PG&E Shows Off Plug-in Work Truck That Could Power a Neighborhood

By · July 25, 2013

Via Motors VTRUX in San Francisco

On Tuesday, PG&E co-sponsored a meeting of the Plug-in Electric Vehicle Collaborative in San Francisco. The event gave PG&E, Northern California's electric utility, a chance to show off their work on developing electric and hybrid vehicles that can play mission-critical roles at electrical utilities. The gathering included a Via Motors VTRUX, Chevy Volt, Ford C-MAX Energi, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Smith EV electric truck, and two "hybrid" bucket trucks. All are designed for specific roles at PG&E, a utility with one of the country's largest fleets of alternatively fueled trucks.

The purpose of a utility-owned plug-in hybrid truck includes the ability to carry a crew, supplies and tools to a job-site—mostly using electric power rather than gasoline—and then for the truck itself to act as a generator to power the crew's tools.

After Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, leaving large portions of the New York metropolitan area without power, utility companies across the country scrambled to find generators for disaster response. The person at PG&E tasked with handling their response, Dave Meisel, Senior Director of Transportation and Aviation Services, also happens to be leading the company's electrification efforts. That work includes developing a plug-in hybrid utility truck that could play a big role in disaster response. After a major disaster, utility companies send generators to affected regions, connecting each generator to a neighborhood-sized piece of the grid, so that one neighborhood at a time can be brought back online.

If the plug-in hybrid work truck's generator can deliver 125 kilowatts, the crew could hook it to a grid segment and re-power an entire neighborhood. That would prove useful in case of a disaster, or even during regular maintenance such as replacing a transformer. The closest implementation of this vision is the Via Motors line of plug-in hybrid extended range trucks. PG&E is working closely with Via Motors and others to develop a suitable truck.

The power export feature can everything from a cell phone charger, to power tools, or eventually a whole neighborhood.

The Via Motors VTRUX has a 300 kilowatt electric traction motor, and a separate 150 kilowatt motor-generator that's used to recharge the 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack, and provide power to take off the vehicle. The ability to export power means the truck has an AC inverter and power outlets—both 120 volt and 240 volt—under a flap that also covers the J1772 charging port. The crew simply plugs their tools into the power outlets. The on-board inverter is beefy enough to drive power-hungry tools like arc welders.

PG&E is still working on solving heat issues associated with running the generator, and has not yet been able to implement the full vision.

In January, Via Motors unveiled the XTRUX, which is expected to have twice the power of the existing VTRUX model. Both are based on the Chevy Silverado, which Via Motors sources from General Motors. Via Motors also makes vans and SUVs that are re-manufactured from other GM vehicles. The XTRUX is slated to have a 600 kilowatt (800 horsepower) powertrain, while still delivering the high fuel efficiency of a plug-in hybrid with 40 miles of electric-only range.

"The XTRUX has the torque of a monster truck, and the fuel efficiency of a Prius," said Bob Lutz, a Via Motors advisor and former product chief at General Motors. Lutz claimed that the XTRUX will have a fuel efficiency of about 100 MPGe, based on 35 to 40 miles electric range. The trucks will primarily be configured for hauling capability, rather than high performance.

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