Utility fleets and hybrids are a near-perfect pairing of technology and task, so it is no wonder that utilities have been out in front right from the beginning when it comes to deploying hybrid trucks. Today, utility fleets continue to lead the way in hybrid truck adoption, thanks in large part to the fuel savings hybrids provide by reducing idling time.

New Jersey's Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G), for example, announced plans last year for replacing 1,300 vehicles with hybrids over the next decade, including hybrid aerial lift trucks, commonly called “bucket trucks.” The company is also installing electric-drive units on its 450 traditional bucket trucks to enable workers to operate the lift on battery power rather than keeping the engine running. According to the company's calculations, a three-hour reduction in idling time per truck will save 6.5 million gal. of fuel and 73,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next ten years.

In Washington State, the King County Dept. of Transportation is also evaluating switching to hybrid bucket trucks and has been testing a medium-duty, diesel-electric hybrid from Kenworth Truck Co. The county says the new hybrid has been delivering about 30% better fuel economy, which enables crews to remain in the field longer between refueling and extends the truck's maintenance cycles. The truck is also quieter, another big plus for vehicles that often work in neighborhoods at night.

The PHET (plug-in hybrid trucks) Task Force of the Utility Working Group of the Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), however, is pushing farther still down the electric power path and investigating user expectations for plug-in hybrid trucks, which have larger batteries and can partly or fully recharge from the grid.

HTUF says a Class 6-7 PHET that drives 100 mi. and has three hours of worksite operations per day would save 1,500 gal. of fuel per year besides virtually eliminating carbon dioxide emissions, improving the image of utility companies, and enabling the use of electrical tools in the field.