Posted on August 18, 2011

How to Electrify a Fleet: PG&E Gathers Leaders to Figure It Out

By Matt Nauman

SAN RAMON – Electrifying vehicles is a hot topic these days — many pundits picked the Chevy Volt as the 2011 car of the year — and most industry experts agree that large corporate and government fleets are a good place to start the move away from internal-combustion engines.

PG&E Electric Vehicle

PG&E's fleet includes electric vehicles and other alternative-fuel cars and trucks. (Photos by Matt Nauman.)

PG&E, for example, has hundreds of alternative-fuel vehicles in its fleet, ranging from natural-gas, hybrid and electric passenger cars to large trucks that burn natural gas or have the ability to provide needed power from battery packs instead of idling engines. And it’s adding more.

David Meisel, PG&E’s director of transportation services, knows that all fleet operators face similar problems, including the cost of alternative-fuel vehicles, the infrastructure to keep them fueled (or charged) and repaired, and how best to match a specific vehicle to a specific task or duty.

That’s why Meisel staged the two-day “Commercializing Electrification Technology Summit” Aug. 16-17 in San Ramon. Meisel acknowledges that it’s something of an unusual role for a utility to be playing, but he and his team know all the major players and thought this was “a unique opportunity” to get them together.

‘Put them all in one room’

“The electric vehicle business is pretty disjointed right now,” Meisel said. “A lot of manufacturers are going in one direction, a lot of buyers are going in another. And nobody is really putting all the pieces together. So we took the biggest buyers in the country, the biggest sellers in the country and lots of others and put them all in one room and gave them a common platform.”

The result was a series of presentations, and lots of discussion.

As a result of the summit, Meisel sees smaller groups forming to talk about things like collaborative buying agreements, vehicle standardization and other topics.

Representatives from throughout the industry gathered at the conference:

  • Companies with large fleets, such as PG&E, ATT, UPS, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Safeway, Duke Energy and others.
  • Vehicle manufacturers, such as Ford, General Motors, VIA Motors, Smith Electric Vehicles, Altec, Freightliner/Daimler Trucks and others.
  • Battery makers, such as Dow Kokam and A123.
  • Fleet service providers, such as GE Capital Fleet Services.
  • Government agencies, ranging from the Department of Defense to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Consultants and even a venture-capitalist or two rounded out the attendees.

‘The time is now’

Electric Vehicle Charging

PG&E is testing a Mitsubishi electric vehicle as well as charging technologies, such as at this station in Vacaville.

“Really, the time is now,” said Dave Stenson, CEO of New Motor Advisors and a former GM product developer, who listed numerous factors pointing to the greater adoption of electric vehicles during his presentation. Those issues include energy security, the cost and supply of oil, government policies mandating better fuel economy and more use of renewables, the need for more U.S. manufacturing jobs and even the momentum of the green movement.

Clarence Nunn, president and CEO of GE Capital Fleet Services, the largest fleet company in the world with 1.4 million vehicles under lease or service contracts, said that collaboration among all the players will be needed to make electric vehicles a success.

His company is doing its part, Nunn said, as GE has pledged to add 25,000 EVs to its fleet (and the fleets of its customers) by 2015.

Fleet operators are aware that electrics still have range limitations and long charging times, but Meisel said those clean vehicles still fit into the needs of many companies.

“We can execute a plan and grow with that plan,” Meisel said.

Des Bell, a PG&E senior vice president and the utility’s chief procurement officer, said the summit had the potential to be an historic occasion.

“This event is more than about stimulating conversation,” Bell said. “It will serve as a catalyst for a greener future.”

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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