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July 23, 2021 CMC

E-Spotlight: SMUD

Welcome to this week’s edition of E-Spotlight, where we give our Partners, Members, Clients, and Preferred Service Providers (PSPs) a chance to tell their story about their work with the California Mobility Center (CMC) and what they bring to the future mobility table. This week we are featuring a post from Casey Fallon, Director Purchasing, Warehouse, Fleet at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

E-Spotlight: Changing the Future of Fleet Electrification with SMUD

Casey Fallon, Director Purchasing, Warehouse, Fleet at SMUD

Fleet Perspective on Electrification

I have been responsible for fleet operations at SMUD since 2014 and over the past seven years our focus as a support organization has remained the same at its core: safety, reliability, responsiveness, solutions, and customer service. Along the way we’ve been able to improve our operations as a result of securing an increased annual capital budget in recent years. With the additional funds, we were able to buy down the age and improve the condition of our fleet, reducing our backlog of corrective maintenance and bringing down overall maintenance costs per mile. This context is important because without the position of control we are in today over the decisions, costs, and other variables with our fleet we would not be able to think about, plan for, and execute fleet electrification. 

Since 2014, we have focused electrification primarily on our light duty fleet, initially with plug-in electric hybrids (PHEVs) like the Toyota Prius, later with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) like the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. In 2017, we made our first purchase of hybrid bucket truck technology with Altec and have since increased the number of hybrid buckets in our fleet to more than 25. We have roughly 950 fleet assets today. Of those, 13 percent (or 123 vehicles) have an electric option – BEV, PHEV, hybrid bucket, idle management system, or similar. 

Given this transition from roughly zero percent electric to 13 percent in just a few years, we’ve hit somewhat of a critical mass in terms of what we can electrify easily, given the options available from the market. Seeing this coming during 2019, we knew we needed to do something proactive and dramatic to accelerate fleet electrification. It was around this time that we began our conversations with the CMC who introduced SMUD to Zeus Electric Chassis

Our Partnership with Zeus Electric Chassis, LLC

Upon introduction, it felt like a perfect match. We already picked all the low hanging fruit and needed an option to move further into our operational fleet with something unique and impactful that we did not have access to from the OEM market. Zeus manufactures custom, all-electric, Class 4, 5, and 6 work trucks in class. They offer a unique combination of customized chassis, cabs, and body configurations that enable application across our medium-duty fleet. We immediately had a terrific impression about the engineering, design, and leadership at Zeus – they offered us early customer pricing discounts and other incentives. On top of that, this relationship creates many long-term benefits such as the potential to further demonstrate fleet electrification in the region, creates job growth, and brings new technology to Sacramento. We are working now to finalize a purchase with Zeus for five all-electric work trucks, deploying in late 2021 or early 2022. Each are a slightly different configuration allowing for effective operational feedback from five different areas of the organization with different duty cycles and functions. This has the potential to significantly accelerate fleet electrification at SMUD and to demonstrate fleet electrification to other commercial fleets.  

Thoughts About the Future of Fleet Electrification

What I am most excited about with this opportunity is to look past the deployment of the five all-electric work trucks, to think bigger than our operating fleet of 950 vehicles here at SMUD, and think about what the commercial fleet, utility fleet, or construction equipment market might look like across California. Can you imagine all of that purchasing power combined and focused on a common set of goals or objectives? 

Thousands of work trucks are deployed everyday across the state, to construction sites, residential development, rural and cityscapes, etc. I may be getting a little ahead of myself, but we like to think big at SMUD – in a recent conversation with our CEO Paul Lau he said, “Casey, you need to go big or go home,” so I told him we’ll aim to electrify our entire fleet by 2030. Yes, that’s right, every last piece of equipment with an internal combustion engine will be emissions free by 2030 and we are going to need to think (big) about market transformation to get there. 

With that goal in mind, I’d like to use this blog post to announce that I will host fleet managers, directors, and executives from utilities, construction and other commercial companies, regional agencies, and other fleets to join me for a conversation facilitated by the CMC staff to talk about how we catalyze the market, with a common goal and focus of advancing fleet electrification in a real way by aggregating our purchasing power and common thinking, and our desire to change the future. Instead of each individual trying to figure out how to electrify their own fleet and all of the spec writing, development, supplier negotiations, procurement rules and the like, let’s find where we have common ground and put our efforts together collaboratively to drive the market. My guess is that we’ll have a critical mass or focus on developing an all-electric bucket truck or service vehicle of some sort, and I’m sure the first reactions will be, “No way that is too scary. The duty cycles and range, and everything else just won’t work, and it is too expensive for my fleet,” but I’m going big or going home, so we’ll give it a shot and see what’s possible and who shows up.

If you’re interested in participating in this effort, send an email to info@camobilitycenter.org with the subject line “Fleet Electrification”. They are working to convene such a group. It’s collaborative efforts like this that can make a difference, so go big and join me and the CMC in this effort!

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