Images courtesy of Liebherr, PistenBully, SafeConnect Systems and Lion Electric.
For the purposes of CCDP funding, this category includes not only traditional bucket trucks but also other Class 5-8 trucks with integrated power take-off (PTO) equipment such as digger derricks, boom cranes, cable placers and spray equipment.
The sections below discuss hybrid-electric and all-electric trucks. The CCDP encourages fleet managers to consider going all-electric, but recognizes that this will be more feasible at this time for large utilities looking to try out one or two of the vehicles to get a jump on the coming technology and/or to demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility. Hybrid truck technology is more mature and quite competitively priced, to the point that it will make sense for most companies to start replacing all their old trucks with hybrids if they aren’t already doing so.
This Sept. 17, 2020 webinar outlines the Colorado Clean Diesel Program’s grant requirements and includes presentations by reps from Altec and Lion Electric about their hybrid and all-electric bucket trucks:
Hybrid trucks have a conventional internal combustion engine to run the vehicle, along with an extra onboard battery pack to power the electric PTO equipment electrically. These ePTO systems have been on the market for more than a decade, so the technology is reasonably mature and offered by several major OEMs.
There are numerous advantages to the hybrid setup over a conventional diesel one:
- Significantly reduced idle time, which leads to lower fuel costs, less maintenance and downtime, and longer engine life.
- Quieter operations, enabling crew members to communicate better, increasing safety and making for happier customers.
- Lower emissions, which means less pollution impacting the health of operators and the general public, and fewer greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
- Onboard backup battery power, avoiding the need to haul a separate generator.
Most operators find the electric boom to be as responsive as a diesel-powered one, albeit with a somewhat different “touch.” By the way, there’s no worry about running out of battery power – the engine automatically kicks in to recharge the battery if it gets low.
Altec and Terex command most of the market for this technology. They each have their own branded ePTO systems which they’ll integrate with most OEM chassis according to the buyer’s specifications. Odyne Systems makes a hybrid transmission that includes electric propulsion motors, which enables not only ePTO operation but also electric assist and regenerative braking while driving.
All-electric trucks have rechargeable onboard batteries that power the vehicle’s transmission as well as the PTO equipment. The batteries replace the diesel engine and fuel tank of a conventional truck, and they deliver electricity to electric motors instead of torque to mechanical/hydraulic ones.
Almost all experts agree that this is where truck technology is heading in the coming years. A 2020 report by consulting firm Wood Mackenzie projects that the number of e-trucks (all classes) in the US will rise from 2,000 currently to 54,000 by 2025. For a company with a green brand to uphold, the PR value of being at the forefront of this trend may be a compelling attraction.
However, as the report notes, “the electric truck market is still in its infancy,” so companies going this route at this early date may encounter some “bleeding edge” drawbacks and risks. These include:
- Possible teething troubles with the technology.
- Reliance on a relatively new vendor for parts and support.
- Additional staff training and equipment needed to service the truck and charging unit.
- Staff resistance to change.
There are also some limitations to what electric trucks can do, given the current state of battery development. Lion Electric’s Class 8 electric bucket truck has a maximum range of 170 miles, making it better for shorter routes. A complete recharge takes several hours (although this can be done overnight). The extra weight of the batteries adds to GVW, which may be a consideration. And some operators don’t like the “touch” of the electric PTO, although that’s obviously a personal preference.
On the plus side, electric trucks have fewer moving parts, which means a lot less maintenance. (Imagine – no oil changes!) Another significant advantage is the quiet of the electric operation, which enables crew members to communicate better and is more customer-friendly, especially in residential neighborhoods. Last but certainly not least, they don’t produce diesel exhaust, which means less pollution impacting the health of your operators and the general public and fewer greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
Applicants seeking funding for this technology must demonstrate that adequate electrical infrastructure to charge the trucks exists or will exist on site.
Lion Electric is a Canadian company that started out making all-electric school buses and has recently launched a line of specialized Class 8 trucks. The bucket truck in this line is still in the testing stage. The company is talking about setting up a sales and service center in Colorado.