By Jonathan Marshall
Electric vehicles aren’t exactly selling like iPads these days. But with help from large, well-funded, and savvy fleet buyers, plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) might get the boost they need to transform the nation’s transportation sector, clean the air, and reduce America’s dependence on imported oil.
To that end, the Electrification Coalition and FleetAnswers.com are joining forces to provide information about plug-in cars and trucks on the Fleet Answers website for U.S. commercial fleet operators.
As they note in a news release today, “With more than 16 million public and private fleet vehicles on the road in the United States, the concentration of buying power associated with fleet operators and fleet management companies represents a significant opportunity to drive deployment of the electric drive vehicle industry. “
One of the key information resources they now offer is an illuminating case study of PG&E’s deployment of electrified vehicles in its fleet, which now numbers more than 13,000 units. By the end of this year, the utility expects to have 407 PEVs deployed across its 70,000 square miles of service area.
These vehicles aren’t just test models for some pilot program, the study notes. “In an environment where there is intense competition for capital and pressure to reduce operating costs, PG&E is making the economics on PEVs work today.”
Fuel savings—a benefit enjoyed by nearly all electrified vehicles—generally aren’t enough to justify the much higher acquisition costs of PEVs, PG&E has found. Lower maintenance costs definitely help—PG&E saves a lot on brake maintenance and tire replacement on its Chevy Volts—but those don’t always tip the scales, either.
Instead, the utility has been sold on the tremendous operational benefits and flexibility of PEVs. A great case in point: the bucket trucks outfitted with Electric Worksite Idle Management Systems (EWIMS), which PG&E helped design and Altec builds in Dixon in Solano County.
By using onboard batteries rather than diesel motors to run their bucket lifts, the trucks run silently at their worksites, allowing them to operate longer hours without running afoul of local noise ordinances. “It’s expanded the work day by 100 percent from 12 hours to 24 hours,” comments Dave Meisel, director of transportation services at PG&E.
The quiet operation also lets crews communicate more clearly so they can work more safely and much more easily. “Drivers absolutely love that,” Meisel added.
The net result? “We are getting about a two-and-a-half year payback on our class-6 EWIMS trucks,” Meisel reports. “What we have learned is that the operating savings, improved relationship with our customers, the extended work day, and the safety improvements dwarf the fuel savings.”
Down the road, Meisel sees even greater payoff from electrified vehicles. When their batteries get big enough, he looks forward to the day when electrified trucks provide local power to neighborhoods while crews work to restore damaged equipment.
“If accomplished, it’s a technological milestone that would fundamentally change the utility business, allowing companies like PG&E to virtually eliminate planned outages arising from transformer maintenance and upgrades,” the case study reports.
“In a business built around service reliability, this kind of operational advantage could be a game changer for improving customer relations and strengthening utilities’ standing with regulators.”
Email Jonathan Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.