PG&E unveils ‘connected’ utility truck

utility truck elp

First came the Internet of Things, and then there was the Grid of Things. On Monday, June 1, at the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. introduced a connected bucket truck that brings the two together.

Developed in partnership with Altec Incorporated and Telogis, the Class 5 bucket truck offers a glimpse of utility trucks of the near future. Combining next-generation electric power take-off (ePTO) technology, and “vehicle-as-a-hub” communications technology, the vehicle will improve operating efficiency while enhancing safety and productivity.

“The cutting edge package of technology featured on this vehicle helps us better manage a wide-range of issues, from driver behavior to vehicle maintenance to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We are constantly working to identify technologies to help us better manage our fleet while protecting the environment, and this truck is a prime example of that commitment,” said Dave Meisel, PG&E’s senior director of transportation and aviation services.

Reduced emissions and fuel usage through idle reduction

In 2009, PG&E and Altec introduced the utility industry’s first ePTO equipped bucket trucks, a technology that now has since been adopted by utilities across the nation. Much like existing ePTO technology, the next-generation ePTO system featured on the connected truck allows crews to operate the bucket and auxiliary systems without having to idle the engine, reducing emissions and noise and enhancing worksite safety while maintaining the Grid of Things.

One key improvement is the battery pack; rather than the lead-acid batteries used previously, the ePTO system is powered by lithium-ion magnesium batteries, which last up to 20 percent longer and are smaller, lighter and more energy efficient. But what really sets the vehicle apart is that it features a flexible solar panel running along the bed, providing on-the-go, mobile battery charging.

Under typical operating conditions, this feature will increase battery life by up to 25 percent, helping to ensure that crews have adequate charge to remain idle-free while on jobsites. PG&E will begin introducing this next generation of idle-management technology on its trucks next year.

Vehicle as a hub

Combining the Grid of Things with the Internet of Things is the suite of “Vehicle as a Hub” communications tools that PG&E developed in partnership with technology partner Telogis. This suite combines features that encourage safe driving habits, improve productivity and allow for mobile management of fleet resources.

The truck features software that helps prevent unsafe driving practices such as speeding.

For most PG&E employees, the single most dangerous thing they do on a daily basis operating a motor vehicle. The driver behavior feature of the Telogis suite will help enhance safety by giving vehicle operators the tools to monitor and manage unsafe driving habits.

The feature uses in-cab alerts to notify drivers of unsafe behaviors, including speeding, harsh braking and not using seat belts. To hasten the adoption of this technology, PG&E will be introducing this feature on 1,000 existing fleet vehicles beginning July 1.

The technology suite also will serve as a key resource to give drivers the tools that they need to enhance productivity, including a mobile hot spot to allow them to remain connected while in the field. In addition, the technology makes it possible for maintenance needs to be identified in real time, as the vehicle will send maintenance codes back to the garage when issues arise. This will help to ensure the reliability of fleet assets and also provide the garage the lead-time to order necessary parts before the vehicle even returns.

Taking connectivity one step further, this vehicle also features a “digital” license plate developed by San Francisco-based technology company Reviver. The digital plate allows automated vehicle registration as well as the opportunity to display public safety messages while the vehicle is stationary. The digital plate also automates digital payments, reducing administrative costs. PG&E will be installing these digital plates on 10 fleet vehicles as part of a pilot project in July.

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