Accessories & Technology

Sean M. Lyden

Going Sideways: Technology that Protects Crews in Rollover Incidents

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It was early 2017.

A crew for Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) was traveling on the highway in a Class 8 digger derrick when the unforeseen happened.

There was a truck pulling a trailer ahead of them when, suddenly, the axle broke off that trailer and began hurtling, with wheels still attached, toward the digger derrick.

As the OG&E driver swerved to avoid the incoming debris, his truck flipped onto its side before coming to a stop.

“The driver was okay, and the passenger broke his hand, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at OG&E, who oversees about 2,000 of the utility’s fleet assets.

His crew was indeed fortunate. In fact, rollover crashes account for 55 percent of all commercial truck driver fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“The driver did a great job by setting [the truck] down on the shoulder of the road,” he said. “If they had gone any farther, they would have hit the embankment.”

This was an eye-opening experience for Jefferson and his team. After all, even when you equip your trucks with stability control and advanced collision-avoidance technologies, and your drivers consistently follow safety best practices, there still are incidents like this that your people won’t be able to avoid.

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Sean M. Lyden

How Technology Can Turn Idle Equipment into Revenue Generators

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If you’re like many utility fleet professionals, you’re under increasing pressure from senior management to do more with less. So, when you’re looking for creative ways to squeeze as much productivity and value as possible from your fleet assets, what are your options?

One idea is to put your underutilized or spare vehicles to work as revenue generators by lending them to other fleets that could use them. But how?

There’s an app for that.

Truck rental and leasing giant Ryder (https://ryder.com) recently launched COOP – pronounced “koop” – a commercial vehicle-sharing platform that links fleet owners with idle vehicles to trusted businesses in need of rental vehicles. Think of it as Airbnb for fleet assets, where you're able to rent out your excess fleet capacity more efficiently and safely to companies that have been vetted by the platform.

The service came out of its pilot phase at the end of the first quarter this year and is live in Atlanta and its surrounding areas in Georgia. The company said that it’s planning to expand to other states beginning in January 2019 but has not yet announced those locations.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Latest Developments in Drones for the North American Utility Sector

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Although drone sales in the North American utility market will reach only about $850,000 in 2018, that number is expected to grow by more than 20 times – to $25 million – by 2026, as U.S. regulations ease and drone technology improves.

That’s the outlook from Michael Hartnack, a research analyst covering drones and robotics for transmission and distribution operations worldwide for Navigant Research. (For Navigant’s full market report, visit www.navigantresearch.com/research/drones-and-robotics-for-transmission-and-distribution-operations.)

While those numbers might appear underwhelming, they represent hardware sales only, and not revenue from ancillary drone services – such as piloting, training, software development, data management, cybersecurity and other support offerings – which will make the overall U.S. utility drone market significantly larger, Hartnack said.

So, what exactly is the state of drones in the North American utility sector today? What pieces need to fall into place to accelerate growth? And what are some of the most interesting future possibilities?

UFP recently spoke with Hartnack to get his perspective. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

What Will It Take for Autonomous Vehicles to be Ready for Prime Time?

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When it comes to fully autonomous vehicles becoming commercially available, industry consensus is that it’s not a question of if but when. And that time frame appears to be within the next two to three years.

For example, industry research firm Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com) expects that highly automated light-duty vehicles will begin to be introduced in 2020, with steady growth anticipated starting in 2025.

Then there’s Waymo (https://waymo.com) – formerly the Google self-driving car project – pushing the pace, saying that it will roll out fully self-driving taxi rides to the public by the end of this year, with a plan to operate 1 million self-driving miles by 2020.

And at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March, Ed Peper, vice president of fleet at GM (www.gm.com), said that the automaker expects to launch fully self-driving vehicles "safely and at scale” in ridesharing applications in 2019.

But fatal crashes in recent weeks – involving an Uber vehicle in fully autonomous mode and a Tesla Model X with Autopilot engaged – also have caused many in the industry and government to pump the brakes on vehicle testing, creating some uncertainty around when robots will actually rule the roads.

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Fiona Soltes

What Do AI and Machine Learning Mean for Utility Fleets?

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There are some people who still believe artificial intelligence (AI) is no more than sci-fi wizardry. And there are others who tend to view it with blind optimism, as a kind of be-all, end-all for industries of all types. But somewhere in between, AI has taken its true place as just one piece of a much broader technology transformation.

Both AI and machine learning – a field of computer science that enables computers to think intelligently and even “learn” from historical data without specifically being programmed – eventually will make their way to utility fleets, perhaps through relationships with other industries. David Groarke, managing director of Indigo Advisory Group (www.indigoadvisorygroup.com), a new-energy/utilities consulting firm, ticked off some possibilities. These might involve, for example, electric fleet vehicles automatically being charged during off-peak times. Or, they might include the use of telematics to better predict and adjust driver behaviors. Examples abound in other industries, too, such as supply chain and logistics.

As a result, Groarke and others have said, now is the time for utility fleet professionals to take notes, ask questions, be willing to share data for more accurate and strategic insights – and keep pushing the envelope by exploring what-if applications.

“More information is always better,” said Paul Millington, vice president of technology products for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com). “As experts who are dedicated to fleet, we make it our job to anticipate what insights our customers would be looking for. I’d say keep asking the questions of your fleet management company and others on whether your objectives could be achieved with machine learning.”

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Grace Suizo

3 Ways Telematics Can Help Improve Fleet Safety

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One benefit of implementing a telematics solution is that it can help create a safer environment for utility fleet employees. How? UFP recently reached out to several industry experts, who provided three of the most valuable ways telematics data is currently being used to strengthen fleet safety.  

1. Telematics solutions can be used to monitor driving behavior and coach drivers.
Each day, fleet managers are tasked with ensuring the safety of their drivers as well as the public. Analyzing telematics data can help reveal driving trends and behaviors – such as speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration, hard turns and unauthorized usage – that may be contrary to a company’s safety policies. 

“The data available through telematics is much more than maintenance and fuel transactions; it can track or predict behaviors that impact fleet costs,” said Spero A. Skarlatos, CTP, senior consultant, truck solutions for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

And once an undesirable trend or behavior is discovered, some telematics providers, such as GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), provide real-time and post-incident coaching for drivers on ways they can improve. Feedback can come in the form of text messages to the driver that tell them to slow down, or a buzzer that goes off to coach drivers in the cab in real time. In addition, according to Ryan Driscoll, GPS Insight’s marketing director, the company also supplies “actionable data for managers to coach their drivers after the fact to help educate drivers on how to improve behavior behind the wheel.”

Telematics-based driver coaching also leverages gamification, informing drivers of how they compare to their peers in terms of safe driving behavior and related areas, such as deployment of onboard scales integrated into telematics systems to make sure vehicles are not loaded beyond their weight rating, according to Geoff Scalf, director of global oil and gas business development for Telogis (www.telogis.com).

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Jim Galligan

The Future of Drones in the Utility Market

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Darting about inside one of Consolidated Edison’s 10-story steam boilers in Manhattan, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) looks like a hobbyist’s dream, a multirotor mini-helicopter outfitted with a megapixel camera mounted inside a gyroscopically balanced geodesic sphere. But don’t look for it at your local hobby store. It’s a custom-built UAV – also known as a drone – that ConEd’s engineers are testing as they explore the potential benefits of this new and growing technology.

To say that utility executives are excited about the possible uses of drones is a significant understatement. Most utilities are exploring the possibilities at one level or another, said Chris McMurtry, solutions architect with Sharper Shape (http://sharpershape.com), a supplier of UAV services for utilities. “Of the major utilities, probably 80 percent have some sort of drone initiatives going right now, and almost all [utilities] have put in a lot of hours thinking about this,” he said.

The most common use to date has been to provide safer and more economical inspections of transmission and distribution infrastructure.

When inspecting a tower or other vertical infrastructure that’s within sight, “a drone will beat just about any other method you’ve got, whether it’s a bucket truck, binoculars, helicopter or climbing that asset,” said Dexter Lewis, senior research engineer with Southern Company Services. “It doesn’t matter how big the structure, that use case will probably return value.” Southern Co. is the parent of several utilities.

But the potential of UAVs goes well beyond that.

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Grace Suizo

Technology Helps Fleets Streamline Maintenance Operations

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Where fleet maintenance is concerned, technology providers including Decisiv (www.decisiv.com) and Zonar Systems (www.zonarsystems.com) have been working with utilities to maximize visibility, consistency and transparency, among other things.

“Those actually go right to your bottom line because you reduce costs, you reduce downtime, and you make everybody more effective and the whole process more efficient,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of product and channel marketing for Decisiv.

Decreasing Downtime
Reducing downtime is a primary goal of nearly every utility fleet manager since it is a huge productivity killer.

“If your asset is down for two days but should only be down for two hours, that's a huge cost,” Riemer said.

One of the biggest culprits contributing to unnecessary downtime are inefficient and often outdated paper-based systems and communication methods. Much of the time involved in a service event – from the time someone realizes an asset is broken to the time it’s back in service – has nothing to do with fixing the asset, Riemer noted. “It’s all the other things: the talking, the paper finding, the communicating, the scheduling. It’s a highly inefficient process which dramatically increases downtime,” he said.

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Sean M. Lyden

Confronting the Human Dilemma in a Brave New Self-Driving World

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In his speech at the AutoMobili-D Conference in Detroit this past January, John Krafcik, the CEO at Waymo – formerly the Google self-driving car program – cited this compelling statistic: “Each year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world.”

He then put that number in context: “That’s equivalent to a 737 [airliner] falling from the sky every hour of every day all year long.”

Krafcik’s point is clear. Society would never tolerate having a major airline crash every day; so, how can it accept the same number of people dying in automotive crashes? If self-driving systems could prevent the vast majority of fatalities on the road, wouldn’t it be a moral imperative for society to adopt that technology?

That’s the argument that Krafcik, several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and most automotive executives have been making in recent months as they present a vision of a “crash-less” society made possible by fully autonomous vehicles. After all, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to human error. Remove the driver, eliminate human error – right?

But despite bold predictions by industry executives and analysts that fully autonomous vehicles will be available for sale in the U.S. within the next four years, human psychological barriers could put the brakes on societal adoption of this technology.

How?

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Fiona Soltes

Putting a Lock on Lost Keys

Putting a Lock on Lost Keys

Keeping track of keys in a utility fleet environment – which may have thousands of assets, from pickups to bucket trucks and beyond – can be a costly endeavor. In fact, the price tag associated with maintaining fleet vehicle keys and replacing those that are lost can hit well into five figures each year.

“Keys are pretty much a nightmare for every utility,” said Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet manager at Eugene (Ore.) Water & Electric Board. With roughly 350 pieces of equipment, he has a lot to keep up with. Two keyboards – one master with keys that never leave the property and another keyboard for the shop to use – help some. In addition, two more keys for each vehicle go directly to the department receiving the equipment. But problems still arise.

The biggest culprit? When departments make their own additional keys, not realizing that for some vehicles, OEMs will only allow eight keys to be programmed the same.

“And if you’ve got four, and then someone goes back and makes a couple more, you’re at five and six, then we hit seven and eight, and when you go to make the ninth key, the number one key drops off,” Lentsch said. “It’s deactivated. That could be the one on your master keyboard. … It’s actually happened quite a bit.”

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Jim Galligan

The Pros and Cons of Driver-Facing Cameras in Utility Fleets

The Pros and Cons of Driver-Facing Cameras in Utility Fleets

In-cab cameras have gained a foothold and acceptance among numerous service and freight delivery fleets for the technology’s ability to improve safety and lower accident and claim costs.

Utilities, however, perhaps because of their different operational model and high system costs, appear to be relying on more traditional methods to manage risk and improve driver skills. In calls to six electric utilities across the U.S., only one – National Grid, which provides electric and gas delivery in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – is using the technology as of press time.

National Grid uses about 3,600 recorders fleet-wide. For Frank Prost, director of downstate gas construction, the 316 units in his department’s trucks have worked as advertised: They’ve helped to boost safety by improving driver skills, assigning accountability and preventing accidents.

The group has seen a significant improvement in driving, according to Prost. “We’re in a much, much better place with our driving,” he said. “It’s a safer environment for employees and the public. [The cameras have] helped us numerous times. We’d get complaints about incidents but didn’t have any proof. If there’s an event, now you have a video telling us what the driver was doing. Now you can prove it.”

The cameras also have all but eliminated backing-up insurance scams, Prost said. People would intentionally back into a National Grid truck at a traffic light and claim the driver hit them. Now, drivers can get out of their truck, point to the camera and say that the video will show the truth. “The people drive off,” he said.

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Sean M. Lyden

Anti-Theft Technologies to Protect Your Heavy Equipment

Anti-Theft Technologies to Protect Your Heavy Equipment

In 2014, heavy equipment theft cost U.S. companies about $400 million, and only 23 percent of stolen machines were ever recovered, according to a report by the National Equipment Register and National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Beyond a utility fleet’s loss of a machine itself, the fleet manager also has to factor in the costs associated with short-term equipment rentals, project delays and valuable personnel time consumed by dealing with the incident.

So, what can you do to protect your equipment and your organization’s bottom line? Here are three anti-theft technologies to consider.

1. Keyless Ignition System
Equipment manufacturers have traditionally opted for a one-key-fits-all approach that makes it convenient for equipment operators at job sites to operate any one of a number of similar machines without having to carry numerous unique keys. But this approach also makes it much more convenient for thieves, who can easily purchase these keys online (see www.ebay.com/bhp/heavy-equipment-keys as just one example). Then they can go to the nearest job site, find an accessible machine and drive it onto a trailer to haul it away.

How can you make it tougher for thieves? Consider a keyless ignition system.

One example is Start-Smart by Keytroller (www.keytroller.com), which provides a hidden wireless relay installed in the starter circuit that – when the relay is disabled – cuts off power to the starter, preventing a key or even an attempted hot-wire of the machine from being able to start the engine. The operator then uses the Start-Smart programmable keypad ignition to input a valid code or radio-frequency identification card, which enables the wireless relay and provides power to the starter circuit. At that point, the user can press start on the keypad and the engine will fire up.

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Sean M. Lyden

4 Smartphone Apps to Make You a More Effective and Efficient Fleet Manager

4 Smartphone Apps to Make You a More Effective and Efficient Fleet Manager

If you’re among the 64 percent of Americans who own a smartphone – up from 35 percent in 2011, according to Pew Research – you hold in your hand a powerful tool to record great ideas, facilitate collaboration, avoid traffic and make faster decisions, with thousands of apps available today.

The most obvious mobile apps discussed in fleet management circles are those associated with telematics providers to give you real-time access to fleet asset data on your smartphone. But beyond telematics, what other useful smartphone apps can help make your job easier and boost your productivity as a fleet manager? Try these four tools.

1. Evernote
URL: https://evernote.com
Cost: Free for basic plan

Think of Evernote as a virtual library of notebooks that you fill with important ideas, documents, emails, pictures or audio files – all in one place, accessible from any device.

For example, suppose you’ve found an interesting article and want to reference it later. With Evernote, you can clip the entire article or a part of it, place it in a note and access it anywhere from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. And if you don’t remember the name of the article, you can find it fast on Evernote by searching keywords.

Or, perhaps you’ve just finished a highly productive brainstorming session with your team and want to capture everything written on the whiteboard. Through the Evernote app, you can snap a picture of the whiteboard with your smartphone, and it’s automatically recorded on a note and organized in the notebook of your choosing, which you can easily share with others on the team.

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Sean M. Lyden

On Your Radar: The Latest Developments in Self-Driving Vehicles

On Your Radar: The Latest Developments in Self-Driving Vehicles

Only a decade ago, the idea that self-driving cars could ever become mainstream within our lifetimes seemed far-fetched. Then came Google in 2009 with its fleet of retrofitted Prius hybrids and Lexus SUVs, which have since logged over 1.5 million autonomous-driving miles. And today, most major automakers, including upstart Tesla Motors, have also entered the race, with industry experts predicting that fully autonomous vehicles will enter the market within the next five to 10 years.

What’s fueling this momentum toward a self-driving world? There are many factors, but here are three interesting recent developments to keep your eye on.

1. Connected Convoys
Imagine three semitrailer trucks traveling at highway speed, one behind the other, with fewer than 50 feet between each vehicle. With conventional trucks, that’s a surefire recipe for a multivehicle pileup. But what if those three trucks were “connected” as a single autonomous platoon? Daimler is banking that its answer to this question will lead to improved safety and fuel economy, while contributing to advancements in the company’s autonomous truck technology.

In early April, three autonomous Mercedes-Benz semitrailer trucks completed a cross-border convoy drive from Stuttgart in Germany to Rotterdam in the Netherlands – about 400 miles – as a connected platoon.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Future of Drones in the U.S. Utility Market

The Future of Drones in the U.S. Utility Market

In the past year, a handful of U.S. utility companies – including San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern Co. of Atlanta and Commonwealth Edison Co. of Chicago – have received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to perform limited testing with aerial drones for transmission and distribution line inspections.

“Utility assets require regular inspections that can often be dangerous, time consuming and costly for human personnel,” said Christian Sanz, founder and CEO of Skycatch Inc. (www.skycatch.com), a San Francisco-based drone developer. “However, drones outfitted with different types of sensors and cameras can perform aerial surveys and provide high-resolution imagery at a much faster, safer and cheaper rate. We've seen this with using drones to detect things like defective panels on solar farms or blades on wind turbines, cracks in pipelines, and malfunctions with heavy machinery and equipment.”

And the future looks bright for drones in the utility sector. According to a recent report from Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com), global annual revenue for drone and robotics technologies for utility transmission and distribution is expected to grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024, about a 31-fold increase over 10 years.

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Cheryl Knight

The Latest Developments in Self-Sealing Tires

The Latest Developments in Self-Sealing Tires

For utility fleets, being able to travel across hazardous terrain – such as storm-impacted areas covered in branches, glass and other debris – is a must. Self-sealing tires can be a great asset during these times, allowing vehicle operators to continue driving even after a tire is punctured.

How do self-sealing tires work? Each tire contains an extra layer comprised of a sticky substance that covers the inside of the tire from one shoulder to the other. As a puncture occurs, the substance automatically seals the hole, staving off a flat tire. For instance, DuraSeal Technology developed by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (www.goodyear.com) seals punctures up to a quarter-inch in diameter in the repairable area of the tread. And as long as the sidewalls aren’t punctured, drivers can continue operating their vehicles indefinitely. In cases where tire repair or replacement is necessary, self-sealing technology gives drivers time to navigate to a safe place where the work can be done.

Overall, self-sealing tires offer both safety and response-time benefits to utility fleets, helping to ensure that crews can reach isolated areas to restore power to customers without worrying as much about getting a flat tire and the additional man hours such a situation can require.

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Jim Galligan

Using Video Monitoring Wisely

Using Video Monitoring Wisely

Whether the goal is to improve driver performance, protect against fraudulent claims or reduce accident and liability costs, in-cab video monitors can provide utility fleets with another tool to aid their safety improvement efforts.

But if they are installed without laying the proper groundwork with employees or not used wisely, they can also be a waste of money at best and, at worst, a disruptive force that can push safety efforts in the wrong direction, fleet executives cautioned.

Northern Indiana Public Service Co., a NiSource subsidiary, has been piloting the DriveCam system from Lytx (www.lytx.com) in more than 200 systems for over six months, said Chuck Bunting, NiSource fleet manager.

NIPSCO uses both union and nonunion drivers, and the utility’s approach has been to pitch the DriveCam system to them as another layer of safety and a way to help people become better drivers, according to Bunting. “We tell them it’s something else in [their] toolbox,” he said.

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Sean M. Lyden

Prevent Overloading with Onboard Scales

Prevent Overloading with Onboard Scales

Overloading trucks and trailers can be an expensive habit. It puts the safety of operators and the public at risk, increases fines and leads to premature wear and tear on vehicles. But when you can’t physically inspect drivers’ loads throughout the day, how do you ensure your trucks are operating at a safe weight?

One solution is to install onboard scales, which help operators immediately determine whether loads fit within the allowable weight capacity of a truck and/or trailer.

How do onboard scales work? Air-Weigh’s LoadMaxx system (www.air-weighscales.com) measures change in pressure within an air suspension and then converts the scale’s measurements into comparable on-the-ground weights displayed on an in-cab digital gauge. For axles with leaf-spring suspensions, LoadMaxx uses a deflection sensor that measures the flex in the suspension to determine weight.

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Sean M. Lyden

Backup Cameras are Getting Smarter

Backup Cameras are Getting Smarter

According to the National Safety Council, the average medium-sized truck has a blind spot that extends up to 160 feet behind the vehicle. So you can imagine that for larger utility trucks that sit higher off the ground, with wider bodies, it’s even more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, other vehicles and property when backing a vehicle.

That’s why a growing number of utility fleets are installing backup cameras on their vehicles: to enhance rear visibility and to reduce incidents – and the expense – of backing crashes.

But a new breed of vehicle camera systems is taking visibility to the next level.

Imagine a backup camera that’s also equipped with a motion sensor that automatically turns on the camera, records footage and alerts the fleet manager in real time when someone is attempting to steal equipment or tools from the truck. What if the video data captured by that same camera could also be combined with GPS telematics data to help exonerate drivers and the company from false claims?

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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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