Public Service Electric & Gas shares its journey to introduce hybrid vehicles into operation.
For Public Service Electric & Gas, environmental stewardship is a cornerstone to providing safe, reliable, economic and green energy. The gas and electric utility manages more than 6000 vehicles and construction equipment, which travel more than 45 million miles each year. Since nearly half of all the emissions in New Jersey, where PSE&G is headquartered, are derived from transportation, the utility is constantly exploring ways to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from its fleet.
Seven years ago, PSE&G slashed its carbon emissions 20% by switching its fleet of 1700 diesel-powered vehicles to biodiesel fuel. Since 2003, the utility has avoided emitting more than 9300 tons of CO2.
The utility also began investing in hybrid vehicles and electric-drive aerial lifts, which emit less CO2 by running on a combination of gasoline and electricity. In 2007, PSE&G started a decade-long initiative to replace 1300 passenger vehicles with hybrids and traditional bucket trucks with a combination of hybrid bucket trucks and diesel bucket trucks equipped with electric drives. These changes in PSE&G's fleet should reduce CO2 emissions by 81,000 tons by 2020.
Ralph Izzo, chairman of the board, president and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group, PSE&G's parent company, is at the forefront of the mission to provide green electricity. Three years ago, he made the public commitment to change out the utility's entire passenger vehicle fleet to hybrid technology over 10 years. Since that time, PSE&G has switched out 500 of its 1300 units, making the utility far ahead of schedule.
Every year, PSE&G reviews its capital vehicle replacement budget and moves traditional gas-powered vehicles that have reached their age limit or have racked up high mileage out of the fleet. When these passenger vehicles come due for replacement, the utility's strategy is to replace them with available hybrid technology.
Switching Out the Passenger Fleet
Since truck and construction equipment hybrid technology is in its infancy, the utility decided to first focus on its passenger fleet. These vehicles are commercially available from companies such as Toyota and Ford. Toyota was one of the first companies to produce hybrids and is still one of the dominant players in the hybrid arena. However, PSE&G tries to buy American vehicles whenever possible because of its strong union partnership. As a result, 450 of the 500 hybrid passenger vehicles are Ford products. Additionally, the company is currently participating in a yearlong field test of two electric plug-in Mini BMWs, formerly the Mini Cooper.
Today, managers, first-line supervisors, engineering technicians and automatic meter reading specialists are driving Ford hybrid vehicles to conduct company business. The Ford Escape hybrid vehicles drive like any other gasoline-powered vehicle. To ensure the sport utility vehicles operate correctly, however, drivers must take a few extra precautions.
For example, the hybrid vehicles incorporate a cooling system for the battery pack in the rear cargo area. When snow is cleared off the vehicles, the driver must also ensure the fresh-air inlet remains clear. If there is any snow packed into this area, it can cause the battery to overheat and disable the hybrid system.
Rolling Hybrid Technology Out to the Field
Once PSE&G began replacing conventional fleet vehicles with Ford Escape Hybrids, the utility then focused on exploring the technology available for hybrid bucket trucks for its linemen. When hybrid utility vehicles became commercially available, it only seemed natural for the utility to get involved in testing these vehicles. Currently, PSE&G has two hybrid line trucks deployed within distribution operations and is tracking data on both.
For the most part, the hybrid bucket trucks operate like conventional vehicles, so the transition was virtually seamless for the linemen. When the vehicle's battery pack gets depleted, the engine engages and runs until the battery recharges to satisfactory levels, and then the vehicle reverts back to its battery pack usage. During this process, the operator has total uninterrupted control of the lift operation.
Since the operating characteristics of the hybrid line trucks are virtually the same as other bucket trucks, the standard operator training provided with any new piece of equipment is all that is required. One of the main issues for linemen to understand is simply the starting and stopping of the vehicle engine during the recharging process.
PSE&G has about 160 mechanics, all of whom have been trained to maintain the hybrid vehicles. Aside from the hybrid components, the rest of the components in the vehicles are the same as in traditional bucket trucks.
Every day, PSE&G linemen perform a preflight inspection to make sure the bucket truck operates safely. During this inspection, they operate the unit from the ground to ensure it has a full range of motion and check for any obvious or visible problems such as leaks or cracks. If they detect a problem, they are instructed to contact the garage to have the problem corrected. This process is the same for both hybrid and non-hybrid vehicles.
Reducing Fuel Usage
In addition to rolling out the hybrid technology, PSE&G is going green by investing in electric drives for its bucket trucks. Back in the early 1990s, the utility began working with Bohlinger Inc. on integrating the electric drives into its bucket fleet. Over the years, PSE&G has gradually equipped its bucket vehicles with these units. Today, nearly 300 of the utility's 500 bucket trucks are running off of an electric drive unit.
When the linemen operate the bucket itself, they do not have to keep the vehicle running. As a result, they save a lot of fuel. Although the electric drive units can also operate in power take-off mode, linemen are advised to operate in electric drive whenever possible. By operating the lifts on electric drive power, the linemen no longer need to place their engine in idle mode. A typical diesel engine can burn close to 1 gallon/hour of fuel, which can become a significant expense for a utility. In addition to saving money on fuel, PSE&G has reduced its carbon footprint.
The technology also has helped the linemen to reduce environmental noise. If linemen need to operate the lift in a confined area or work after hours or late at night, the surrounding homeowners or business owners do not have to hear a diesel engine running and revving.
Another way in which PSE&G is saving on the cost of fuel is through reducing the number of miles its employees drive. Under a remote reporting initiative, about 600 field employees now proceed directly to their work sites rather than reporting to the office first. Three years ago, the New Jersey Department of Transportation recognized PSE&G as a “Best Workplace for Commuters” and a “New Jersey Smart Workplace” for promoting employee commuting alternatives that reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.
Switching to Biodiesel
PSE&G is not only working on decreasing the amount of fuel used by its field workforce, but the utility is also trying to reduce emissions through the type of fuel used by its fleet. For the past seven years, PSE&G has fueled its trucks with B20 biodiesel fuel, which is 20% bio product and 80% ultralow sulfur diesel fuel. Over the past three years, the utility used 3.5 million gallons of biodiesel. To make sure there is enough fuel for its entire fleet, PSE&G has its own dispensing facilities on site.
Looking to the Future
Through investing in hybrid technology, electric drives and biodiesel, PSE&G is cutting down on its emissions, conserving fuel and working toward its goal of producing clean, green energy. To further its mission, the utility is working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to fund development and testing of plug-in hybrid electric “trouble truck” vehicles, manufactured jointly by Ford and Altec Industries. PSE&G expects to deploy these units in the first quarter of 2011. These new PSE&G hybrid bucket trucks will help reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality.
Utilities often have to pay a premium price to upgrade from a traditional bucket truck to a hybrid vehicle. For example, most typical line trucks cost between $150,000 and $175,000. However, some of the hybrid line trucks on the market today can run upward of $200,000. By partnering with EPRI, PSE&G will be able to get a hybrid plug-in truck for about the same price as a traditional bucket truck.
Over the next few years, the utility also plans to continue to swap out its traditional passenger vehicles with hybrid technology and gradually outfit all 500 bucket trucks in its fleet with electric drives. In addition, it is keeping a close eye on the hybrid technology coming to market for line trucks and construction equipment. The utility plans to reduce its carbon footprint, conserve fuel and work toward a cleaner, greener future — one vehicle at a time.
Richard Buro (Richard.Buro@pseg.com) is the manager of transportation and equipment and has been with PSE&G for 38 years.
Pat Procaccini (Patsy.Procaccini@pseg.com) is the transportation manager for PSE&G and has been with the utility for 31 years.
Karen Noe (Karen.Noe@pseg.com) is the emerging technology consultant and has been with PSE&G for 20 years.