Incentives To Go Electric

Nov. 1, 2003
It's about time companies that run clean fleets get some credit. That includes lift truck fleets. So says EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute.

It's about time companies that run clean fleets get some credit. That includes lift truck fleets. So says EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute. Bob Graham, area manager for electric transportation at EPRI, is making his case to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In a letter he read during an EPRI Conference on electric material handling held in Sacramento, California, Graham challenged the EPA to consider off-road vehicles as an excellent opportunity to clear the air -- starting in California, then eventually across the country.

"While cleaning up compression emission engines is a good way to clean up the air, EPRI believes that both existing and emerging electric drive technologies provide an excellent opportunity," Graham explained. "EPRI recommends that consideration be given to amend [EPA's emissions rules] to provide compliance flexibility so that electric drive mobile technologies can be rewarded for providing emission reduction sooner than or more than required. Forklifts, industrial tow tractors, scrubbers, and airport baggage totes are non-road vehicles that should be included in the proposed rule. Some flexible incentive mechanism should be in place for the zero emission capability of electric drive technology in proportion to their ability to provide additional environmental benefits."

Graham also said EPRI would be anxious to assist EPA in determining a role for these technologies as possible sources of surplus emissions credits in the EPA's proposed rule. On the program with him that day were representatives from two of the leading lift truck manufacturers in the U.S., Raymond Corporation and Toyota Material Handling.

Steve Raymond, president and CEO of Raymond Handling Concepts Corp., the authorized Raymond dealership for northern California, said it has been a challenge getting lift truck fleet managers to part with internal combustion engine models in exchange for electrics. However, the latest technology trends will make that decision easier.

"A large number of the automobiles sold in California today are partial zero emission engines, and are practically as clean as electrics," he explained, adding that it was the same for lift trucks. "Torque and utility considerations in some applications make a one to one substitute of Class 1 [electric] for a Class 4 [IC] lift truck impractical. But the data tell us that the applications and purchases of electric vehicles are growing faster than the overall market. The rapid changes in technology that have been introduced into the lift truck manufacturing process in the last 10 years have accelerated. Because of the new technology, no one wants a 10-year-old lift truck any more. So people are changing fleets faster because they get higher productivity, lower maintenance costs, and better reliability out of the new technology as opposed to rebuilding the trucks they had before."

That means incentives to go electric might have more power. Brett Wood, national product development, strategic planning and marketing services manager for Toyota Material Handling USA, said the markets are pointing that way.

"There's been a change from customers picking IC as their power of choice over electric," he noted. "In 1978 30% of the market was electric power and 60% was engine power. Then electric growth took off from the early 80s. Now 55-60% of lift trucks sold in the US are electric powered. I expect that to climb higher into the 60s in the next few years."

Another way to save with electric power was presented by Dick Cromie, senior program manager in the electric transportation division of Southern California Edison. He talked about power shifting, a strategy to shift power usage from the peak hours of the day to later hours. In trials with leading distributors, major savings were achieved.

"In most of the country there's a historic peak demand problem where it's expensive to generate power in the middle of a hot summer afternoon," Cromie explained. "In response to the Energy Commission's offer to fund innovative programs, we [adopted] a unique set of expertise. We knew we had a large non-road electric market, somewhere around 200 megawatts. We also knew most managers weren't managing their loads very well. It wasn't a priority. Many of the new battery chargers are fully equipped to shift charging off peak but that function wasn't being used.

The Energy Commission made $50 million available for innovative peak load reduction projects. Southern California Edison proposed a $2 million program to help its larger customers shift battery charging to off peak. Participants in the program were not allowed to charge batteries from 2-6 pm on summer week days between June 1 and September 30 2002. The program was expanded to the 2003-2004 seasons. The program encouraged customers to install electronic controls or energy management systems to automatically shift charging off peak. Incentives were up to $150 per kilowatt, limited by the cost of the system they installed. Eventually, 43 customers signed up, representing 74 sites.

"The Albertson's warehouse in southern California was the single largest commercial warehouse customer we had," Cromie concluded. "We monitored before and after activation of the system. The peak one-hour demand reduction was 114% of goal, average pkw ratio was 85%. Albertsons saved considerable money in power costs because they had to pay a high on-peak energy cost in summer and on-peak demand charge which was almost $18 per kw. This was all doable already, but the electronic controls made it simple and slick and easy to use."

For more information on these strategies, or to get copies of the talks presented at the EPRI conference in Sacramento, contact EPRI at 800-313-3774, or e-mail them at [email protected], or visit the web site at --Tom Andel, chief editor.