Fleets setting their sights on going electric

Fleets set their sights on going electric

When Tony Earley, chairman, chief executive officer and president of PG&E Corp., the parent company of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., spoke recently at the Detroit Economic Club, he quickly laid out his vision for an environmentally cleaner, economically stronger and more energy-independent America. “One of the most important keys to such improvements is the broader electrification of the transportation sector,” he said.

Earley, who also serves on Ford Motor Co.’s board of directors, noted that the benefits of electric vehicles (EVs) include reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. “Not only does an EV not burn fossil fuels, but also the electricity that charges it is coming from increasingly cleaner sources that emit no greenhouse gases, including solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants,” he related. “That means the clean-air and carbon emissions benefits that EVs can offer are substantial.”

PG&E, Earley also noted, is now realizing the benefits of electrification in its own fleet. Recently, the utility adopted Class 5 trucks from Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (EDI) that feature up to 40 miles of emissions-free all-electric driving. The models include trucks with exportable power, which allows the vehicle to be plugged directly in the electric grid to shorten or eliminate planned and unplanned outages. In addition, there is a bucket truck model with a hybrid-electric drivetrain that features battery operation of on-board equipment to eliminate the need to idle the vehicle at jobsites.

Another fleet working to adopt electric vehicles is UPS, which recently received funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), in partnership with AMP Holding Inc., to deploy 18 Workhorse E-100 all electric walk-in vans in the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area. AMP Holding is the parent company of AMP Electric Vehicles Inc., which manufactures electric drive systems for Class 3 through 6 commercial truck platforms, and AMP Trucks Inc., which purchased the assets of Workhorse Custom Chassis LLC from Navistar in 2013.

The goal of the UPS project is to demonstrate the capability of all-electric delivery vehicles to perform at the same level of operation as similarly sized diesel units while also significantly reducing emissions and petroleum consumption. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) awarded the grant to H-GAC to help accelerate the introduction and penetration of electric transportation technologies into the cargo transport sector. (H-GAC is also soliciting additional project partners to deploy at least another 12 zero-emission delivery vehicles in the area.) The Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), an Atlanta based nonprofit that focuses on facilitating the development and commercialization of alternative fuels and advanced transportation technologies, will manage the two-year demonstration project, collect operational data and report on the project’s impact.

In his speech, Earley mentioned that EV populations are growing. In recent years, he said, global sales of electrified vehicles, including hybrids, have doubled annually; the price of batteries has fallen to less than half of their 2011 price, and the number of EV charging stations in the United States has tripled since 2012.

“Although barriers to broader EV adoption are coming down,” Earley added, “more needs to be done to accelerate and maintain growth in the EV market over the long term. Actions that policymakers, utilities and others can take include expanding the charging infrastructure at workplaces and other public locations.”

Increasing the use of EVs in fleets is important as well. As many as 70 of the nation’s largest utilities, Earley noted, have committed to investing at least $250 million over the next five years to increase the use of electric drive technologies in their fleets.

“Similar commitments from other sectors with large fleets would help push down vehicle development costs for automakers,” Earley said.

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