Effectively Meeting Needs
“NV Energy is unlike many other utilities our size because we have two metropolitan areas in Reno and Las Vegas, and the rest of the service territory is spread out across nearly 60,000 square miles,” said Joe Pellissier, the company’s process improvement manager. “The terrain ranges from lower desert areas to the alpine forest of Lake Tahoe, with temperatures from over 110 degrees in the summer in Las Vegas to below zero in many areas in northern Nevada.”
NV Energy supplies electricity across its whole service territory, in addition to gas in northern Nevada. “The fleet department must provide vehicles to meet these conditions as well as provide maintenance and repair support,” Pellissier explained. “Attempting to standardize our fleet is very challenging given the different geographical areas and conditions. Additionally, drivers with similar job titles have differing job functions due to operational differences in metropolitan and rural areas, and that also drives differences in vehicle and equipment needs.”
Currently, the NV Energy fleet includes approximately 1,500 vehicles, trailers and pieces of equipment. To accommodate the varying terrains, NV Energy has standardized the chassis and drivetrains of many vehicle types. Most heavy-duty trucks are equipped with 425-horsepower Cummins engines, Allison transmissions and 6×6 drive axle configurations. Recently, the company relaxed the drivetrain requirement in Las Vegas, allowing some vehicles to have a 6×4 configuration. Most of the heavy truck fleet is made up of Internationals as well as a few Freightliner, Peterbilt and Mack units.
The majority of the Class 3-5 fleet at NV Energy is supplied by Ford, along with some Ram trucks, and most light-duty pickups, vans and SUVs are GM models. Since 2005, digger derricks and aerials have been supplied mainly by Altec, although several larger specialty units have been supplied by Terex. Most of the Class 3-5 service bodies and flatbeds have been Knapheide units from local high-quality suppliers.
“We don’t have preferred suppliers,” Pellissier related. “We develop specs and any manufacturer can bid on our business. When evaluating bids, specification compliance is the first issue considered. If a vendor doesn’t meet the specs, we dive deeper into why, how important are the deviations, and whether we can accept them. After that, the second consideration is quality, but that is becoming less of an issue as we weed out suppliers that don’t meet our quality expectations.
“While we do very little evaluation of new systems and components,” Pellissier added, “when we find something that will make the user more effective or reduce our costs, we incorporate the new components into our specifications. We require suppliers to be in compliance with our specs. This allows us to reduce spare parts for many components as well as minimizes the knowledge base necessary for repairs. On some occasions, we discover new technologies or features that we incorporate into the specifications for testing development. If the tests successfully meet the desired outcome, these become standard items, which subsequent vendors are required to meet.”
“After passing the first two hurdles in the bid evaluation, in most cases the low bidder gets the order,” Pellissier continued. “We do factor in standardization of similar units, because if we have similar vehicles and historically they have not been a problem, we look more favorably at them. We also consider life cost, including depreciation, in our purchase decisions, but generally that is addressed upfront, prior to the bid.”
As the depreciation rate has changed a few times over the years, Pellissier explained further, users are sometimes reluctant to accept new vehicles if the expense is too high. Fleet explains to users that operating costs will rise significantly as vehicles age and will meet or exceed the higher costs due to depreciation. NV Energy has been leasing vehicles since 2005, and the depreciation issue went away, Pellissier also related, but as the utility has gone back to purchasing, depreciation again becomes a bigger issue.
“Recently NVE has worked on improving reliability of vehicles and equipment, addressing the impact of extended idle time on engine wear, and reducing operational costs due to additional maintenance and fuel,” Pellissier said, “We are focused on the reduction in idle time and the increased engine life and reliability. We evaluate idle time on most vehicles and its effect on fuel costs and maintenance.
“Our specifications now require options for minimizing idle time by using various types of plug-in electric hybrid systems on any unit with a service or larger utility body,” Pellissier continued. “We use GPS data from the existing vehicle, look at historical idle time and fuel cost, and project that to the new vehicle to determine if selecting and paying for anti-idle technology is justified. If so, we add the hybrid system to the vehicle price and determine if the payback is achievable within the life cycle of the vehicle.”
NV Energy uses two methods to calculate the payback on hybrid systems, Pellissier explained. “First,” he related, “we use actual historical idle time and, secondly, idle time as a percentage of 1,600 work hours per year. We use 1 gallon of fuel use per hour of idle time and the actual cost of fuel. For a fuel use payback calculation, the company uses actual mileage and gallons used in the previous year, as well as fuel cost per gallon.”
NV Energy was one of the first early adopters of Altec’s JEMS system and has been very active in promoting development of hybrid solutions. During NV Energy’s first few years of hybrid system adoption, the focus was on vehicles with hydraulically powered equipment. More recently however, the focus has shifted to hybrid technology to support anti-idle and power requirements for 12-volt truck chassis systems and 110-volt systems for external power.
In addition to trouble trucks with 38-foot lifts, NV Energy has deployed hybrid systems on other vehicles to eliminate idle time. One example is a gas crew truck that utilizes an Odyne system to power an under-chassis air compressor and electric gas pipe fusing equipment. The company also recently added four Altec JEMS systems to vehicles without any hydraulic systems. The hybrid system manages the 12- and 110-volt truck and tool load while minimizing idle time.
“We recently ordered two more gas crew trucks and a vacuum gas valve maintenance truck with the next-generation Odyne system,” Pellissier related. “The only alternative fuel we utilize today is electricity, so we’re pushing to get electric-powered vehicles, including plug-in hybrid technology, into the fleet.”
NV Energy’s hybrid-electric plan includes an expanded focus on light-duty OEM vehicles when the make, model and type of unit meet the fleet’s needs. Included are extended-range electric trucks and the ability to utilize plug-in technology while taking into consideration the challenge posed by a limited infrastructure for plugging in vehicles.
The company is also now requiring options for anti-idle technology on work trucks. “If we have vehicles with a history of long idle time, we are likely to require anti-idle/hybrid technology on the new vehicle,” Pellissier said. “NV Energy’s anti-idle system requirements include systems that power supplemental cab air conditioning and heating, as well as provide exportable power for generators, inverters and other tools.
“Altec and Terex have done a good job with their anti-idle systems,” Pellissier continued. “However, we need to extend this to other vehicle types. Our relationships with Altec, Terex and Odyne are part of our sustainability commitment to deploy alternative vehicle technologies that promote reduction of emissions and fuel consumption in appropriate work task applications.”
After deploying several Altec JEMS systems, NV Energy looked for other opportunities and fielded its first truck with a hybrid system for use in the utility’s gas operation. The truck was ordered under the U.S. Department of Energy/South Coast Air Quality Management District EPRI grant awarded to Odyne to deploy 120 vehicles throughout North America.
For the next round of vehicles in the new EPRI program, the company ordered three more trucks. Two of the trucks are crew cab International models similar to the first unit, with hybrid systems to power a Vanair under-chassis air compressor and to supply power for 12- and 110-volt electrical needs. The other vehicle is a Class 7 standard cab International with a hybrid system that will power a vacuum unit, a high-pressure washer, an air compressor and a grease pump for gas valve maintenance work.
Odyne’s plug-in hybrid systems interface with Allison 3000 automatic transmissions to help save fuel during drive cycles and to provide 10,000 watts of power for stationary operations at work sites. The systems, which consist of 14.2-kWh or 28.4-kWh Johnson Controls’ lithium-ion battery packs and Remy HVH250 electric motors, are installed by Odyne and shipped to final stage manufacturers such as Altec and Terex.
Recently, Pellissier participated with EEI and other utility fleet leaders to draft a white paper making the case for utilities to increase their support of electric plug-in hybrid vehicles and systems. This paper was delivered to attendees at the EEI Annual Convention held in Las Vegas in June.
Managing the Fleet
As a former fleet manager and now a manager of process improvement, a relatively new role, Pellissier supports the NV Energy fleet on behalf of the company’s vice president of electric delivery. Victor Figueredo, director of transmission and distribution support services, oversees direct management of the fleet. Reporting to Figueredo are four fleet supervisors – Jeff McKenzie and Tom Rich in northern Nevada and Todd Seibert and Randy Koss in southern Nevada. The management team also includes a fleet administrator and a coordinator.
“We have two shops in Las Vegas, one in Reno, and five mechanics assigned to shops in small towns or at power plants,” Pellissier said. “There are also mechanics with mobile maintenance trucks who work in the field or at one of several unmanned shops. We constantly have crews assigned to work on long-term construction projects, so that too presents a challenge for the fleet department. When these projects start, we usually have a mechanic on-site for the duration of the project to ensure all vehicles and equipment are performing as expected.
“With vehicles spread out across such a large territory, it can be difficult to keep up with maintenance and compliance,” Pellissier continued, “but we have a zero tolerance for compliance items beyond the due date. Much of our repair work is outsourced due to staffing limitations, so it’s very important that we do the best maintenance we can to minimize repairs to the greatest extent possible.
“When it comes to preventive maintenance, the fleet department is challenged with getting vehicles ready for service,” Pellissier explained further. “Without the mandatory compliance issue, it is difficult to get vehicles serviced before they are considered overdue, but we have set up reporting to monitor compliance and maintenance scheduling.
“We have a complex vehicle fleet in order to meet NV Energy’s operational needs in a wide-ranging and diverse service area,” Pellissier concluded. “In addition to maintaining the fleet effectively, we continue to monitor and evaluate emerging and maturing technologies and new vehicle options, and introduce technology when it is cost-effective and applicable to the needs of NV Energy.”
About NV Energy: NV Energy Inc. provides a wide range of energy services to 1.3 million customers throughout Nevada and nearly 40 million tourists annually. NV Energy is a holding company whose principal subsidiaries, Nevada Power Co. and Sierra Pacific Power Co., do business as NV Energy. The company is headquartered in Las Vegas.
About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 28 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.