UFP Magazine

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

What’s Accelerating Electric Vehicle Growth?

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It wasn’t long ago that relatively low fuel prices put the brakes on momentum for alternative fuels. But electric vehicles (EVs) appear to be defying that trend, even as conventional fuel prices remain low.

Consider the recent headlines. Norway intends to ban the sale of new diesel- and gas-powered cars and trucks in favor of EVs by 2025. China is planning to follow suit by 2030, with France and the U.K. each setting their targets for 2040. And, as of press time, the state of California is considering its own ban on non-EVs, which could have a huge ripple effect throughout the U.S. market.

Then there are major automakers – beyond Tesla – pushing the pace toward electrification. In October, General Motors announced that it’s pursuing an “all-electric future,” with 20 new fully electric models to be launched by 2023. Volvo, Aston Martin and Land Rover have introduced similar plans.

And according to a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EVs could represent the majority – 54 percent – of new car sales by 2040.

So, what’s driving this momentum toward EVs? Here are three factors.

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Sean M. Lyden

The State of Electrified Pickup Trucks in the North American Market

The State of Electrified Pickup Trucks in the North American Market

While a growing number of utility fleets are purchasing electrified passenger cars – like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf – and bucket trucks with plug-in electric power takeoff capabilities, one vehicle segment still seems out of reach for electrification for most fleets: light-duty pickup trucks.

But there have been some new developments in this space that could have important implications for utility fleets. Workhorse Group says that it will unveil a concept electric truck this May at the ACT Expo in Long Beach, Calif. Earlier this year, Ford announced that it would offer a plug-in hybrid-electric version of the F-150 pickup. And XL Hybrids recently introduced a plug-in hybrid system designed for half-ton pickups.

So, what exactly are the prospects for electrified pickup trucks in North America? What are some of the key challenges to widespread fleet adoption? And when can we expect electrified pickups to become more cost-competitive with conventional-fueled trucks?

UFP recently spoke with Scott Shepard, senior research analyst with global market research and consulting firm Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com), to get his outlook.

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Sean M. Lyden

Could Cutting the Cord Accelerate Electric Vehicle Growth?

Could Cutting the Cord Accelerate Electric Vehicle Growth?

If your fleet operates plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) – or is planning to do so – there’s an emerging technology you’ll want to put on your radar that could impact your vehicle selection and charging infrastructure decisions within the next year or two.

It’s wireless EV charging, which proponents believe holds the key to widespread transportation electrification.

That’s because one of the friction points of operating EVs is the inconvenience of charging with a conventional cord and plug-in system, said David Schatz, vice president of business development and sales for WiTricity (http://witricity.com), a firm that develops wireless charging systems for EVs, headquartered in Watertown, Mass.

Schatz cites a major automaker’s internal study that found that 70 percent of all plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners never plug in and opt for fueling only with gas because of the “inconvenience” of plugging in their vehicle.

The idea here is that if you cut the cord, you make EV charging more acceptable to a larger market because you’re not forcing users to change their behavior. “PHEV and EV drivers simply park over a charging pad in their garage, or at work, or at a shopping center and charge up with no hands, no effort,” Schatz said.

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Sean M. Lyden

Utilities Push Toward Fleet Electrification

Utilities Push Toward Fleet Electrification

Despite the recent trend toward lower fuel prices, vehicle electrification is a hot topic right now among utility fleets, as highlighted at the recent Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC) held in Williamsburg, Va. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association of investor-owned utilities, is leading the electrification effort and, according to some fleet managers we spoke to at the conference, many public utilities are following suit.

The EUFMC general session opened with a keynote address delivered by Jim Piro, president and CEO of Portland General Electric, who said that from the utility CEO perspective, expanding the electric vehicle (EV) market is a strategic initiative to increase demand for a specific utility product – electricity.

Piro went on to say that the challenge for electric utilities is slow growth in retail loads. If this trend doesn’t change, utilities may be forced to ask regulators for a rate increase, and such requests usually don’t go over well with the public. So, how can utilities increase retail demand and keep rates affordable?

The solution, Piro said, is to promote transportation electrification.

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Cheryl Knight

Preventive Maintenance and the Electric Vehicle

Preventive Maintenance and the Electric Vehicle

In an effort to reduce fuel costs, extend replacement cycles and lower greenhouse gas emissions, an increasing number of utility fleets now operate electric vehicles (EVs). In fact, in November 2014, the White House and Edison Electric Institute announced that more than 70 U.S. electric utility companies have plans to devote at least 5 percent of their fleet acquisition budgets to buying plug-in EVs and related technology. Their investments will total approximately $50 million each year.

With fewer moving parts and less reliance on oil to lubricate and help cool the engine parts that do move, EVs represent a sound investment, over time, for many utility fleets. In addition to lower fuel costs and fewer emissions, others benefits of operating EVs include reduced noise levels, exportable power and lower total cost of ownership.

“While you pay more for a plug-in, the overall cost of ownership is significantly lower,” said David Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), explaining that payback for the company’s fleet usually ranges from two to seven years. “For our bucket trucks, we’re looking at paybacks in 24 to 30 months. Some of our light-duty applications pay back in five years or less. And some of our pickup trucks see payback in seven years.”

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Sean M. Lyden

The Rise of ePTO Systems for Utility Trucks

The Rise of ePTO Systems for Utility Trucks

When it comes to electric vehicles (EV), what usually garners headlines are consumer cars, like the Toyota Prius, Nissan LEAF and the eye-catching Tesla Model S sport sedan. But the future expansion of the EV market will likely be driven by commercial fleets, including electric utility companies, which are stepping up investments in all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.

In November 2014, the White House and Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, announced that more than 70 electric utility companies have committed at least 5 percent of their annual fleet acquisition budgets to purchasing plug-in EVs and technologies. This adds up to total investments of approximately $50 million per year, or $250 million over five years, starting in 2015.

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