Fleet Profiles

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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Sean M. Lyden

What to Expect in a Telematics Deployment

What to Expect in a Telematics Deployment

There’s a lot of hype around telematics – and for good reason.

When properly configured and maintained, telematics works like a sophisticated air traffic control system for your fleet. It uses GPS tracking and wireless connectivity to stream real-time vehicle location and performance data, giving you all the information you need – at a glance – to make smart decisions that reduce your fleet’s fuel costs and carbon footprint, improve vehicle utilization rates and promote safer driver behaviors.

But the qualifier here is the phrase “properly configured and maintained.” That’s because even when you’ve selected the right telematics system for your fleet, the installations and ongoing maintenance can get tricky, especially when you’re trying to track hundreds or thousands of fleet assets across multiple locations in a large service area.

At least that has been the experience for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), a rate-regulated gas and electric utility headquartered in Collinsville, Ill., which completed its telematics hardware installations on about 2,300 vehicles and pieces of equipment in November 2014. The company currently has 3,300 total assets including trailers.

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Sean M. Lyden

Executing an Effective Fleet Rightsizing Strategy

Executing an Effective Fleet Rightsizing Strategy

About four years ago, East Central Energy, an electric distribution cooperative headquartered in Braham, Minn., underwent a corporate restructuring that shifted fleet from operations to the finance department. This reorganization, along with a drop in demand for new services, sparked an initiative to rightsize the fleet, said Holly Giffrow-Bos, East Central Energy’s fleet supervisor.

“When fleet was moved to finance, that’s when we started doing a lot more analyzing and measuring the financial performance of our fleet,” Giffrow-Bos said. “And when the scope of our business changed [with lower demand in new services], we analyzed the impact on our fleet. We measured and ranked our assets at each of our five locations, based on set criteria, to determine which assets we should keep, replace, reassign or eliminate.”

The result: about a 13 percent reduction in fleet assets, from 205 to 178 units since 2011, which has generated tens of thousands of dollars in annual savings for East Central Energy.

A reorganization of sorts also prompted a fleet rightsizing initiative for Matt Gilliland, fleet services manager at Nebraska Public Power District, which operates more than 1,100 fleet assets.

A few years ago, Gilliland’s fleet organization served only the transmission and distribution business units. But in 2012, his department’s responsibilities were expanded to oversee the fleets of all the district’s business units – a total of eight – creating opportunities for fleet consolidation and reduction.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Millennial Challenge: Attracting and Retaining Younger Workers in Utility Fleet Operations

The Millennial Challenge: Attracting and Retaining Younger Workers in Utility Fleet Operations

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is the fifth habit in Stephen R. Covey’s perennial best-seller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

And it could also serve as a guiding principle for today’s baby boomer and Gen X fleet managers as they grapple with replacing a large swath of workers retiring over the next few years with millennials who bring a substantially different perspective toward their work and lives.

Also known as Generation Y, millennials – ages 18 to 34 as of 2015 – are projected to surpass the baby boomers – ages 51 to 69 – as the nation’s largest living generation this year by a total of 75.3 million to 74.9 million, according to Pew Research Center. They represent a much larger generation than their Gen X parents – ages 35 to 50 – who aren’t expected to eclipse the boomer population until 2028.

Millennials are often labeled as too idealistic, entitled, lazy and obsessed with instant gratification. But as the seismic generational shift occurs in the job market, smart fleet managers must look beyond the perceptions and “seek first to understand” to compete for the best young talent.

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Sean M. Lyden

For Fairfax Water, Preventive Maintenance is Customer Service

For Fairfax Water, Preventive Maintenance is Customer Service

A utility fleet is ultimately responsible for serving the public. So when a vehicle breaks down and delays an emergency crew’s response to a water main break or downed power line, that reflects poorly on the utility’s customer service – and on the fleet manager’s performance.

How can utility fleets reduce the risk of unexpected and costly downtime, especially when vehicles must be ready to respond in crisis situations?

The solution is timely preventive maintenance (PM), said Dale Collins, CAFM, the fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority (Fairfax Water). “It’s so much easier and cheaper to maintain a vehicle than repair it after the fact. You’ll eliminate the downtime and the inconvenience, not only for your end users but also for the departments you’re serving.”

Collins started at Fairfax Water (www.fairfaxwater.com), Virginia’s largest water utility, as an entry-level mechanic in 1997. After quickly moving up the ranks, he was appointed to head the fleet department in 2006 and is now responsible for managing approximately 270 vehicles, ranging from sedans to Class 8 dump trucks, plus another 140 pieces of miscellaneous equipment, such as trailers and excavators. He also oversees the operations of the water utility’s two maintenance shops, which have a total of 10 bays and five vehicle lifts.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Art and Science of a Telematics Deployment

The Art and Science of a Telematics Deployment

A growing number of utility fleets are turning to telematics to improve driver behavior, cut fuel consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and uncover numerous cost-saving opportunities throughout their fleet operations.

But it’s not the GPS data itself that makes telematics so useful; it’s how fleet and senior management use that information when managing their people and processes that ultimately determines the business case for the technology.

How can you use telematics to more effectively manage your drivers and their use of your equipment? How do you handle potential pushback from employees who might be wary of “being watched”? How can you integrate telematics with other technology systems to help your organization improve vehicle uptime, emergency dispatch response and overall service to customers?

The fleet team with utility contractor INTREN Inc. has wrestled with questions like these since deploying GPS technology in approximately 700 vehicles over the past five years. And they’ve come up with some innovative solutions and interesting insights that might help other fleets get the most out of their own telematics deployments.

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Seth Skydel

Reducing Costs

Hawaii-Electric-1-WebWhile independent electric grids power each of the Hawaiian Islands, servicing all of those grids is the responsibility of the Hawaiian Electric Co., which serves 95 percent of the state’s 1.4 million residents. Hawaiian Electric’s subsidiary Hawai‘i Electric Light serves more than 80,000 customers on Hawai‘i Island, the chain’s biggest island at more than 4,000 square miles.

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Seth Skydel

Effectively Meeting Needs

NVEnergy5-Web“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.”

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Seth Skydel

Worthwhile Investment

CLP1-Web“Like many utility fleets, we have gone down the rebuilding path before and then moved away from it,” said Al Mascaro, fleet manager at Connecticut Light & Power Co. “Today, however, several key factors caused us to rethink our aerial replacement practices.

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