A Carolinas startup has found an innovative way to help Duke Energy electrify its bucket truck fleet, reduce carbon emissions and keep neighborhoods quieter while crews are working.
Duke Energy is piloting Viatec’s SmartPTO, an electric power takeoff unit that lets bucket truck crews turn off the diesel engine and rely on electricity when operating the lift. It can save fuel costs and extend the life of the trucks.
The pilot has proven so successful, Duke Energy will soon expand to 24 bucket trucks outfitted with SmartPTOs and is considering making them standard on all new bucket trucks.
“Compared to other plug-in electrics, this unit was quieter, more responsive and much simpler in design,” said Mike Allison, Duke Energy’s director of Fleet Design and Technical Services. “When we saw that, we thought this is a viable path to electrifying all of our bucket truck fleet.”
The SmartPTO is a 600-pound box that Viatec can install in a matter of hours. On a work site, crews can run both the bucket lift and the air conditioning from the SmartPTO. With the diesel engine off, crew members can more easily communicate from bucket to ground and residents don’t hear the rumble of the engine.
“That’s a real plus, especially when working at night,” said distribution lineworker Matthew Price.
“The trucks are so quiet,” Price said, “that it’s now easy for the person in the bucket to communicate with other crew members on the ground.”
The battery can easily outlast the normal bucket truck shift and then charges overnight on a basic 110-volt receptacle. Because the SmartPTO is a redundant system, crews can always revert to operating the bucket lift from the diesel engine, a critical workaround for emergency situations such as storms that require around-the-clock use.
This clever solution didn’t happen by chance. Viatec built it based on interviews with Duke Energy team members.
“These trucks can never be down because of our product,” Viatec President and Founder Mark Ferri said he learned in those conversations. “We have to help the industry move forward without crippling infrastructure.”
The SmartPTO has several key components: It uses Zero Motorcycle’s electric power trains, which are weather-hardy and tested through years of research and millions of miles on the road; it’s mobile, making it easy to attach and transfer, and Viatec is able to track the unit’s performance digitally and troubleshoot remotely in many cases.
Viatec is also in the heart of Duke Energy’s Carolinas service area.
“That’s an economic development opportunity, and that’s a big part of our EV initiatives,” said Lang Reynolds, Duke Energy’s director of Electric Transportation. “We want to make sure our service areas are leading in this industry.”
As a startup, Viatec received production assistance from the South Carolina Research Authority and secured grants from the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center to support Duke Energy’s pilot program in counties with air quality concerns. SmartPTOs are in use with several municipalities and universities.
“We know the time and history in which we’re operating,” Ferri said, “and we want to help capture this moment to the benefit of owners, operators and the communities where they live.”