PECO, an electric and natural gas utility subsidiary of Exelon Corp.
Serving 1.6 million electric and 480,000 natural gas customers in southeastern Pennsylvania, centered around Philadelphia
Bill Flemming, fleet services manager for PECO, boils the most critical issue he's facing right now down to two words: fuel costs. With 1,350 vehicles on the road around the Greater Philadelphia region — including sport utility vehicles (SUVs), utility service and bucket trucks — that clocked in 11.7 million mi. of travel in 2007, Flemming watched the price of gasoline and diesel escalate.
After paying about $5.6 million for fuel in 2007, PECO now anticipates spending some $7 million this year on gasoline and diesel, an increase of nearly 26%. That's prompted the company to buy more fuel-sipping hybrid vehicles such as Ford's Escape Hybrid SUV, which gets 25.8 mpg, as well as reduce unnecessary engine idling.
Yet Flemming and PECO also wanted to use broader methods to reduce fuel consumption — focusing on using vehicles within the fleet more efficiently — and looked to technology for help.
“Everyone in management has heard from employees about routing issues, particularly after storms when we're recovering from power outages,” he says. “In the past, we didn't do a good job of dispatch.”
Flemming says PECO's use of mobile data terminals in some fleet vehicles, along with GPS technology used by field personnel, would allow for more efficient dispatching of the utility's electric and gas crews. Presently, about 100 PECO vehicles have mobile dispatch, with more units to be equipped later this year and during 2009. Thus far, PECO has reduced its total fuel consumption by nearly 14,000 gal. as compared with last year's usage at this time. The ultimate goal is a 5% reduction by year's end. Flemming notes that PECO's fleet used over 1.4 million gal. of fuel in 2007.
That's just the start, however, he stresses. “We've integrated these terminals with operations control via GPS so we can ‘see’ where all of our various resources are, helping them dispatch the trucks closest to a problem to reduce miles traveled and fuel used,” Flemming notes. “But that also helps us in terms of maintenance when we go out to bring a truck in for work. In the past, sometimes, the truck wouldn't be at the location where we'd been told. Using GPS, we know where it is exactly so we don't waste time and fuel looking for it.”
The crews can tap into the system for more accurate directions to the trouble spot they're servicing, speeding up response time while reducing fuel consumption. Flemming also says this strategy has another dual benefit: it decreases both fuel consumption and associated costs, and reduces the company's greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from vehicles.
“These kinds of technologies offer us a two-way street, both to improve dispatch and improve the working conditions for our crews,” Flemming points out. “Everyone wins.”