The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Green Fleet: Florida Power & Light Goes Heavy on Hybrids

The West Palm Beach-based utility fleet operates more than 60 Class 7 conventional and electric plug-in hybrids and will add more in the future.

July 2009, by Joe Bohn - Also by this author

Size matters in a commercial truck's fuel consumption and emissions output. The bigger and heavier the truck, the more horsepower required to push it around, the more fuel it consumes, and the more pollution it creates.

Recognizing that fact has provided a major impetus for West Palm Beach-based Florida Power & Light (FPL) to switch to diesel-electric hybrids.

George Survant, director, FPL Fleet Services, points out hybrid trucks have proven a "superb means" in helping the utility achieve its core strategy of cutting fuel consumption and emissions, and stabilizing the volatile effects of fuel prices.

Happy with Hybrid Trucks

With one of the largest utility fleets in the country (2,900 road-licensed vehicles and 1,600 off-road vehicles, fork lifts, and mechanized equipment for powerplants), FPL has also been a leader in adopting hybrids for commercial use.

In 2001, the agency was the first purchaser of hybrid cars for commercial use, and in 2005, took delivery of its first medium-duty hybrids, after volunteering to lead a working group for WestStart-CALSTART to develop such trucks for the utility industry, says Survant.

FPL's fleet of Class 7 (primarily 27,000-lb. GVWR) conventional and electric plug-in hybrids has grown to more than 60 units. Though economic conditions have forced the utility to delay its normal replacement cycle by a year, hybrids will continue to play a key role in future purchases.

The FPL hybrid fleet includes a gasoline-electric, UPS-style, P-Series van produced by Azure Dynamics on a Ford chassis. The fleet also includes two plug-in hybrid diesel-electric (PHEV) trucks. The 42-foot, 27,000-lb. GVWR International trucks feature an Eaton hybrid driveline and a 55-foot bucket truck with a tandem rear axle, built on an International chassis and powerplant with a Dueco and Odyne hybrid package.

The remaining hybrid vehicles - conventional diesel-electric models -  combine Eaton's driveline, including hybrid technology, Altec lift equipment, and International's cab and chassis and powerplant.
Survant notes the large, complex devi- ces require significant systems integration. "This is a new departure in energy storage and management. Many people don't understand that a hybrid is really an energy management device, allowing you to store energy on board and use it without running the main powerplant."

All FPL units are equipped with power take-off (PTO).

On a utility truck, the boom is the primary PTO operation, but PTO devices are ubiquitous in the vocational truck business. For example, Survant points out, the hybrid technology benefits a roofing contractor who uses a truck to lift big packages of shingles or tiles at a jobsite or a liftgate truck that runs the main powerplant to help workers unload heavy cargo.

Big diesel powerplants consume enormous amounts of fuel while parked and idling to operate a boom or other lift equipment. A hybrid, running that equipment from its stored energy/battery, can cut fuel consumption in half.

Survant notes his conventional Class 7 hybrids can operate 1-2 hours with the powertrain off.  When sensors detect low battery power, the truck's engine automatically self-starts, without interrupting the operator's work. The powerplant runs for just four minutes to recharge the batteries.

PHEV models have range-extending batteries allowing longer periods of boom operation before the powerplant kicks in. The boom operates about 4-5 hours, for example, before requiring 15 minutes of powerplant operation as the batteries recharge - an automatic, seamless transition requiring no work stoppage.

Survant notes several hybrid upfitters and other hybrid applications are currently available. One popular application uses the hybrid's energy storage only for the PTO. Launch assist is not available while the truck is running in traffic. The purpose is to obtain PTO fuel savings without the extra expense of full hybridization conversion.

"Fully hybridized" models offer a feature called launch assist, which provides fuel savings in heavy traffic and low-speed operation, or when the boom is engaged by enabling the truck to run off its powerplant or hybrid system/batteries energy, or a combination of both.

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