UFP Magazine

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

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

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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Curtis Marquardt Jr.

Sharing Knowledge: The Value of Joining a Utility Fleet Organization

Sharing Knowledge: The Value of Joining a Utility Fleet Organization

Have you ever heard of the Homebrew Computer Club (HCC)? How about Apple, the technology company? The odds are that all of you are familiar with Apple – with its ubiquitous iPhones and iPads – but very few of you have heard of the HCC. But did you know that without the HCC’s existence, Apple might never have existed? In fact, some credit the club as the birthplace of the personal computer revolution.

To give you some background, the HCC was created in 1975 to bring together like-minded electronics enthusiasts in order to talk shop and share ideas. It was during an HCC meeting that one of its members, Steve Wozniak, found inspiration to design a new kind of personal computer – the seed from which the Apple empire grew.

At this point you may be thinking, what does any of this have to do with utility fleet professionals? The answer is that belonging to an organized group of like-minded professionals – whether they’re focused on electronics or fleets – can have an incredible impact on personal success as well as the success of an industry.

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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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Seth Skydel

Road Map

DC-Water3-WebFor the fleet management team at the District of Columbia Water & Sewer Authority, the goal is clear. “We are in a position of public trust,” said Tim Fitzgerald, fleet director at DC Water – Department of Fleet Management. “We are also a revenue-generating utility. While our management gives us the freedom to do a lot of innovative things, we are held to high standards internally and by our customers. In the end, we have to be able to measure and prove the success of our efforts.”

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Seth Skydel

Changing Attitudes

Duke4-WebIt turns out that “Getting to the Next Level of Safety Performance,” Bob McCall’s presentation at the 2013 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC), was just the high-level view. On the ground at Duke Energy, where McCall serves as general manager of fleet services, a team of fleet management professionals is putting in place a series of initiatives aimed at posting a record of zero incidents, injuries and accidents.

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Wade Vonasek

OPPD’s Continual Evolution

Vonasek-13-WebFounded in 1946, Omaha Public Power District is a publicly owned, business-managed electric utility governed by an elected board of directors and headquartered in Omaha, Neb. With a fleet operations staff of more than 50, OPPD services 5,000 square miles, covering 13 counties in southeastern Nebraska and serving 352,000 customers. In fact, OPPD is the 12th-largest public power utility in the United States in number of customers served. OPPD maintains multiple facilities, including three full-service garages in the metropolitan Omaha area, one full-service garage in south rural Omaha and a light-duty garage in downtown Omaha.

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Seth Skydel

New Model

Seattle1-WebDave Seavey, fleet management director with the City of Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services, Fleet Management Division (FMD), sums up his organization this way: “The Fleet Management Division is 126 people helping 10,000 employees acquire and maintain the right vehicles and equipment to effectively do their jobs.”

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