Unitil, a provider of natural gas and electricity to customers in New England, is continuing its transition to a sustainable fleet by adding more hybrid electric vehicles and launching a pilot program to reduce idling time as the company aims to slash its direct operations-related carbon emissions.
Following the introduction of its first hybrid bucket truck in early 2022 at its electric operations facility in Exeter, N.H., Unitil now has nine hybrid pickup trucks operating in New Hampshire and four in Maine. Another five are planned in New Hampshire and six in Maine by the end of this year. In addition, the company has one hybrid bucket truck and five hybrid pickup trucks in Massachusetts and six more hybrid pickup trucks on order for 2023 along with a second hybrid bucket truck.
“We remain committed to creating a cleaner and more sustainable future and have developed a strategic plan to meet our goals. Part of that plan includes making the switch to a greener vehicle fleet and other similar initiatives that we believe will have long-term environmental benefits,” Unitil Media Relations Manager Alec O’Meara said.
The addition of hybrid trucks is one step Unitil is taking as it works to meet its goal of a 50% reduction in direct operational carbon emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050. One hybrid bucket truck alone, which uses a rechargeable battery to power the boom, is expected to eliminate an estimated 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year; that’s equivalent to 4.3 gasoline passenger vehicles a year or the annual energy use of 2.5 households.
The move toward creating a more sustainable fleet began in 2020 when Unitil took a comprehensive look at the fleet’s carbon footprint, gained a better understanding of vehicle uses, and explored emission reduction technologies that could best balance the company’s emission goals with operational needs, customer service, and emergency response capabilities.
To help the company reach its 50% carbon emissions reduction goal, the future of Unitil’s fleet will include a mixture of hybrid, electric, and possible alternative fuel and/or technologies for medium and heavy duty vehicles without a viable EV alternative.
Unitil also recently launched an idle mitigation pilot program in New Hampshire using technology that eliminates unnecessary idling by automatically shutting down the engine when the vehicle is in park while continuing to provide all required power. The technology is expected to reduce the annual idle time by 92% and lead to annual fuel savings for the five vehicles from the fleet that were chosen for the pilot.
“Idling is a reality in the utility industry with most related to the job function of a vehicle. Oftentimes the engine stays on and the vehicle idles when workers need to operate electronics, power equipment and emergency lighting, and run heat and air conditioning. While the pilot program began just a few months ago, so far the early results have been favorable,” O’Meara said.
Those results have shown that decreased idling on an F-350 work truck that has been piloted the longest has demonstrated an emissions reduction equating to an anticipated 40% fewer emissions annually for that vehicle, or a reduction of approximately 6 metric tons of carbon.
If data continues to be favorable with significant carbon reduction results, Unitil plans to have five vehicles equipped with the technology in New Hampshire and two in Maine later this year. To further reduce emissions, the company also plans to add two compressed natural gas (CNG)/gasoline bi-fuel duty pickup trucks to its fleet in the Concord, N.H., region this year as well.
More information on Unitil’s sustainability efforts can be found in the company’s recently released 2022 Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility Report.