UFP Magazine

Grace Suizo

Using Technology to Reduce Engine Idle

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In the U.S., roughly 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline are consumed each year by idling engines on medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to Argonne National Laboratory (www.anl.gov). So, improving fuel economy – and thus lowering fuel expenses – without sacrificing performance is a must for utility fleets that often have to idle assets during working hours. 

UFP recently reached out to industry experts to gain some deeper insight about this issue and discover possible idling solutions for utility fleet operations.

A Changing Landscape
For a long time, technology selections for medium-duty trucks were very limited, according to George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com).

But that’s changing. And while many fleets take a driver-behavior-based approach to idle reduction, one advantage of an equipment-based solution is that the change typically is good for the life of the equipment, said Survant, who also spent more than 25 years as a telecom fleet manager.

“We, as fleet operators, are becoming more sophisticated in our acceptance of new technology and sensitive to the need for better solutions,” he said. “Consequently, the market is producing more viable solutions that are made for an increasing number of applications.”

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Jim Galligan

The Gas-or-Diesel Decision Gets Complicated

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Which engine – gasoline or diesel – is best for light-duty vehicles? The age-old answer is, of course, it depends. It depends on annual mileage, fuel economy, purchase price, expected lifespan, fuel costs, maintenance and more; a whole assortment of considerations specific to the fleet. 

Those considerations still drive the fleet’s decision tree, but recent advancements in the engines, oils, fuels, maintenance support and even onboard performance data have given fleet buyers more means to find the best power choice. 

Take lifespan, for example. Advancements in equipment durability and manufacturing processes combined with higher-quality fuel and oil are pushing out the average lifespans of gasoline engines, said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com) and a former utility fleet executive. 

“Ten, even five years ago, fleets would turn in their gasoline-powered truck at about seven years and 70,000 miles,” Survant said. “Now, I wouldn’t consider turning it in under 150,000 miles.”

Fuel economy is another example. The newer non-hybrid gasoline engines with single or dual turbos, less weight and multispeed (6-, 8- and 10-speed) transmissions have narrowed the traditional fuel economy gap with diesels, with some spark-ignition units getting ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. Power ratings are up, too. Ford’s 2017 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost rates a beefy 470 pound-feet of torque.

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Fiona Soltes

Getting Utility Fleet Drivers to Embrace Idle Reduction

Getting Utility Fleet Drivers to Embrace Idle Reduction

Regardless of how cutting-edge a type of technology may seem, getting buy-in from prospective users often requires a pragmatic approach: They need to be convinced it works.

Such is the case with anti-idling technology. Today’s tools – aimed at reducing emissions and wasted fuel – include automatic shut-off systems, real-time alerts and plug-in hybrid vehicles that allow systems to work when the engine is off. But the only way utility fleet operators will fully embrace such tools, experts say, is when they grasp the difference that can be made, in terms of both the environment and their organization’s financial bottom line.

“It’s very spotty,” said Linda Gaines, transportation system analyst at Argonne National Laboratory (www.anl.gov) and a recognized idling authority. “You’ll go to some meetings and talk to some fleets, and they’re on board. It’s like your job is done, and the information is all out there. A lot of states have regulations, and it seems like we’ve made a lot of headway. And then you go and visit some company and see how far there still is to go.”

Gaines referenced one organization that is interested in idle reduction and went through the process of installing telematics, but, she said, was still “absolutely shocked by how much idling their trucks were actually doing. I think that’s not an unusual occurrence. Just by sharing that information with the drivers, without any kind of threat or any kind of reward, either way, just by being aware, the drivers reduced their idling by some very significant fraction.” That fraction was near 30 percent.

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John Dolce

Alternative Fuel Options for Fleets

Dolce 1 300pxFleet fueling today is primarily done using gasoline and diesel fuels, which are derived from crude oil and emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct of combustion. For every gallon of gasoline burned, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted into the air. Diesel emits 22 pounds of carbon dioxide, and propane, the third-most popular world fuel, generates 13 pounds of carbon dioxide. Methane – the primary component of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) – generates a little less than propane, approximately 12 pounds per gallon equivalent.

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Tom Gelinas

More Than a Fill-Up

Fuel is simply too expensive to ignore. It has been the No. 1 equipment-related cost item for years in most operations. For some fleets it has surpassed the cost of labor and become a fleet’s leading expense item. Combine this with costs associated with environmental regulations pertaining to fuel storage facilities, and it’s easy to see that management attention is highly desirable for any operation that has its own fueling facilities.

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Tom Gelinas

Controlling Costs with Fuel Cards

Gelinas-1-WebWhether a gallon of fuel costs $4, $2 or somewhere in between, it’s most likely going to represent your largest equipment-related expense. Because of that, it only makes sense to do everything possible to control what is charged against fuel in your fleet. In times past, drivers, who would need to purchase fuel before returning to a controlled distribution location, were often given cash and told to bring in receipts to cover what was spent. Who could tell how many truck stop lunches were included in those receipts? Thankfully, those days are pretty much gone.

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