Electrifying commercial work trucks could be wonderful, if only itwould happen fast enough

Every year zillions of gallons of fossil fuel on idling work trucks, where an electrified work truck would prevent that fuel from being burned. My home Internet connection is down, and hopefully the AT&T truck shown here is operated by the technician who will fix things. Watching his truck in operation makes me think ever so strongly of an article I wrote for a recent issue of Charged EV’s Magazine. That article covered the electrification of commercial fleet trucks, and one of the companies profiled is PG&E who has an extensive fleet of hybrid-electric or all electric work trucks, including lift trucks of the sort shown here.

Satisfying ever-stricter emissions (pollution) requirements is only part of the goal for companies, like PG&E, who are experimenting with electrified work trucks. A bigger goal is the (eventual) ability to save lots of money on fuel and maintenance costs. My article, in the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of that magazine, goes over the details. At todays prices for batteries the electrified trucks don’t make commercial financial sense unless diesel fuel were about $10/gallon.

However, the long term trend for all fossil fuels is a rising price and the long term trend for batteries is a falling price. Meaning, in a few years it will become economically cheaper for fleet owners to electrify their fleets than to continue paying for diesel fuel.

An electrified version of a lift truck operates the hydraulics and flashing lights off battery power, rather than having to idle the engine and use a Power-Take-Off (PTO) gizmo on the transmission. This means quieter operation, drastically less pollution, and drastically less fuel consumption.

What makes these trucks save money? Lower fuel costs, less expense on maintenance, and fewer hours of downtime because maintenance is not required as often.

PG&E notes the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) increase in diesel costs has averaged to 7.5% over the last 15 years. That’s a seriously fast increase, much faster than inflation, and in the same time period electricity prices have remained much more stable.

Diesel fuel prices are set by the supposedly open market, while electricity prices are set by utility commissions. Over recent years fossil fuel prices have swung wildly for a variety of reasons, while electricity prices haven’t.

A company might look to electrified work trucks as a way to shield against fuel price instability. That is, if they can get their head around treating electricity as if it’s a fuel. Some of us have already made that leap in cognitive understanding, others haven’t.

The AT&T technician outside is working on the lines, using the lift truck to position himself for work. He has test equipment hanging from the lines and is intently working away alternatively pushing buttons on the test equipment, and doing something with the wires. His focus is on the work at hand, and not on the effects of the idling engine in his truck.

The engine is running to provide power (presumably through a PTO gizmo) to keep the hydraulics in the lift arm running.

But for most of the time he’s not actively using the hydraulic arm to do anything more than hold himself aloft. It’s my belief that most of the energy from this idling engine is going wasted. Certainly PG&E is proving that hybrid or all electric lift trucks are functionally capable of doing the job, and that an idling engine is unnecessary.

AT&T is a big company, and surely has 10’s or hundreds of thousands of similar trucks deployed around the country, with workers doing this kind of job all day every day. Electrification could reduce their fuel consumption, reduce the overall U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce the poisons/pollution/emissions put into the atmosphere by these diesel work trucks. This would improve our overall quality of life and decrease the negative global political influence caused by the dependence on fossil fuels.

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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