Field Service: Sustainable calling

Sept. 4, 2013
Management decisions driving fleet efficiency at Pacific Gas and Electric

It was no surprise that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) was front and center at the recent Plug-In Electric Ve­hicle Collaborative gathering in San Francisco where the company displayed its wide range of “green fleet” vehicles. Included were a bucket truck and material handler truck that uses a plug-in battery-powered system from Altec called the Electric Worksite Idle Management System (e-WIMS) to power lights, hydraulic lifts and tools at the job site. There was also a VIA Mo­tors extended range electric pickup; a Smith all-electric medium-duty service truck; and electric cars from Chevrolet, Ford and Mitsubishi.

As one of the nation’s largest combi­nation natural gas and electric utilities, PG&E serves about 15 million people across 70,000 sq. mi. of urban, subur­ban and rural territory in northern and central California and fields almost 14,000 vehicles. Incorporating sustain­able transportation technologies in its operation for many years, the company currently has about 3,400 electric, nat­ural gas and hybrid cars, pickups, vans, and trucks in its fleet.

“Making effective choices for everything from passenger cars to Class 8 trucks is challenging enough,” says Dave Meisel, senior director–transpor­tation & aviation services. “In addition to meeting the operational and finan­cial needs of our business model, we also have to address California’s clean air regulations, which are the strictest in the country, and consider how many vehicles we will need to meet those regulatory requirements.”

Simultaneously, Meisel notes, PG&E is investing in support systems for its alternative fuel vehicles. In ad­dition to the 32 compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas fueling loca­tions it operates across its service ter­ritory, the utility has already installed more than 100 electric vehicle charging stations and has construction of over 30 more underway.

The company is also ensuring its technicians are up to the task of ser­vicing new alternative fuel, hybrid and electric vehicles. Using a “train-the-trainer” approach, its PowerPathway Clean Tech Vehicle Training Network sends PG&E master mechanics to train instructors at community colleges, who in turn train PG&E fleet technicians.

“For all types of vehicles, we also need to constantly determine effective lifecycles,” Meisel states, “so we rou­tinely benchmark our operation in sev­eral ways. Every year, for example, we exchange visits with other utility and non-utility fleets. We share informa­tion with some of the few multi-state utilities in the country that operate more than 10,000 units, and with pack­age, food and beverage operations that are similar in size to our fleet.”

To gain an industry-wide view of its cost performance, PG&E also uses the services of Utilimarc, a provider of benchmarking, fleet consulting and business intelligence services. The company, Meisel notes, lets PG&E compare specific fleet metrics from its own operation against an industry database of as many as 400,000 units. Analyses can include reports on costs by mile, unit, type, region and fleet size.

“The value in that process is that we’re looking at consistent data so we have an accurate comparison of where our operation stands relative to other fleets,” Meisel says. “We can also ask Utilimarc to provide data on individual and groups of fleets in its database and on specific cost areas. The analytics point us to places where we find op­portunities to improve.”

The 14,000 units in the PG&E fleet are maintained by about 375 techni­cians at 63 company facilities and with 80 mobile service vehicles. About 60 administrative staff members manage the maintenance operation. “Our out­sourcing strategy is not to outsource,” Meisel says, “unless it’s an item, like glass and body work, that we can’t cost-justify doing internally.”

By continually finding cost-effec­tive practices and deploying environ­mentally friendly vehicles, PG&E is fielding a highly efficient and sustain­able fleet.

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