China Could Learn From PG&E’s Electric Vehicle Program


In July of 2012, I wrote about the just-released policy in China to promote new energy vehicles and fuel-efficient vehicles. At the time, I mourned the lack of incentives for producing new energy fleet vehicles and suggested the government would have better served its cause with a policy that did that. In the same blog, I talked about what Pacific Gas & Electric, a huge utility in Northern California, was doing to further alternative fuel vehicle research here in the U.S.

Well, a bit more than a year later the Chinese government has come out with a new policy to promote new energy vehicles and it focuses mainly on fleet vehicles, especially buses! Glad Beijing got the word. This blogging platform (i.e. WordPress) is blocked in China but those government officials and fagawei types probably have VPNs.

I wrote about the new policy in my recent ChinaEV blog, so in the interest of symmetry I’m going to talk about what PG&E is up to now re: alternative fuel vehicles. Rather than reiterate everything I said last July, let’s just look at an event that just occurred, the unveiling of what PG&E says is the utility industry’s first plug-in electric hybrid Class 5 work trucks.

Those trucks were produced by Electric Vehicles International, or EVI, a manufacturer located in Stockton, CA. The transplant – it was based in Mexico – is a good example of how government support can help expand the commercial electric vehicle industry. PG&E’s participation shows how the private sector can both take advantage of and propel development of EV technology.

EVI is a 20-year old company that moved to the California central valley city of Stockton from Mexico after current EVI president Ricky Hanna bought the company. He switched EVI’s focus from light-duty EVs to heavy-duty EVs and moved operations to California about five years ago because of the state’s generous subsidies for electric vehicle makers. Smart move – EVI has received $7 million in grants from the California Energy Commission. It produces both range-extended electric vehicles (a type of PHEV) and battery-electric vehicles.

Just so you don’t have to re-read the previous blog (though of course you should), here is a bit of background on PG&E’s alt-fuel vehicle quest taken straight from that blog: As one of the largest public utilities in the U.S., PG&E has a huge fleet—some 14,000 vehicles. That’s a pretty big Petri dish for testing out new alternative fuel technologies, and PG&E has been doing that for years, says Dave Meisel, director of transportation for PG&E.

The utility has gotten much more active in testing alternative fuel technology vehicles in the last four or five years, he says, which makes sense because finding replacements for gasoline as a vehicle fuel has become a much hotter topic in the last four or five years. PG&E isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart. Partly, it is compelled by California law to have a certain percentage of low-emission vehicles in its fleet. But PG&E is also looking to save money.

Now, back to the present: PG&E started working with EVI about four years ago, says Meisel. It wants to try out EVI’s Class 5 vehicles – that’s like a Ford F450 or F550 truck. PG&E works with other companies in the EV space including VIA, Efficient Drivetrains Inc., and Altec. All are located in California.

“We prefer to spend our money locally,” says Meisel. (That’s nice since I pay taxes here and I prefer they stay in the state as well….). “In 2013 we are going to buy $221 million worth of new vehicles, all purchased from somebody in California.”

PG&E has purchased four EVI REEV trucks. PG&E estimates each truck will save PG&E over 850 gallons of fuel per year. So the utility’s alt-fuel vehicle quest isn’t just to meet state government requirements, it also makes business sense. Indeed, PG&E hopes to replace all of its Class 5 vehicles with REEVs, says Meisel.

“I think clearly that if we can validate the technology and we believe we can, if it delivers the results we believe it will deliver, we will be moving that tech into our fleet on large scale,” he says. “It is too early to say who will supply the vehicles.”

As I wrote about before, what PG&E really likes in its trucks is exportable power, and it works with its EV manufacturers to up their exportable power capability. Though the EVI trucks can export up to 100 kilowatts, the “holy grail” is really 125 kilowatts. “If we can get a vehicle up to that it opens up a lot of possibilities for us,” says Meisel.

PG&E can use the fleet to provide power to a neighborhood when it does repairs instead of having planned outages. Also, in emergency response situations the fleet could provide power.

“I handled the response to hurricane Sandy,” he says. “We found that we were trying to move in larger generators. When we tried to move them in from all over the U.S., we couldn’t put a dent in the amount requested vs. what was available. If we had sent 400 hybrids, that is like moving a small power plant into New York.” China take note….

Article by Alysha Webb, a freelance automotive journalist and founder of ChinaEV Blog.



Skip to toolbar