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Fleet Profiles

Sean M. Lyden

6 All-Electric Pickups in the Pipeline

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For utility fleets committed to electrification, the holy grail is to electrify pickup trucks.

That’s because pickups represent the largest vehicle segment for most fleets in the industry. So, if you can electrify a wide range of pickup applications, you’ll make a huge dent in your company’s sustainability efforts.

The challenge is that high battery costs and low range between charges have historically made the idea of all-electric pickups seem impractical for widespread fleet use. And there are no products commercially available for fleets to choose from.

But that could be changing soon. Here’s an overview of six electric pickups currently in development that are expected to launch in the next one to two years.

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Sean M. Lyden

Flattening the Curve? The State of Transportation Electrification During a Pandemic

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A perfect storm of geopolitical forces flooding the world’s oil supply and COVID-19 causing global governments to temporarily shut down their economies has precipitated a steep drop in gasoline and diesel prices in recent weeks.

So, what does this mean for the electric vehicle market?

After all, conventional wisdom says that cheap gas will put the brakes on the demand for alternative fuels, including electricity.

But Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy, a public power utility and a department of The City of Austin, Texas, believes that demand for electrified transportation likely will continue to grow despite oil prices at historic lows.

Why? Popham points to four trends.

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Sean M. Lyden

Women in Utility Fleet: Mariela Perez

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In 2016, when Mariela Perez and her husband visited the exhibits while attending a national fleet managers conference, very few equipment vendors knew who she was: the head of the fleet department at Duke Energy, one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S.

So, you can imagine the awkward surprise for many of those exhibitors.

“My husband also works at Duke, as the general manager of distribution in Florida,” Perez said. “And since many of the attendees bring their spouses, and I wasn’t wearing a Duke shirt, [the vendors] assumed my husband was the fleet manager.”

Sales reps would look past Perez and approach her husband: “What can we do to earn your business?”

“My husband would say, ‘Talk to her,’ pointing to me,” Perez said. “‘Why would we want to talk to your spouse?’ He’s like, ‘Well, because she’s the general manager of the Duke Energy fleet.’”

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Sean M. Lyden

Women in Utility Fleet: Michele Davis

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Michele Davis has loved cars for as long as she can remember.

So, when her father bought her a 1968 Chevy Camaro for her 16th birthday, “I lost my mind,” she recalled. “I didn't expect anything like that. I mean, I just wanted a car to drive to school, go to work, see all my friends. But my dad said, ‘Well, I know how much you love cars, and I know you'll appreciate this more than your younger sister will when she turns 16.’”

Today, Davis still owns that Camaro. And she has become a successful leader in a career that taps into her lifelong passion for all things automotive. She’s the fleet manager at Washington Gas, a natural gas service provider headquartered in the District of Columbia, where she manages about 1,200 fleet assets and 30 employees.

But it took a long and winding road for Davis to discover that she could build a career around her favorite pastime.

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Sean M. Lyden

Fairfax Water: Overhauling Crew Truck Specs to Improve Safety and Productivity

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In his classic bestseller, “Thriving on Chaos,” management expert Tom Peters put it best when he wrote, “Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.”

Perhaps the same could be said about excellent fleets, where you never ultimately arrive at a destination called “excellence.” Instead, you remain on a journey of continuous improvement, making changes along the way to produce better results for your customers and the company.

This philosophy of constant improvement is what has driven Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water in Virginia, and his team to make significant changes with their new generation of crew trucks – to increase storage capacity, improve safety, boost productivity and reduce operational costs.

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Sean M. Lyden

Women in Utility Fleet: Holly Giffrow-Bos

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In 2006, when Holly Giffrow-Bos applied for the open fleet position at East Central Energy in Braham, Minnesota, she wasn’t exactly sure what she was getting into.

“Automotive is what I knew, but I really didn’t know what fleet was all about because it’s a completely different animal than the retail automotive business,” she said.

Giffrow-Bos knew the automotive business because she worked in dealerships for nearly two decades. She started in the accounting department at a small Ford dealership in Cambridge, Minnesota, after graduating high school. About a year later, she moved to Northern California, where she took a job at another Ford dealership, starting at the service department appointment desk.

“And then I just became a sponge,” Giffrow-Bos said. By the time she left that company in 2004, after about 14 years, she had worked her way up to fixed operations manager for the company’s two dealerships.

Today, Giffrow-Bos is the fleet supervisor at East Central Energy, overseeing about 200 fleet assets and four technicians.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Low-Hanging Fruit for Greening Your Fleet

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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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Budget Talks: Why Fleet Needs a Seat at the Table – And How You Can Earn It

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When it comes to fleet, senior leadership may not fully appreciate all that the job entails.

"What I would often hear from folks either in finance or in the senior leadership groups was something along the lines of, ‘Every year, fleet costs go up. But I have a 2004 Honda with 300,000 miles on it. It costs me 421 bucks a year to operate. How come you can't do the same thing?’” said Chris Lindquist, a 30-year fleet veteran from Colorado Springs Utilities and Xcel Energy, who retired in 2018.

Sound familiar?

“People think they understand fleet, but they really don't,” Lindquist said. “The reality is that most folks in the higher echelons of utility companies tend to view fleet strictly as an expense that's large and assume that their fleet must be underperforming because, well, the costs keep going up.”

If leadership doesn’t understand the value that your department brings to the overall business, your budget becomes a prime target for cuts.

“At the beginning of the year, that budget you fought for the previous year would be set in stone,” Lindquist said. “But in the spring, all of sudden there would be an edict that came from the budget officer or the finance department that basically said, ‘Budgets are X. We're going to have to start cutting from Y.’ Fleet was always one of those departments on the cut side of the budget.”

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Sean M. Lyden

The Rise of the 4x4 Service Truck

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When it comes to service trucks in utility fleets, which is more popular: two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive?

According to a recent report by Utilimarc (https://utilimarc.com), a Minneapolis-based fleet management software and benchmarking company, the clear winner is the 4x4.

But this hasn't always been the case. In fact, in 2012 – just six years ago – the two-wheel-drive led the service truck market by nearly 20 percentage points.

That would appear to make sense. All things being equal, the two-wheel-drive comes with a lower price tag. And conventional wisdom is that operating costs on the 4x2 should be lower as well, because there are fewer components that need to be serviced or repaired.

Yet in a relatively short span, the 4x4 has surged to the lead. Why? What’s driving this change in utility fleets?

UFP spoke with Paul Milner, senior analyst and product developer at Utilimarc, to help us dig into the data.

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Sean M. Lyden

CPS Energy Makes a Big Push into Truck Electrification

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In recent years, the pickup truck market has been considered by many in the utility industry as the “holy grail” for fleet electrification.

That’s because pickups comprise the most significant percentage of many utility fleets. So, the more of those trucks you can switch to plug-in electric powertrains – whether all-electric or hybrid – the greater the impact you can make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the challenge with electrifying pickup trucks has been cost, making it difficult for utility fleets to come up with a compelling business case to invest aggressively in the technology.

That is, until recently. As battery prices continue to plummet and the business case becomes more attractive, some utility fleets are taking a more aggressive stance with their fleet electrification efforts.

Take, for example, San Antonio-based CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned natural gas and electric company.

In April, CPS Energy announced the purchase of 34 plug-in hybrid electric Ford F-150 pickup trucks, which, according to XL (www.xlfleet.com) – a provider of connected vehicle electrification systems for commercial and municipal fleets – represents the largest purchase of plug-in hybrid F-150s by any utility or private company to date and the first in Texas to use the vehicles.

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Sean M. Lyden

Pioneering a Utility Drone Program

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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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Utility Fleets to the Rescue in Puerto Rico

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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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Joining Forces to Accelerate Green Fleet Adoption

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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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Piedmont Natural Gas Expands Its CNG-Powered Fleet

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When it comes to discussions of alternative fuels and sustainability in utility fleets, electrification often takes center stage.

And for good reason. Electric utilities have a vested interest in selling more of their product – electricity – so it makes sense that they would take the lead by making big investments in electric vehicles (EVs) for their fleets. A major contributor to this trend has been Edison Electric Institute’s 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 utility fleets shouldn’t overlook compressed natural gas (CNG) as part of their green initiatives, said Karl Newlin, senior vice president and chief commercial officer for Duke Energy's natural gas operations, who also oversees the fleet and public fueling station development at Duke subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas (www.piedmontng.com), which serves more than a million residential, commercial, industrial and power generation customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

That’s because natural gas not only burns much cleaner than gasoline and diesel, but it also offers – at least historically – more stable pricing than conventional fossil fuels, giving fleets a greater sense of predictability with fuel costs.

Piedmont launched its fleet CNG program in 2009 with 12 natural-gas-powered Ford F-150 pickup trucks. Today, the utility operates 469 natural gas vehicles – more than a third of its total fleet of 1,215 vehicles. And in August, Piedmont expects to open its 11th natural gas filling station available to the public.

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Sean M. Lyden

Dominion Virginia Power’s Drone Program Takes Flight

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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.

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Sean M. Lyden

3 Takeaways from Southern California Edison’s Fleet Electrification Initiative

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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Eversource Energy’s New Approach to Change Management in Fleet

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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Mobile Command Centers Accelerate Emergency Response for Consumers Energy

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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Boost Your Department’s Visibility, Value and Productivity With an Email Newsletter

Boost Your Department’s Visibility, Value and Productivity With an Email Newsletter

There’s a tendency for senior management to view fleet as a cost center and “necessary evil,” with little appreciation for the value the department brings to the business as a whole. So, when it’s time to cut spending, the fleet budget becomes a primary target, putting greater pressure on the fleet manager to do more with less.

How do you counter this impulse at your company? How can you bolster your department’s standing with management to garner the resources you need to do your job well?

Try starting a monthly email newsletter that keeps management and end users in the loop about the department’s latest news, vehicle order status and performance.

It’s a communication tool that has worked effectively for Matt Gilliland, fleet services manager at Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), which operates over 1,100 fleet assets.

Since Gilliland and his team launched their department’s email newsletter about seven years ago, it has not only helped them expand fleet’s influence with management, but it has also enabled the department to operate more efficiently, increasing its value throughout the organization.

“At the time, no one in the district really knew what fleet was doing,” Gilliland said. “We just weren't that visible. We were tucked away in the corner, and that was it. The newsletter has given us an opportunity to communicate our work – and value – within the organization because, as I tell my guys, our blue stripes and orange bumpers on our vehicles are by far the best advertising we do as a district. And how we manage those vehicles is vital to how the public perceives us – and how much confidence they have in us.”

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Sean M. Lyden

Time Warner Cable: Forging a Path Toward Fleet Sustainability

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.

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