Will e-trucks deliver your snail mail?
US Postal Service looks to "electrify" its fleet
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Add to that hurdle a steep upfront cost of up to $10 billion to purchase all new electric vehicles, estimates Wayne Corey, the Postal Service’s manager of vehicle operations. That capital cost, combined with the healthcare payment crisis, makes it politically difficult for the Postal Service to approach Congress for help funding a new fleet, observers say.Skip to next paragraph
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“We’re getting lots of advice and ideas these days, but unfortunately not any checks in the mail to go with them,” Mr. Corey says. “Some variant of an electric vehicle would probably work quite nicely in the majority of our operations. But it comes with a significant price tag.”
Still, Postal Service officials admit, the need for new vehicles is growing critical. In one sign of its seriousness, the Postal Service recently issued a formal request for information to identify companies able to convert LLVs to all-electric vehicles.
“At some point in the near future we are going to be looking to replace our fleet with energy-efficient vehicles that would significantly reduce our environmental footprint for the communities we serve,” says Sam Pulcrano, the service’s vice president of sustainability.
The all-electric idea would not be a shot in the dark. The Postal Service today has about 30 larger two-ton all-electric trucks delivering mail in Manhattan. The post office has also experimented with alternative-fuel vehicles for decades, including all-electric, compressed natural gas, fuel-cell, and hybrid gas-electric. While refusing to characterize which worked out best, it’s clear that postal managers do like electric.
“All electric vehicles have some great possibilities for use in particular since most routes average 17 to 18 miles a day and then return to the same depot for charging,” Mr. Pulcrano says. All-electric “is a viable option at this time. We’re looking at the technology.”
Saving gas isn’t the only, or necessarily even the main, motivation for such a shift. With 142,000 delivery vehicles (and more than 60,000 trucks and other vehicles) a battery-powered postal fleet could play a leading role in helping bring more wind, solar, and other “intermittent” renewable energy onto the electric grid, several observers say.
Because the delivery fleet is only used perhaps seven hours a day, the rest of the time they would be plugged in and charging up. Solar panels on postal stations’ rooftops could charge the vans from the sun and be virtually emissions free.
“You’ve got all these trucks storing energy, and solar panels feeding them,” Goldway says. “We could transform the post office sorting centers into a great environmental hub, where vehicles are plugged in and storing energy for the grid. It makes a lot of sense.”
But there’s also the promising possibility that the Postal Service could even make up to $2,500 a year per vehicle if the vehicles can be outfitted with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology.
That’s because adding V2G capability would allow for the massive 21 billion watt capacity of the vans’
collective batteries to act as a backup for the nation’s power grid. It’s an idea that may be winning converts at the Department of Energy, which has shown interest in a pilot V2G project involving the trucks, postal officials say.
“We see it as a potential revenue source for the Postal Service – a smart grid application on wheels,” says the congressional staffer.
Even competitors might not oppose the idea. Federal Express and UPS currently use the Postal Service for its “last mile” delivery of small packages. If the Postal Service led on electrifying its fleet, the big package carriers could learn from it – and benefit from lower costs as they electrify their own delivery fleets later on.
“I’ve spoken with delivery company officials who would be very happy if the government would sponsor development of a critical mass of demand for this kind of all-electric service,” says James Campbell, a consultant to the package delivery industry. “It’s not a bad idea.”