Municipalities look to electrify niche public works vehicles to achieve zero-emission city fleets
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Municipal Fleets
May 17, 2022
Mehanaz Yakub

From waste and recycling trucks to ice resurfacers and snowplows, cities across Canada are beginning to convert a range of municipal works vehicles to zero-emission

Municipalities across Canada are furthering their zero-emission targets by adopting electric equivalents of municipal works fleet vehicles. Photo: Resurfice Corp.

From waste and recycling trucks to ice resurfacers and snowplows, cities across Canada are beginning to convert a range of municipal works vehicles to zero-emission

Across Canada, thousands of municipal works vehicles hit the roads every day; sweeping, plowing, hauling and grooming. This necessary municipal maintenance can be one of the most costly line items in a city’s budget as well as a source of considerable local emissions.

With a greater number and variety of electric utility and commercial vehicles hitting the market every year, several cities are now trading in parts of their municipal diesel-gas fleet vehicles for cleaner and greener versions.

There are several case studies across Canada with cities taking action to electrify municipal vehicles and realize significant environmental and economic benefit from doing so.

Each of these early-adopter communities is providing valuable insight into best practices and real-world use results that will help inform other jurisdictions looking to electrify their municipal fleet vehicles.

Electric Autonomy Canada takes an in depth look at some of the cities transitioning to zero-emission fleets to understand how each is navigating the challenge and what each stands to gain.

Calgary’s electric refuse trucks

In Calgary, the city’s waste and recycling operations are the second-highest source of emissions. As one of the country’s largest municipalities looking at electrifying its city work vehicles, Calgary is running a pilot to understand how electric and hybrid-electric refuse trucks can take over operations from the diesel ones.

Majid Asefi is Calgary’s director fleet and inventory. Photo: LinkedIn

“We started the pilot project in 2018 for the city to hire a consultant to help us review the market for a few things,” says Calgary’s director fleet and inventory, Majid Asefi, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “The scope [of the study] heavily included alternative fuels like CNGs (compressed natural gas), plus the electrification of the fleets in the different categories of light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.”

“One of the recommendations that came out of that market study was the potential usage of heavy-duty electric trucks or hybrid units in waste and recycling applications.”

Calgary has a fleet of 268 refuse trucks with automated side loaders and front loaders.

Through the Government of Canada’s and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund and the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre (MCCAC) in Alberta’s Electric Vehicles for Municipalities Program (EVM), the city received funding for up to 80 per cent of costs to purchase one electric refuse truck equipped with an Electra e-Star chassis and an NTM KGHH rear-load body and one hybrid-electric truck outfitted with an International HV607 chassis and an NTM OM-SBe (Hybrid) side-load body.

The hybrid truck is expected to start its pilot this summer and the fully-electric one in the fall. Asefi says he will be looking to the usage data to answer three questions:

  • Are the ZEVs able to complete all the required applications and daily duty cycle?
  • Are the operating costs of the electric and hybrid trucks comparable to the current costs of using diesel fuel and are there any additional costs for this technology?
  • Is the performance of the vehicles comparable to the diesel trucks being replaced?

“We call this proof of concept,” says Asefi. “We need to prove that the concept actually works in all our [seasonal] conditions here in Calgary.”

After a year-long pilot for each truck — assuming each is able to complete its duty cycle — Asefi says the city will keep the trucks in service for their expected 10-year lifespan.

And the findings in Calgary may help inform other cities looking to adopt electric refuse trucks. This year the City of Powell River in British Columbia is considering purchasing an electric refuse truck.

As for whether Calgary will look into adding more electric refuse trucks, Asefi says he’s confident that the technology will work, but says the price is “a serious consideration” and could be the deciding factor in future ZEV commitments.

Purchasing an electric refuse truck can be almost double the price of a diesel unit. Calgary currently spends $350,000 per diesel garbage truck.

During the pilot, Asefi adds that Calgary will be looking to see if both the hybrid and electric models can meet the same efficiencies and standards as the diesel trucks. If they can, the city will start exploring ways to fund the purchase of additional zero-emission refuse vehicles for its municipal fleet.

In the meantime, Calgary is also looking into other areas in which the municipality can electrify other fleet vehicles, such as construction equipment and, like several other Canadian cities, ice resurfacers.

Canada’s hockey towns electrify on-ice vehicles

The Municipal Climate Change Action Centre in Alberta, which is helping to finance Calgary’s electric refuse trucks, has completed roughly 20 electrification projects in all, with another 20 currently in progress, in communities across Alberta.

Calvin Lechelt is the program lead for the EVM program. Photo: Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) Alberta Chapter

“The program has been increasing as EVs are becoming more in the spotlight,” says Calvin Lechelt, program lead for the EVM program in an interview with Electric Autonomy. “With a lot of the targets the federal government and governments around the world are setting, it’s more front and centre in the minds of municipal fleet managers.”

The program provides funding for three different vehicle types: passenger vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles and off-road vehicles.

One of the most popular vehicle types to go through the program, says Lechelt, is electric ice resurfacers. Over a dozen municipalities including Jasper; Medicine Hat; the cities of Airdrie, Brooks, Leduc; and the towns of Innisfail, Slave and Millet that have used MCCAC funding to help switch their gas-powered ice resurfacers to electric.

Outside of Alberta, at least a dozen communities across Ontario and at least one community each in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and British Columbia have adopted electric ice resurfacers.

“[Ice resurfacers] kind of have an interesting use case and additional advantages over other EVs in that you’re not just getting the fuel and maintenance and emission savings, but you’re also getting health and safety benefits as well because you’re no longer using combusting fuel indoors,” says Lechelt.

In an interview, Steve Kovacevic, the general manager of Olympia, one of the brands of ice resurfacers sold widely across Canada, told Electric Autonomy that he’s noticed in the last two to four years more interest in adopting electric ice resurfacers from municipalities.

Two years ago about 30 per cent of Kovacevic’s customers were switching to electric. Today the number is 70 per cent.

Steve Kovacevic is the general manager of Olympia. Photo: Facebook

“I think municipalities [are converting to electric] as part of a greater plan that [they] have to lower their carbon footprint and they’re searching for every opportunity within the municipalities to make those changes,” says Kovacevic.

But, like in Calgary, cost continues to be a major stumbling block for many communities.

The upfront price difference between a combustion ice resurfacer and an electric one can be too great for some municipalities, says Kovacevic. An electric ice resurfacer can sell for around $130,000 to $135,000 while a diesel-powered one costs between $86,000 to $88,000. [Some] municipalities also perceive the technology as “new,” and do not want to be “early adopters.”

Kovacevic says those concerns are unwarranted: “electric machines have been around long enough now that the equipment itself has been refined.”

Ontario city tries out electric robotic snowplows

One of the unknowns for battery-powered vehicles is their performance in winter conditions. But last fall, the Town of Innisfil in Ontario decided to test an EV in the winter and piloted two all-electric robotic snowplows to clear snow from sidewalks and pathways.

The town teamed up with Kitchener-based Swap Robotics to try out a pair of the company’s electric autonomous mini snowplows, dubbed “snowbots”

“Innisfil will be the first Canadian town to implement 100 per cent electric, sidewalk robots for snow and ice management,” said Tim Lichti, founder and CEO of Swap Robotics in the press announcement in October 2021 for the project.

“They have been extremely welcoming of the technology, and we look forward to working with the Town to make the transition to environmentally sustainable municipal equipment.”

The snowbots went into service over the 2021-2022 winter. In order to navigate and clear sidewalks, they were equipped with snowplows, salt, GPS and depth-sensing cameras that can detect objects in front of them. For safety reasons, the vehicles had human chaperones accompanying them as they removed snow.

Nicole Bowman, director of operations for the Town of Innisfil. Photo: LinkedIn

“Innisfil investigated the use of green-autonomous sidewalk plows as an opportunity to enhance service for our residence, while at the same time, reducing our carbon footprint,” says Nicole Bowman, director of operations for the Town of Innisfil in an email statement to Electric Autonomy.

“Phase 1, which began in November 2021, was to test and understand the physical and mechanical capabilities of the robots. We needed to learn how much snow they could push, limitations and what areas could be improved upon based on real-life testing.”

The latest snow-clearing robots can push around 2,000 pounds of snow, says Swap, which finished interpreting the results of the Phase 1 pilot and started Phase 2 of the pilot in January 2022 to evaluate and understand the autonomous movement capabilities of the robots.

“A team member from Swap Robotics was on assignment to oversee autonomous dry runs of the sidewalk robot in the Cookstown neighbourhood [in Innisfil] and the initial autonomy testing has gone well,” says Bowman.

A spokesperson for the Town of Innisfil says the local government doesn’t know yet if it will continue using the electric snowbots next year on a more permanent basis.

“At this point, we are waiting on the company’s next prototype and test results.”

Swap Robotics also makes autonomous, electric grass-cutting robots.

Off-road vehicles electrifying for rural municipalities

Along with refuse trucks, ice resurfacers and snowplows, there are several other types of municipal vehicles available to electrify as options keep growing — especially in non-urban areas where city limits include vast swaths of undeveloped, natural landscape.

In October 2021, the Public Works Division of the City of Red Deer, Alta., purchased a new fully electric Troops Motors Able XR utility vehicle, that is being used to service all rest stops and waste areas near the trail systems within the city borders. Meanwhile, the town of Drayton Valley, also in Alberta, bought two electric Toro Workman utility vehicles to carry out a range of duties in the area.

The MCCAC program in Alberta has proved highly successful in helping electrify municipal fleets. Through the program Jasper, Alta., got a Polaris Ranger side-by-side to perform seasonal ice removal at the arena and curling rink in Mar. 2021. The town of Oketoks also purchased a 2019 Polaris Ranger Battery Electric Vehicle. And the Town of Banff purchased a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) and a Proterra Parkade Sweeper BEV.

“Municipal fleet vehicles are, in a lot of cases the perfect fit for EVs because municipal fleet vehicles have a fairly consistent return-to-base driving profile, which allows the batteries to be pumped up every night and then have the full charge for staff use in the morning,” says Lechelt.

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