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PG&E’s Clean Fleet and Visionary Future

By John Addison (8/21/07). Years ago, you only had one choice for your telephone service – AT&T. Now you have a variety of choices from landline, wireless, cable, and Internet providers. Years ago, gasoline was your only fuel choice. Now you have a number of fuel and electric choices. In the future, your favorite provider may be your electric and gas utility.

PG&E – Pacific Gas and Electric – (NYSE: PCG) provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase its services as we continue the shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion and alternate fuels.

When I met with a number of PG&E managers, Sven Thesen traveled from his Palo Alto home via bicycle and train, leaving his personal plug-in hybrid at home. Another traveled from his Alameda home via bicycle and ferry. Others used low-emission CNG and hybrid vehicles. The people managing PG&E’s clean transportation programs practice what they preach.

This article looks how PG&E runs a clean fleet, new programs for customers, and the exciting future potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

Largest CNG Fleet in USA

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,300 natural gas vehicles — the largest of its kind in the United States. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. PG&E also has the largest fleet of Honda (HMC) Civic GX CNG cars.

Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced more than 3.4 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

For any utility, Class 6/7 service trucks often need to idle their large diesel engines for hours in order to run heavy lifts and other equipment. As new lines are installed, customers complain of the vehicle noise keeping them awake at night. The maintenance crew is often forced to stop and start the engine so that they can shout between the ground person and the one in the air. The hybrid truck is especially valuable in neighborhoods with noise restriction laws.

Last week, I reviewed PG&E’s new hybrid service truck which already had over 6,000 miles of operation. Efrain Ornelas demonstrated the heavy lift and other accessories operating electrically with the engine off. In service, the vehicle is reducing diesel fuel use a dramatic 55% through regenerative braking on road, and engine-off electric operation during stationary work. The vehicle even included both 110 and 208V outlets for power tools.

At $3.00 per gallon for fuel, the potential savings ranges from $4,500 to $5,500 a year per vehicle. Each hybrid truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions an estimated two tons per year.

In addition to the dramatic diesel fuel savings, PG&E further reduces petroleum use and emissions by using B20 biodiesel. PG&E is increasing using B20 biodiesel with its entire diesel fleet.

“Hybrid-electric trucks are promising because of their potential to significantly reduce the use of petroleum-based fuel and help keep California’s air clean,” said Jill Egbert, manager, clean air transportation, PG&E. “We hope our involvement will lead to the accelerated development and mainstream acceptance of hybrids in our industry.”

PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions.

PG&E sees a similar opportunity to save with its Class 5 trouble trucks. For this truck, PG&E partnered with the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities to conduct a plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road.

Cleaner Electricity

Some people are concerned that a shift to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will not reduce global warming. These people point to coal power plants producing electricity that goes into the vehicles. Because electric drive systems are typically 300% more efficient than gasoline engines, major emission reductions are achieved even from coal generated electricity.

PG&E provides much greater benefit, because it is eliminating coal power from its power mix. As a customer, my latest PG&E bill showed a reduction of coal from 38 to 2% of the power mix. In 2007, energy from RPS-eligible renewables is increasing to 12% of the delivered power mix, from 5% in 2005. Natural gas is 43%, nuclear 23%, and large hydroelectric is 17%.

By 2010, 20% of PG&E delivered electricity will be from clean renewable energy. A big part of the increase will be 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world.

PG&E is also expanding its use of wind, geothermal, large solar PV, and biomass energy.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen Stations

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, for its own fleet and more than 200 commercial and private fleets. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets. PG&E Clean Air Transportation Program

In addition, construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is scheduled to begin. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas.

PG&E makes daily use of three Mercedes hydrogen fuel cell (F-Cell) vehicles. A variety of PG&E employees drive the vehicles including, fleet mechanics, inspectors, service planning representatives, project managers and officers.

Vehicle-to-Grid

A compelling idea for the future is to charge electric vehicles at night when electricity is cheap, and then buy the electricity from vehicles during peak hours. Some electric vehicles store enough electricity to power 50 homes. Sven Thesen at PG&E demonstrated spinning the meter backwards with their plug-in hybrid Prius with V2G. The Prius included a 9kWh plug-in kit from EnergyCS using Li-Ion batteries. A Sonny Boy power inverter, common in solar power installations, was used.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

With smart grid technology, customers could simply plug-in their vehicles to 110 volt outlets. At idle low-cost hours the vehicle would be timed to recharge. At peak hours, customers could agree to let the utility buy electricity at premium rates. In the future, expensive and polluting stand-by peaking generators could be eliminated with smart grid technology and V2G.

Leading the way to clean electricity and cleaner transportation are corporations like PG&E. In their own fleet they are proving that alt-fuels and electric drive systems can save money and emissions. As the technologies are proven, PG&E gives customers new ways to secure clean fuels and electric power.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

Big Utilities vs. Big Oil

By John Addison (4/17/07) Question: What could be more American than healthy competition? Answer: Healthy competition that reduces our dependency on foreign oil. By 2010 you may be filling your “tank” by plugging-in to your electric and natural gas utility. Today fleets turn to utilities to power everything from light electric vehicles to heavy natural gas and hydrogen vehicles.

At the recent Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Institute (AVFi) National Conference, major utilities were there with exciting presentations and demonstrations. Major California utilities included Sempra Energy (SRE), Southern California Edison (EIX), and PG&E (PCG). Major automotive and truck manufacturers showed their latest alt-fuel vehicles. Globally there are over 30 million electric vehicles and over 5 million natural gas vehicles.

Vehicles give utilities added markets for electricity and natural gas, the opportunity to use excess off-peak electricity that is now wasted, and long-term opportunities to capture electricity from vehicles (V2G) when electricity is in peak demand.

Southern California Edison provides electricity to over 13 million customers. Edison’s Gordon Smith presented the ability for 70% of U.S. vehicles to be powered with off-peak electricity. Edison provides electricity to customers with thousands of electric vehicles, forklifts, sweepers, scrubbers, airport equipment, truck stop electrification, ship port electrification, and plug-in hybrids. Over 300 of Edison’s own fleet are electric vehicles. Some of its 240 Toyota RAV-4 EVs have achieved a life of up to 150,000 miles. Edison Programs

Running a utility requires large fleets including vans and trucks. Edison is aggressively testing hybrids and plug-in hybrids. SCE now is testing a DaimlerChrysler (DCX) plug-in hybrid-electric Sprinter vans with a 20 to 30-mile all-electric range through a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the South Coast Air Quality Management District and DaimlerChrysler.

SCE is partnering with EPRI, other utilities and Eaton Corporation (ETN) to establish a program for Class 5 plug-in hybrid troubleman trucks using the Ford (F) F550. They will offer the ability to drive in an all-electric mode, and to operate in a stationary mode (without idling). The electric mode is perfect for the hours that these trucks are used at work sites and when running hydraulic lifts. The electric mode eliminates emissions, fuel cost and noise.

SCE is also working with other fleet operators through the Hybrid Truck Users Forum to place prototype heavy-duty hybrid trucks in operation, with a goal of leading to production commitments and expanded purchases. Based on initial testing of the trucks at an independent facility, these vehicles are projected to cut air emissions by up to 50%, and use 40% to 60% less fuel, compared to similar diesel-powered trucks. These trucks are likely to become a standard Class 6 offering by International, using an Eaton hybrid drive system.

AVFi presented the “Industry Pioneer” award to the Southern California Gas Company, a Sempra utility. Sempra is the nation’s largest natural gas utility, serving 29 million customers. The Gas Company owns and operates a fleet of 1,100 natural gas vehicles. It operates 26 natural gas stations. It helped LAMTA create the world’s largest fleet of natural gas buses (over 2,200). LAMTA is also expanding into buses running on hydrogen blended with CNG and battery-electric buses.

PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase revenues one billion dollars if there is a shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion.

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,100 natural gas vehicles. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced over 2.7 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

PG&E is actively field testing both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV).

PG&E has ordered four Phoenix Motorcars (http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/) all-electric sport utility trucks (SUTs) for June delivery. PG&E has given Phoenix a conditional order to buy 200. The Phoenix trucks have an impressive 130 mile range using Altair Nano (OTCBB: ALTI) batteries with their unique lithium titanate spinel oxide (LTO) electrode materials. Both Phoenix and Altair were on display at the AFVi Conference. Altair has claimed a breakthrough in several areas: specific power, battery life of over 10,000 charge cycles, “zero explosions and safety issues” test results, and fast charge capability. Altair Nano Batteries:

“PG&E is firmly committed to reducing our carbon foot print by using innovative alternative-fuel technologies,” said Bob Howard, PG&E vice president of gas transmission and distribution. “By adding the Phoenix Motorcars SUTs to our leading clean fuel fleet, we are taking an important step in developing a proven and necessary electric vehicle market. Electric vehicles provide a practical solution to help us reduce our dependency on petroleum-based fuels, keep California’s air clean, and meet the challenges associated with climate change.” PG&E News

Along with Edison, PG&E’s fleet was one of 14 in the country chosen to test the plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road. PG&E, partnering with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, also recently placed into service a prototype Plug-in Toyota Prius to demonstrate the benefits of light-duty plug-in hybrid vehicles.

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, through which they supply natural gas to more than 200 commercial and private fleets throughout the PG&E system. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets.

Construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is also scheduled to begin this summer. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was awarded a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant for the project. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas and condition it to serve the on-site dispenser during the development of a hydrogen fueling network in California. The hydrogen fueling station will be co-located with a publicly accessible compressed natural gas station to allow for 24/7 availability. Once sufficient demand is established, the MHU can be replaced with permanent facilities, and the unit can then be relocated.

The relationship between big oil and big utilities are complex. Oil refineries are among the world’s largest users of electricity. Oil companies are transforming into integrated energy providers that sell large quantities of natural gas to major utilities, making the utility a distribution channel for the natural gas producer. Some energy giants are expanding into wind, solar and other renewable energy.

Edison and BP have a joint venture to build a large scale electric plant that will not run on coal, not on nuclear, not on natural gas. The Carson plant will run on hydrogen and output 500 MW of electricity. By products will include enough hydrogen to inexpensively fuel thousands of vehicles in Southern California. Another byproduct will be CO2 that will be sequestered as part of increasing oil production. Hydrogen power plant details:

Edison also has an existing hydrogen fueling station in partnership with Chevron.

Currently, fleets are taking the lead with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids that are developed by system integrators and specialty companies. DaimlerChrysler was at the AVFI conference with its 25 mph GEM. 40,000 have been sold. Rumors are flying that in 2008 Toyota (NYSE:TM) will begin fleet tests of its new plug-in hybrid using lithium batteries. Consumer sales may start in 2009. By 2010, Mitsubishi (MSBHY) will start selling an EV to consumers in Japan. Drivers will increasingly use electric power.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

Healthy competition is leading America to cleaner electricity and cleaner vehicles. Innovative utilities are taking an important role in the transition.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report http://http://www.cah2report.com/. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution. John owns stock in ALTI.