Easier Being Green

Thanks to organizations like the Hybrid Truck User's Forum (HTUF), Florida Power and Light is one of the many utility companies to incorporate hybrid technology.

George Survant, director of fleet services for Florida Power & Light, is gearing up to place three diesel electric hybrid utility trucks into service between September and December.

"Depending on the duty cycles, the boom will run up to two hours on the stored electric power, without any noise at all. This same truck will produce 25 kW of export power with 27,000 pound GVWR. We know that this represents excellent potential for other uses while we are working. Right now, we don't know how it will best be used. But in additional to the boom operating and the tools operating, it will produce 25kW of export power," he says.

"This hybrid power comes to us through the hard work and the expertise of our friends at International. They are partnering with Eaton Corporation to bring us the hybrid trucks this fall."


Florida Power & Light began testing hybrid technology by purchasing Toyota's Prius. Now as they step into the next class of hybrid technology in medium duty trucks, "We haven't really had any difficulties. The trucks we are introducing now are fairly sophisticated trucks, and they are all now beginning to come with telematics," he says.

Telematics is ability to extract data from the truck while it is on the road to find out what the issues are. If every truck in the future has the capability to do diagnostics remotely and monitor the truck's performance, this kind of advancement could not only cut back on service downtime, but also promises more wireless capabilities in the future.

"The ability to go to an environment where we don't have to carry large paper maps to keep track of the distribution pathways--because now all of those things are integrated into our wireless work stations and global positioning networks--will not only reduce our customer response time, but also has helped us make this conversion to hybrid technology," Survant says.

Fuel savings is unquestionably another huge benefit. Survant says that a modest fleet like Florida Power & Light's will burn over four million gallons of fuel annually. "Generally speaking, every nickel spent at the pump translates to about a $200,000 annual impact," he says.

Throughout the process of testing for the best options, there were a few surprises for Survant and his crew. Survant says that when he first started testing HEVs, battery packs literally weighed thousands of pounds. "That sharply curtailed how far you could go because it took a substantial portion of energy used to drive the vehicle around just to haul the weight of the batteries.

"When we weighed the total package to adapt a medium duty truck, it weighs less than 350 pounds--batteries and motor generator included. We were stunned at how much the technology has leaped forward," he says.


"It is essentially the same truck. We have already gotten a very good service history with it," says Survant. "What is different is the motor generator, and the automated manual transmission that Eaton is providing. Although that is an off-the-shelf product that Eaton is providing, it already has a long successful service history."

Making sure the truck can be serviced is just one maintenance concern. Knowing how long maintenance managers can expect hybrid trucks to last is another.

"We normally would keep one of these trucks 11 -- 15 years, and we have no reason to believe that these hybrids won't be as durable. This truck had to be as reliable as or better than the ones we are buying today," Survant says.


Despite advantages like fuel savings and emissions, the cost of actually implementing hybrid technology still may seem like a huge risk. Why should maintenance managers choose hybrid technology over other options?

"The best part about hybrid technology is that it is an incremental step forward in solidly based existing science. If you have been on a cruise ship, you know that the propellers are turned by a big electric motor whose power is generated by a diesel power plant--the ultimate hybrid. We have known for years that locomotives are run the same way," says Survant.

The urgency to replace vehicles now is because "Most large fleets, who are huge users of fuel, only replace a relatively small portion of their equipment annually. So, in 2007, Survant says, when I start to buy the new generation engine, which of course I can use in front of my hybrid drivetrain, I will only have about 10 percent of my existing fleet replaced in a given year.

"It will be three years, or 2010, before I will get a meaningful number of these units in service. This means that we are looking at five years from now before I will get any real noticeable change in my fleet exhaust profile -- that's a long time to wait before we see a change. If we wait for fuel cells, how much more time will we burn up in anticipation," Survant says.

"Always the problems we have had with alternative fuel vehicles, they have been a trade off between payload and range." Survant says referring to Ford Crown Victorias bought in California to convert to compressed natural gas (CNG).

"We had to give up pay load to get enough range to be useful for the drivers. We not only had to put a CNG tank under the vehicle, but also in the trunk. So, ordinarily a large car with a generous trunk shrunk to what would comfortably fit a set of golf clubs. This meant shorter range, but with an excellent payload. That means more fill ups and more infrastructure necessary.

"One of the things we like with the hybrid technology over a traditional all electric approach is that the truck can be refueled anywhere. The infrastructure to support the truck is offered all over the country and we can continue to push payload from the Florida keys to Alaska without waiting for an infrastructure that isn't available today," Survant says.

"Generally speaking, the hybrid drivetrain could be made into a fuel cell with just the same ease of effort that we made an internal combustion engine with the hybrid drivetrain," Survant says. "So, the hybrid technology has the promise to evolve with us as our engine technology evolves. In addition to having multiple advantages, hybrid technology has potential to evolve with the engines and drivetrains and with sources of fuel.

"If you really had a passion to put a Cummins Westport diesel in front of this hybrid package, I suppose that this would be just as viable as a standard off the shelf diesel package--just more expensive," he says.


"We really feel like the technology is an integral part of being able to serve our customers here in Florida because the working trucks that restore the power are the heart of our business," Survant says.

"One of the problems with other alternative fuel choices in the past has been that they have been one-dimensional choices in the fact that I could get one engine designed by one manufacturer or worse case, two engines from one manufacturer, and I was locked into a very specific drivetrain and drivetrain assembly and infrastructure.

"Our whole effort with these hybrids revolves around three very simple concepts. This is an adaptation of well developed technology, it is something we can do to make a real change right now, and it allows us to address several dimensions of a broader problem all at once--it makes for a compelling story," he says.