Fuel Management

Shutting Off Idling Engines

June 2013, Government Fleet - Feature

by Cindy Brauer - Also by this author

At A Glance

Two recent idle reduction strategies the Omaha Public Power District employs include:

  • Mobile power units installed on 24-hour response service trucks
  • Hybrid-electric basket trucks

The Omaha Public Power District fleet consists of 1,441 vehicles and equipment. Mike Donahue, manager of transportation and construction, uses various methods to reduce fuel use. Photo courtesy of OPPD
The Omaha Public Power District fleet consists of 1,441 vehicles and equipment. Mike Donahue, manager of transportation and construction, uses various methods to reduce fuel use. Photo courtesy of OPPD

Over the past decade, the quest to cut fleet fuel spend has been helped along by new technology, more fuel-­efficient vehicles, innovative products, and industry best practices. However, despite successful fuel reduction measures, Mike Donahue, CAFM, acknowledges, “the efforts won’t be ending anytime soon.”

Donahue, manager of transportation and construction for Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), pointed out that, even in the difficult economy, “Our transportation fuel spend has increased from around $1.5 million to $2.5 million annually over the last few years. I expect larger challenges if the economy really takes off.”

Founded in 1946 as a publicly owned electric utility, OPPD serves 352,000 customers in a 13-county, 5,000-square-mile area in southeast Nebraska. Headquartered in Elkhorn, Neb., the 60-member fleet department maintains 1,411 vehicles, including 394 pieces of construction and stationary equipment. Fleet facilities include one light-duty and four full-service garages.

Fleet units include passenger cars, SUVs, vans, a locomotive, digger derricks, and coal dozers. The utility’s truck inventory reflects the fleet’s wide range of functions — cargo/dump/underground trucks, trailers, pickups, and bucket, service/utility, specialty, and semi-trucks.

Pursuing Idle Reduction Initiatives

Reducing vehicle idling is a primary target to cut fuel consumption among electric utility fleets. Service vehicles with hydraulic booms and baskets, increasing amounts of electronics, power tools, heat and air conditioning needs for field crews, etc., all require power that traditionally has been provided by running the vehicle engine while parked at a work site.

Donahue, an 18-year industry veteran, has looked to a number of solutions to supply OPPD employees fully functioning vehicles without requiring a fuel-­guzzling idling engine. “Excellent support” from the department’s senior management reinforced Donahue’s exploration of the many available options to reduce idling and fuel expense.

Recently, the fleet team installed Energy Xtreme Independence Package mobile power units in two “trouble trucks” — units available 24 hours a day to respond to situations or customers with problems in their electric services.

Energy Xtreme Units Support ‘Trouble Trucks’ Specific Needs

Hydraulic Specialist Willy Larson is pictured with the Energy Xteme product on a truck bed. Photo courtesy of OPPD
Hydraulic Specialist Willy Larson is pictured with the Energy Xteme product on a truck bed. Photo courtesy of OPPD

Austin, Texas-based Energy Xtreme (EX) offers a series of power management systems for a variety of applications. The noncombustible mobile units fit within a vehicle’s existing cabinet and have been military- and battlefield-tested, according to founder and CEO Devon Scott.

The OPPD units are equipped with the EX Service Vehicle Independence Package with an extended battery package. The mobile power unit runs the trucks’ electrical accessories — emergency lights, tools, battery chargers, computers — and supplies supplemental heat for the cab and a potential air conditioner package for the summer, said Donahue.

The fleet team determined the available EX Hydraulic Independence package was unnecessary for the trouble trucks. “The booms and bodies were transferred to new chassis, so we weren’t starting from new,” Donahue explained. “The booms on these trucks were used only about 15% of the time. The team, including the operators we interviewed, agreed that the best bang for our buck for the trouble trucks would come from addressing idle time outside of boom operation.”

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