Fleet Success Stories: Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC)

Bailey Nolting EV Information, Online Article

The city of Orlando has a sustainability goal of achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050. As the city’s municipal utility, Orlando Utilities Commission, known as OUC, the Reliable One, announced its intention to meet that goal, as well as interim targets of 50% reduction by 2030 and 75% by 2040. OUC is a major force in working towards Net Zero, not only as a power generator, but also as the manager of a substantial vehicle fleet. With 34 percent of their fleet now running on alternative fuels, OUC is making significant progress.

OUC provides water and electric service to more than 240,000 customers in the city of Orlando, Florida and portions of adjacent unincorporated areas of Orange County, as well as St. Cloud, Florida, in Osceola County. Established in 1923 by a special act of the Florida Legislature, OUC is the second largest municipal utility in Florida and 14th largest municipal in the country.

OUC began its journey into transportation electrification in the early 1990s with an interest in migrating EVs into its vehicle fleet. With five all-electric vehicles, six plug-in hybrids, eight bucket trucks with battery- operated booms and 21 hybrid vehicles in the fleet, OUC is hard at work reducing their carbon footprint. At the same time, they are helping build an electric vehicle charging infrastructure and supporting electrification of public transportation across Central Florida by collaborating with local partners.

While the electric utility side of OUC handles the charging infrastructure, the company’s fleet director manages operations, including vehicle procurement and maintenance. Due to the types of vehicles required for a public utility fleet, OUC has invested in biodiesel and ethanol alternatives in addition to EVs. The fleet division meets with each department to understand their business needs, and conducts mileage studies to determine the best fit for the user. They look at the full range of alternative fuels out of necessity, and select the vehicle that is best suited for the job. Careful planning also considers infrastructure to assure refueling needs are accommodated. User education is a critical when introducing EVs. The division identifies “change agents” that can help positively influence user acceptance and reduce concerns like range anxiety.

(In June 2023, OUC—The Reliable One celebrated 100 years of providing exceptional value to its customers and community through the delivery of sustainable and reliable services and solutions. The utility provides electric, water, chilled water, lighting and solar services to more than 400,000 accounts in Orlando, St. Cloud and parts of unincorporated Orange and Osceola counties. As OUC prepares for the next century, it remains committed to its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 while supporting its community with conservation, sustainability and energy efficiency resources.)

Vehicle operation in their immediate service territory is not the only consideration when it comes to choice of alternative fuel. OUC, as a public utility, offers mutual aid to other state and regional public power utilities and organizations in times of disaster. More than a thousand utilities across the country participate in this network. When preparing for disaster response, if the utility knows that its own crews and equipment won’t be enough to restore power quickly, it calls on other utilities in the network to assist. For example, OUC has cooperated with disaster recovery efforts recently by sending 19 vehicles to Tallahassee, the state capitol, to restore power and the OUC crew has even travelled as far as New York State.

The types of vehicles needed to respond to these disasters are heavy duty bucket trucks that are able to travel long distances without refueling concerns. However, thanks to the new technologies available on these trucks, OUC is able to use a B20 blend of biodiesel to get to the job site and then use electric powered hydraulic pumps that run on the trucks’ battery power to operate the lift for the bucket. OUC is keeping watch on the companies that are developing fully electric vehicles and, in the interim, continues to build their fleet of hybrid vehicles. OUC currently has eight hybrid vehicles in service and another 15 on order. Their smaller platform vehicles are fully electric light duty vehicles and pickup trucks.

Outputs and Outcomes

OUC is now sharing their knowledge of the EV industry with their colleagues and encouraging them to consider transitioning their fleet vehicles when possible. The OUC marketing department engages with the community to highlight their sustainable transportation efforts, and OUC regularly displays its vehicles and participates in ride and drive events.

As an electric utility, the OUC customer solutions team is encouraging commercial fleets to transition to EVs. OUC developed a webinar series and on-site facility visits to guide fleet operators through a step-by-step process to electrifying their fleets. Topics covered included:

Charging, siting and planning
Utility coordination and electrical load management
Options for purchasing and leasing
Route logistics planning
Maintenance, workforce development, and driver training
The program also provides “office hours” to fleets within the program, giving them the opportunity to review critical electrification planning and fleet analysis.

Included in this series was a walking tour of the City of Orlando’s fleet depot that provided attendees with a “hands on” experience of how vehicle electrification can be effectively implemented. Fleet directors and staff were given a firsthand view of the city’s operations and learned how to better understand the financial impact of converting to electric charging for their own fleet operations.

The program series culminated with the “Central Florida Ride and Drive” event held at the Florida Department of Transportation SunTrax experimental vehicle facility in Auburndale in early November 2023. With more than 100 participants, this event provided access to EVs tailored for fleets, as well as networking opportunities with vendors. Fleet managers were able to test drive the electric vehicles that were on display, including Nikola, Mack, Volvo, Tesla and Arcimoto. There was also an array of light-duty vehicles, pick-up trucks, transit vans, and box trucks, including:

Mustang Mach-E
Ford F-150 Lightening Electric Pick-up Truck
Ford E-Transit Van
Motive Box Truck
OUC had triple digit attendance combined at these educational events, resulting in multiple fleets moving forward and successfully electrifying their fleet operations.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

Early planning on infrastructure is essential for fleet electrification. Since the OUC fleet is housed within an electric utility, other departments provide for EV charging, both internally and for the public. As part of the EVSE infrastructure efforts in their service territory, OUC collaborated with Orange County, the City of Orlando, and Power Electronics to create the largest high-speed charging facility in Florida. The Robinson Recharge Mobility Hub opened July 2023. The hub is located in downtown Orlando near I-4, a heavily traversed interstate highway that connects the east and west coasts of Florida, from Daytona Beach to Tampa. The facility features 21 high-speed EV chargers that can be used for all makes of EVs. Funds from a $500,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were used to partially pay for the hub. EV charger manufacturer Power Electronics, the City of Orlando and Orange County, helped secure the grant, while OUC and Power Electronics covered the remaining project costs. OUC also donated the property for the hub. The hub will enable EVs to “top off” their charge in 10 minutes and be fully charged in 20-60 minutes.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Bryan Frye, Fleet Supervisor at OUC; Pete Westlake, Manager of New Products and Services at OUC; and, Torin Spencer, Senior Associate and Electric Vehicle Specialist at the Electrification Coalition for their contributions to this story.