EV charging is bright in the next five years,” Boodhansingh said. “Many automakers have committed to include WEVC, and the number of models that will have WEVC is increasing. And as that increases, that will, in turn, drive the installation of more charging infrastructure for WEVC. At Qualcomm, we view wireless charging as an enabler for the growth of the EV market because it allows drivers to easily and effortlessly charge at home, at work and when visiting retailers. The availability of effortless charging can also help reduce range anxiety because drivers can top off frequently and don’t have to worry about making it to their destination.”

Schatz with WiTricity predicted: “Over the next three years we will first see wireless charging introduced for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, charging at the 3.6-kilowatt level, so the PHEV can be fully charged in just two to four hours. Then we will see electric vehicles in 2018 and 2019 charging at 7.7-kilowatt and 11-kilowatt charge rates, and by 2020 we expect nearly every global carmaker to have introduced or announced vehicles equipped with wireless charging. Wireless charging will mainly be installed in private garages and at fleet depots. But once standardization is achieved [where chargers are compatible across any make and model vehicle], we will see wireless charging parking spots at company parking lots, retail parking lots and other public parking locations.”

The Bottom Line
A lot is expected to happen in wireless EV charging over the next few years that could impact your purchase decisions with electric vehicles and your investments in on-site charging infrastructure. So, stay tuned.


Getting Utility Fleet Drivers to Embrace Idle Reduction

Regardless of how cutting-edge a type of technology may seem, getting buy-in from prospective users often requires a pragmatic approach: They need to be convinced it works.

Such is the case with anti-idling technology. Today’s tools – aimed at reducing emissions and wasted fuel – include automatic shut-off systems, real-time alerts and plug-in hybrid vehicles that allow systems to work when the engine is off. But the only way utility fleet operators will fully embrace such tools, experts say, is when they grasp the difference that can be made, in terms of both the environment and their organization’s financial bottom line.

“It’s very spotty,” said Linda Gaines, transportation system analyst at Argonne National Laboratory (www.anl.gov) and a recognized idling authority. “You’ll go to some meetings and talk to some fleets, and they’re on board. It’s like your job is done, and the information is all out there. A lot of states have regulations, and it seems like we’ve made a lot of headway. And then you go and visit some company and see how far there still is to go.”

Gaines referenced one organization that is interested in idle reduction and went through the process of installing telematics, but, she said, was still “absolutely shocked by how much idling their trucks were actually doing. I think that’s not an unusual occurrence. Just by sharing that information with the drivers, without any kind of threat or any kind of reward, either way, just by being aware, the drivers reduced their idling by some very significant fraction.” That fraction was near 30 percent.

Raising Awareness
Neil Holladay, regional fleet manager with NPL (www.gonpl.com), an infrastructure construction company that specializes in utility construction services, said that in 2014, he and his sustainability committee co-chair were individually working on issues related to fuel and carbon footprint. When it came time for a presentation, they discovered they had both identified idling as the biggest threat – and opportunity. With a fleet of roughly 3,500 assets, the company was wasting more than $1.5 million in fuel annually due to idling. They discussed whether the best tactic would be to create an awareness campaign or write a policy; awareness won out.

“We put a campaign together that was pure saturation,” Holladay said. They shared data about the effects of idling at every turn, created no-idling areas and gave away $25 gift cards for success stories.

“It was like advertising: When you hear something for the 10th time, you’re sick of it,” he said. “But it’s OK for people to frown upon it or even poke fun. It will still catch someone’s eye. And when [it does], it’s going to be effective. You just can’t get discouraged. It takes a little time.”

Within a couple of months, NPL’s idling had dropped a few percentage points. A few months after that, “we were seeing a large 10 percent drop,” Holladay said. And within the first year, the company had saved more than 1 million pounds in carbon dioxide emissions and just over $188,000 in fuel costs.

Perhaps the best part is that many of the company’s fleet operators are outdoorsmen and parents, and they connected with the idea of environmental stewardship for future generations. But it did take changing thinking about the way things had always been done.

The Lowest-Hanging Fruit
When it comes to getting drivers to change their mindset about idle reduction, concrete numbers certainly help. So, too, does the proper equipment. Odyne Systems (www.odyne.com) is a leading manufacturer of hybrid systems for medium- and heavy-duty work trucks, and Matt Jarmuz, director of sales, sees such solutions as the lowest-hanging fruit in improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. In addition to powering, say, strobe lights and cabin comfort, Odyne’s large battery packs also can handle hydraulics and export power. And even while vehicles are in motion, the plug-in hybrid solution improves efficiency. As of press time, the company has placed roughly 300 vehicles in about 60 different fleets.

Jarmuz also is a strong proponent of telematics use and has seen fleets that, for example, have a system that sends an automatic email to a fleet manager when a truck idles for more than five minutes. Other fleets work from a more prevention-oriented coaching approach.

With hybrid technology, operators won’t feel that stopping idling is about “taking things away,” Jarmuz said.

But even without it, framing idle reduction as a gain – one that lowers fuel expenditures and contributes to reduced maintenance costs, greater asset reliability and longer vehicle service life – rather than a loss may well be the key to acceptance and implementation within your fleet.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.

Photo: GPS Insight


Idling by the Numbers
• Idling of heavy-duty and light-duty vehicles combined wastes an estimated 6 billion gallons of fuel each year.
• Many still believe that restarting a vehicle burns more fuel than letting it idle, but idling for 10 seconds wastes more fuel than a restart.
• Personal vehicles produce roughly 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every year due to idling. Eliminating the unnecessary idling of personal vehicles would be the equivalent of taking 5 million vehicles off the roads.
• Numerous states have enacted fines for unnecessary idling, including Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and Hawaii, and parts of California, Colorado, New York, Ohio and Utah, among others. A list of state and local regulations is available at www.cleancities.energy.gov/idlebase.

Source: www.anl.gov/sites/anl.gov/files/Idling-PersonalVehicles050715.pdf


New Power Sources Aid Anti-Idling Efforts

Unnecessary idling is still the bane of many utility fleets, and while not every fleet wants to turn off vehicle engines at job sites, some new and updated technologies are offering improved auxiliary energy options.

In March, Altec (www.altec.com) introduced JEMS 4, the latest version of its Jobsite Energy Management System, which offers integrated engine-off cab heating and cooling and an on-demand, electrified PTO for hydraulic power.

The anti-idling system is automatic; as soon as the truck is put in park or neutral, the engine shuts down. “In this way, idle mitigation is not something the operator has to think about,” said Mark Greer, Altec market manager.

JEMS 4 relies on a new generation of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, which offer improved thermal and chemical stability – safer chemistries – than the previous cobalt-based lithium-ion batteries. Also, the battery pack is about half the weight of previous versions and takes up about half the space, Greer said. (For more information, see the “Better Batteries, Lower Prices” sidebar at the end of this article.)

The core of JEMS is the idle and power management system from Cullman, Ala.-based ZeroRPM (www.zerorpm.com). In addition to the controller, components include lithium-iron power and energy modules to power booms, buckets and systems, said Evan Miller, vice president of sales and marketing. ZeroRPM also offers a stand-alone AC unit powered by the energy modules, and for organizations with enough roof space, the company has a solar-powered option to charge the batteries.

Florida Power & Light Co. added the JEMS system on more than 100 of its Ford F-550 bucket trucks, and this has helped meet the fleet’s anti-idling policy at most job sites, said Glenn Martin, manager of fleet quality and reliability. The auxiliary battery packs with the ZeroRPM system have “performed pretty well,” according to Martin. FPL also added ZeroRPM’s AC unit that operates “real close to the vehicle AC,” he said.

Baltimore Gas & Electric monitors idling via its onboard telematics system, said Joe Byrd, senior business analyst with the utility fleet. The operator controls idling, but managers receive regular reports, and it’s up to them to identify unnecessary use. Idling has dropped in half since installing the telematics system, with most of that coming from shutting down the trucks at the service center and during loading, Byrd said.

BGE also is testing Altec’s JEMS and Odyne Systems’ hybrid trucks, Byrd noted.

Solar Power Option
For some select applications, solar panels may be a power option.

Warwick, R.I.-based eNow Inc. (www.enowenergy.com) offers a cab-top array of solar panels for the transportation sector. The panels provide 13 watts/1 amp of power per square foot, enough to power an HVAC unit as well as lights and other job site equipment, said Jeffrey Flath, founder and president. Although typically there is not enough array space atop a truck’s cab to provide power for buckets, cranes or heavy auxiliary devices, “our system would charge auxiliary batteries so the engine doesn’t come on as often,” he said.

The panels are encapsulated in ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a rugged plastic that resists tree branches better than glass systems, and are maintenance free, Flath said. The panels are one-eighth of an inch thick and weigh approximately a half-pound per square foot, compared to 2.5 to 4 pounds per square foot typical with glass systems, Flath noted.

The system ties in with the truck’s alternator. On sunny days the system charges the batteries, and on cloudy days the alternator takes over. The cost for a 100-watt system – including the panels, solar charge controller, wiring harness and installation – is about $960. eNow Inc. has installation arrangements with Mitsubishi Fuso, Johnson, Morgan and Hercules truck body manufacturers, as well as Palfinger Liftgates, among others.

Start-Stop System
Effenco (www.effenco.com), headquartered in Montreal, offers a start-stop system for heavy trucks that essentially is an idle mitigation system. It incorporates batteries, an electric motor and an ultracapacitor to provide electric power to the aerial device, cab and chassis accessories, including the HVAC system when the engine is off. The electric motor is used to start the engine.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Better Batteries, Lower Prices
The batteries being used in today’s auxiliary battery systems are safer, lighter and less costly than their predecessors, all factors that may prompt more utility fleets to look at idle mitigation systems.

Before a fleet manager OKs an idle mitigation system that will shut down engines at job sites, they want assurance that the onboard auxiliary battery systems are going to provide safe, reliable power. Lithium-ion batteries were a huge advancement over lead-acid units, but they also are expensive, thermally unstable and toxic, reasons fleet managers have cited for not using them.

The latest generation of the lithium battery – the lithium-iron-phosphate battery – offers longer life, greater stability and more power density than the earlier cobalt-based lithium-ion battery.

“There’s been tremendous work in lithium-iron,” said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART (www.calstart.org), a Pasadena, Calif.-based nonprofit entity that promotes clean transportation. The combination of the new chemistry and high-volume manufacturing has opened the door for cheaper, safer auxiliary power, he said.

High-volume orders for lithium-iron batteries from companies like General Motors (for the Chevrolet Volt) and Tesla Motors have reduced power prices for batteries to about $200 to $300 per kilowatt-hour, down from more than $700 and higher three to five years ago, Van Amburg said. Because the commercial truck sector doesn’t see that volume, the price drops are not as great, but he said “[they’re] still substantial” and trending down.


Is a Telematics System Right for Your Utility Fleet?

The benefits of advanced telematics systems are widely known today. They can help fleets deploy resources more efficiently, increase the number of jobs completed each day, reduce costs and more. But even so, having an awareness of these benefits is often not enough to convince fleet managers that an investment in telematics is worthwhile. To discover if a fleet-wide system will truly deliver value, fleet professionals must first take the time to identify their business challenges, set criteria and pilot different systems.

To identify the business problems a telematics system could potentially solve, fleet professionals should study their fleet’s productivity, fuel and labor expenses, safety concerns and quality of customer service. The fact is that a number of utility fleets are unable to answer important questions about these operational areas that make a big impact on a utility’s bottom line. Gaining a better understanding of the primary challenges the fleet faces is the first step toward building a business case for a telematics system implementation.

Gathering Input is Key
After identifying challenges, setting criteria is the next step in the process. To ensure a telematics system meets the requirements for an entire organization, two things need to happen. First, fleet managers must consult with key stakeholders within the fleet department to build a wish list of all the features they want the system to have in a perfect-world scenario. In particular, a utility fleet will want to make sure the telematics system has the appropriate features and functionality to successfully address the organization’s business challenges. Second, fleet managers must also solicit input from stakeholders in other departments who will use or be affected by the use of the telematics software from the time of implementation. This will help to ensure that no functionality required by another department is overlooked when evaluating potential telematics providers.

Once all stakeholder input has been compiled, fleets should share this information with the telematics systems providers they are considering partnering with. And managers shouldn’t be afraid to hold back; sharing even seemingly outlandish ideas gives that provider the opportunity to make suggestions regarding how the system can be used to achieve the fleet’s goals. The provider may even be able to add custom functionality to its platform to meet needs.

Keep in mind that it is ideal for utility fleets to seek out a telematics provider that is available 24/7/365 to answer technical questions, offers educational resources to help customers get the most of their telematics system and provides a dedicated, proactive account management team. These team members can interact with fleet managers in person, over the phone or via video conferencing to discuss how to best use the telematics software, enabling fleets to realize the most significant return on investment (ROI).

It is also important to note that it can be a mistake to set a price point for a telematics system before figuring out what functionality is truly required to solve a fleet’s specific business challenges. All systems are not the same and do not offer the same functionality. Deciding to go with a telematics system just because it is the least expensive may result in a fleet missing out on key features necessary to make the investment in the technology worthwhile.

Test Before You Buy
There is nothing that will build more of a business case for telematics than cold, hard facts about how the technology will improve operations and even help generate revenue. By testing a telematics system before opting to implement it, fleets will have the opportunity to discover whether or not the software and service are the best fit for the company. Questions to ask during the pilot phase include:
• Is the system user-friendly and easy to navigate?
• Is customer service readily available when needed?
• Is the system’s functionality reliable and does it work as promised by the provider?

Without piloting a telematics system, utility fleets will have to rely on the claims of the provider, which may end up falling short of expectations. The only way to know for sure if the system will be an asset to a specific fleet is to test it out firsthand.

Perhaps the most important reason to pilot a telematics system is to gather the data needed to understand the type of savings and ROI to expect. Based on the metrics monitored throughout the pilot phase, fleet professionals will be able to collect useful information about how the software will reduce costs, improve driver behavior, increase efficiency and productivity, and more.

The results of each pilot and the quality of service the telematics companies provide should help narrow down the best provider with whom to partner, if any. This process should also give management the confidence that enough due diligence was done before deciding if a telematics system is right for their business.

About the Author: Jenny Malcolm is the content marketing specialist for GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com).


Propane Autogas Provides Sustainable Solutions

Approved as an alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act of 1990, propane autogas is certainly not new to the transportation industry. For several decades, many American fleets have used the fuel to reduce emissions and operating costs. But as the U.S Environmental Protection Agency tightens standards and regulations – a trend that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future – fleets across the country are ramping up their efforts to find more reliable, cleaner and more affordable fuel alternatives. And for utility fleets in particular, propane autogas is proving to be a viable option.

Vehicle Options
A growing number of OEMs now offer propane autogas vehicles that provide horsepower, torque and towing capacity comparable to gasoline and diesel versions of the same models. Most recently, medium-duty product offerings such as the ROUSH CleanTech Ford F-650 and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. S2G have entered the marketplace. Certified aftermarket propane autogas fuel systems from Blossman Services Inc. and ICOM North America have also emerged, providing utility fleet professionals with options that are ideal for service, bucket and crane trucks.

ROUSH CleanTech built its first Ford F-650 propane-autogas-powered bucket truck for Asplundh Tree Expert Co. in late 2014. The bucket truck, fitted with a 58-foot aerial lift, is used to prune trees in North Carolina. Reports from John Talbot, Asplundh’s director of fleet services, echo the sentiments of other U.S. fleets using propane-autogas-powered vehicles – that they offer a reliable, green, affordable alternative to conventional fuels.

The upfront capital cost to add propane autogas vehicles to a fleet will fluctuate based on several factors, including vehicle model, class and fuel system. New vehicles can be purchased from the OEM, or existing vehicles can be converted to operate using propane autogas. Utility fleets that are considering adopting a propane-autogas-powered bucket, crane or service truck will, on average, pay a one-time incremental cost of $6,000 to $10,000 for a new vehicle, or $5,000 to $8,000 if they choose to convert one of their existing fleet vehicles. This is the only premium cost paid over the life of the vehicle, and fleets are seeing a quick return on investment, which usually occurs in fewer than two years. Propane autogas dramatically reduces fuel and maintenance costs and eliminates expensive nonwarranty repairs commonly associated with today’s diesel engines. Savings are multiplied year after year over the life of the vehicle.

Affordable Infrastructure
Each utility fleet has unique needs, and propane infrastructure professionals can design a custom refueling option based on a fleet’s size, routes, budget, refueling requirements and facility space. Fleets can choose from a wide array of propane autogas infrastructure options. Custom-designed choices include on-site standard private stations and large advanced private refueling stations, as well as other flexible refueling options available through propane providers.

While diesel, gasoline and other alternative fuels can burden budgets with costly infrastructure, propane autogas refueling stations are the most affordable of any fuel to install, service and maintain, making them economical for fleets of all sizes. A standard private propane autogas station requires a minimum of a 1,000-gallon capacity tank and a single dispenser, which easily support up to 25 or more vehicles based on a fleet’s refueling requirements.

In some cases, propane autogas providers choose to maintain ownership of the infrastructure and only request that the fleet pay for site preparation and electrical supply. If the fleet owns the infrastructure, it pays for the site preparation, electrical supply, propane tank, pump, motor and dispenser. On average, a fleet pays about $1,500 to $5,000 for site preparation and $25,000 to $50,000 for infrastructure. In comparison, a diesel fuel tank can have a much higher price point. For instance, a diesel tank replacement for New York’s Washingtonville Central School District cost $100,000 based on a 2014 case study (see www.newyorkbussales.com/userfiles/Case%20Study%20Washingtonville%202014.pdf).

Public refueling stations may be available and accessible based on a fleet’s geographic location. These networks consist of existing stations owned and operated by a propane provider that, in some instances, has eliminated a fleet’s need to invest in refueling infrastructure or fuel contracts. Public refueling has proven to be valuable for fleets with limited on-site space, as well as fleets that require refueling locations along their routes.

Accessible 24/7 through a cardlock fuel management system, public refueling networks offer fleets the capability to identify and maintain transaction records that include driver name or driver ID, vehicle identification number, fuel gallons dispensed, total fuel costs and date and time. For areas that do not currently have a public refueling network, local propane providers may create one if a fleet – or multiple fleets – in the area can provide the adequate fuel consumption required to support the facility.

Low Total Cost of Ownership
Another benefit of propane autogas to fleets is its effect on a vehicle’s total cost of ownership. Fuel costs are a major component of a fleet’s overall budget, and through the use of propane autogas – which is up to 50 percent less expensive than gasoline and diesel – fleet managers are reducing those costs.

Looking beyond the pump price, propane autogas is also helping fleet managers reduce costs related to preventive maintenance, driver and technician training and replacement parts. In addition, the fuel assists in providing more uptime over the life of a vehicle, increasing overall fleet productivity and efficiency.

The exhaust system on a propane-autogas-powered vehicle consists of a simple three-gas catalyst that eliminates the need for additional emissions fluids and filters, both of which are common with today’s diesel engines. In compliance with EPA clean air standards and regulations, selective catalytic reduction diesel engines are equipped with a complex emission-reduction system that includes a particulate filer, oxidation filters, exhaust gas recirculation, combustion chamber, dosing valve and diesel exhaust fluid tanks that increase overall operation and maintenance requirements and costs.

Additional parts and emissions systems also lead to extra weight, which can restrict chassis and body option choices and reduce towing capacity. Propane autogas vehicles are lighter than diesel vehicles, allowing utility fleets to keep the same size truck while staying below 33,000 GVWR and avoiding payment of a federal excise tax.

Ideal for Idling
Medium-duty bucket and crane trucks are equipped with power takeoff (PTO) systems and perform most of their work, if not all of it, at idle. These fleets typically have low mileage but a much greater number of hours per mile. An electric utility’s aerial bucket truck, for example, may only need to travel a few short miles from the garage to an area where overhead work needs to be performed. Once the truck’s crew arrives at their destination, the mileage stops, but the engine continues to run for hours each day while the crane is up. While mileage isn’t increasing during idle, the engine is still experiencing wear and tear. For diesel fleets, this increases diesel emission regeneration requirements and fuel consumption while decreasing operator productivity and efficiency. Propane autogas doesn’t require complex emissions systems, eliminating excessive idling and related maintenance concerns.

How do propane-autogas-powered trucks stack up against trucks equipped with electric power takeoff (ePTO) systems? A truck that uses propane fuel is immune to idling issues without the need to rely on additional equipment, which helps fleets avoid greater upfront costs and lowers total cost of ownership. ePTO systems also require frequent recharging or a shore electricity source. If the electricity source isn’t available during a storm, and if a truck’s internal combustion engine hasn’t been in operation long enough, the truck’s aerial devices will be unable to function. By investing in trucks powered by propane autogas, fleets can avoid ePTO-related issues.

Minimal Maintenance
Most utility fleet trucks are classified as severe-duty – they experience high mileage, high engine idle times, off-road operation or a combination of all three. Severe-duty vehicle maintenance intervals on diesel trucks tend to be more intense than normal-duty intervals, which in turn increases the need to monitor overall engine hours and mileage and ensure the diesel system is in proper operating condition.

Failure to maintain the diesel particulate filter (DPF) as outlined in the OEM warranty manual will ultimately lead to increased downtime, as sensors will trigger the system to derate engine revolutions per minute and render it inoperable until the system is repaired.

Propane autogas engines are not equipped with a DPF, nor do they restrict engine idle times or require an operator to perform active or passive emissions regenerations. Instead, propane autogas engines increase uptime, require less maintenance and fewer repairs, and increase productivity and efficiency in idle-sensitive fleet applications.

Better for the Environment
To improve the safety of work environments, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (www.afscme.org) recommends replacing diesel engines with propane-powered engines when possible. Clean, American-made propane autogas is nontoxic and does not contaminate soil, air or water, allowing fleets to affordably meet environmental goals and reduce emissions while saving valuable budget dollars. The environmental benefits of propane autogas also help to eliminate concerns about anti-idling laws and EPA requirements for on-site storage.

Additionally, propane autogas vehicles operate more quietly than diesel models, which has proven to increase overall safety in work environments. Reduced engine noise increases an operator’s ability to focus on his or her surroundings, identify potential safety hazards and take preventive steps to eliminate potential dangers.

Overall, utility fleets will find propane autogas a sustainable and economic business solution. It is clean, safe and affordable. To learn more, visit http://propane.com/on-road-fleets.

About the Author: Michael Taylor is the director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. Prior to joining PERC in 2012, Taylor served as director of fleet management at Heritage Propane for four years. Preceding his tenure at Heritage Propane, he enjoyed a 22-year career in the school transportation industry.


Plug-In Pickups: A Market in Need of Products

An initiative to increase utility fleets’ use of plug-in hybrid electric pickup trucks (see “Utilities Push Toward Fleet Electrification”) runs up against the reality that there are few vehicle options available to interested fleets.

But as growth in the electric power industry slows, electrifying the transportation sector “is a huge, albeit long-term opportunity for load growth,” the Edison Electric Institute stated in a June 2014 report, “Transportation Electrification: Utility Fleets Leading the Charge.”

Electric utilities, EEI suggests, are missing an opportunity to help themselves by not expanding their use of plug-in electric vehicles. Only about 1.7 percent of the vehicles purchased by electric utilities in the last five years were equipped with plug-in technology, EEI noted, using data from Utilimarc, a consulting firm based in Minneapolis.

Light-duty pickup trucks provide the best opportunity for establishing momentum in the electrification initiative because they comprise the largest vehicle segment in electric utility fleets, accounting for 21.6 percent of fleet vehicles in 2013, according to EEI. A plug-in hybrid electric (PHE) truck can power tools on-site and provide backup electrical power in case of emergencies, while also serving as an example to consumers that the utility is a progressive supporter of its own products.

The problem is that there is only one option currently available.

General Motors dropped the non-plug-in Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra gasoline-electric hybrid models before the 2015 model-year upgrade, and a company spokesman said there are no plans to resurrect the concept at this time, much less add a PHE pickup.

Dodge built and tested 140 PHE Ram 1500 models in 2011 and 2012 as part of a grant program with the U.S. Department of Energy, but the truck maker acknowledged at the time that it had no plans for a production version. Recently a company spokesman confirmed as much.

Ford Motor Co. said in late 2014 that it was working on a hybrid powertrain for the F-150. A spokeswoman told Utility Fleet Professional that research is proceeding, but she declined to provide additional information, including whether it would offer a plug-in version.

That leaves utilities trying to support the electrification initiative with the VTRUX, a Silverado 4×4 crew cab conversion built by VIA Motors (www.viamotors.com). The VTRUX powertrain includes two electric motors and a small V-6 gasoline engine. The engine powers a generator that recharges the batteries, and drive power comes from the motors.

Currently, VIA’s only offering is the 4×4 Silverado, but they are taking orders for the 4×2 regular cab Silverado, the Chevy Express and 1-ton vans, said Jeff Esfeld, VIA’s national fleet sales director.

The company began VTRUX production in June of this year at a plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Esfeld said they would produce about 250 units in the calendar third quarter of 2015, but that he expects that number to grow to between 2,000 to 3,000 units next year.

VIA certainly has the room to grow. The plant can produce 10,000 units a year and has space to double that capacity, Esfeld said. They also can handle a low number of conversions at their Orem, Utah, headquarters, but down the road they plan to keep the Silverado crew cab conversions in Mexico and build another plant in the U.S., he said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Looking for the TCO with PHEVs
If the electric utility industry’s initiative to increase the number of plug-in hybrid electric pickup trucks in utility fleets is to have any chance to succeed, eventually the total cost of ownership will have to be able to compete with fossil fuel-based trucks.

Absent credits and cash incentives, that may take some time. The only plug-in electric pickup currently on the market is the VTRUX, a 4×4 crew cab version of the Chevrolet Silverado built by VIA Motors. With a delivery price topping $70,000, about twice that of a standard model, finding a return on the investment is a challenge for any fleet.

Jeff Esfeld, national fleet sales director with VIA, said the total cost of ownership is better than it may appear and that the price of the VTRUX will drop as volume increases and the company continues to improve the model.

“We’re trying to take one-third of the cost out of the system in the next three years,” he said, adding that the company will make a “significant” improvement very soon with the software controlling the gas engine and how it charges the battery to improve fuel economy.

Electric utilities are adding VIA models to their fleets, but since production only began in June, it is too early to have any reliable data, several representatives said.

Alabama Power has four VIA vehicles in operation – two VTRUX pickups and two vans – with two more pickups on the way, said Thomas Browne, manager of fleet services.

“Our goal is to show that the plug-in electric pickup has a viable place in the market,” he said. The company hasn’t had them long, but Browne said they expect them to perform well. Alabama Power is using the vehicles in limited operation and will showcase them at demonstration and promotional events, he said.

Florida Power and Light is another VIA customer, but a spokeswoman declined to provide details, noting “it is too early to give feedback.”

Other customers include Duke Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, Esfeld said.

Utility Fleet Professional

360 Memorial Drive, Suite 10, Crystal Lake, IL 60014 | 815.459.1796


Utility Fleet Professional is produced by Utility Business Media, Inc.   View Capabilities Statement

Get the Utility Fleet Professional Digital Edition App
Get the Utility Fleet Professional Digital Edition App

Get the iP Digital Edition App

© All rights reserved.
Back to Top