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Podcast Interviews

2 Ways to Lower Block Heaters Electricity Costs

Learn how PowerSync is lowering electricity costs for fleets that use block heaters.

Episode 120: Commercial fleets are focused on lowering costs. The first places fleets usually look are fuel, tires, and wheel-end components. However, for fleets that work in northern climates, there is a hidden cost that can quickly add up, before the trucks ever leave the yard.

In this episode, we had Kurt and Sonny of Power Grid Energy Solutions on the show to talk to us about the PowerSync, a device that drastically lowers fleets’ electricity consumption powering block heaters and has the added financial benefits of qualifying the fleet for government incentive programs.

PowerSync logo, an intelligent block heater controller.

To learn more, go to Power-Sync.com

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Complete Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer.

While lowering cost-per-mile, commercial fleets are focused on lowering costs. They often focus on areas like fuel tires, brake material, and after treatment systems. But for fleets that work in Northern climates, there is an opportunity to lower their total cost of operation before the trucks even leave the yard. If they are using block heaters, they’re consuming electricity and the amount of electricity and the cost associated is higher than most people realize.

In this episode, we’re going to talk to Kurt and Sonny from Power Grid Energy Solutions. And we’re going to learn about a way to reduce the block heaters electricity consumption, thereby reducing the total cost of operation for that fleet. Kurt, how much money exactly are fleet spending on powering their block heaters?

Kurt:

Now, before we get into the cost, let me give you a kind of easy visual example to help people understand what the costs of block heaters is so expensive.

You know, block heaters can range anywhere from 750 to 1500 Watts. And if you think of it from a residential standpoint, it would be like having 15 100 watt light bulbs turned on and left on in your house for 20 hours a day. You know, I don’t think most of us do that and especially for six months out of the year during the heating season.

So it gets kind of expensive really quick. If you understand what I’m saying. So most people wouldn’t do that. So let your fleet vehicles going and we have a way to control it. So why wouldn’t you do it? And that’s kind of what we’re doing. Most people don’t realize that savings there.

Jamie Irvine:

And this is something that can actually get up into the thousands of dollars, like we’re not talking just a small amount. This is a significant opportunity to put money to the bottom line. And whether it’s a municipal fleet, a school bus fleet, or a commercial fleet, I mean, they still all have fiscal responsible.

Kurt:

Oh, absolutely. You know, for example, if you had a fleet of vehicles, let’s say 60 vehicles, which is pretty common, you could range anywhere in your spending from $14,000 to $21,000 annually, depending on where you are geographically.

You know, if you’re in the upper Midwest or upper Northeast, you’re going to be in the 19 cents a kilowatt-hour for your electrical. If you’re in the Midwest or somewhere like that, you’re going to be in the 8 cents to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour or 12 cents just depends. So annually, you know, a fleet of 60 buses or 60 vehicles would spend $14 000 to $21,000 to heat those blocks, which equates to about anywhere from $216 to $350 per vehicle.

Now that may not sound like a lot, you know, per vehicle. But when you take that times the 60, or the times the 40 or times whatever number of vehicles you have, it adds up really, really quick. Most vehicles they sit for 20 hours a day, a school bus fleet sits for 20 hours a day. And we call that soak time. So we control that when they don’t need to be heating, so it’s pretty efficient, very efficient, actually,

Jamie Irvine:

Sonny, how did the company get started and of all the problems you could have focused on, why did you choose trying to solve this issue around electricity consumption powering block heaters?

Sonny Martin:

Back in 2008, when the economy crashed back then, a lot of businesses, schools and things were actually having issues, looking for ways to save on their utilities so forth. I was in the energy conservation field at that time so I started offering free kind of simple audits for businesses locally around me and some of the schools. Schools particularly really got an interest in needing some help.

I went to a local school and one of the areas that was identified was an issue from electrical standpoint was they had buses plugged in. I think they had 19 buses at the time. And they said, hey, can you help us find a solution to reduce this cost? So I immediately started looking for technologies that was out there that would help them. And really the only thing I could find was just like general, just standard, like a timer. So each, each truck would have to have a timer.

So during my research, I realized there was no technologies available. So I basically set off, designed a panel that would control the whole fleet at once. I built in schedules, I had it look at outside temperature set points, and developed basically a program that had algorithms in it that would look at the outside temperature, decide when was the right time to basically activate their block heaters.

Once I did that and got us what I thought was a decent solution, I took it back to the school. We installed it, within the first full month of them running the panel, they took their utilities at their bus garage down 75% immediately. So based on that kind of make a long story short, I developed this panel that controls up to one single panel control a whole fleet of up to 42 vehicles.

Once I realized that I had something that wasn’t out there, I patented the product. And since that time, like I said, we’re the only block heater controller solution on the market that we know of, that controls up to 42 vehicles. And we’ve actually had customers now that have achieved up to 94% reduction in their electrical usage by using the panel.

Jamie Irvine:

And when I think about the available solutions outside of yours, like you talk about the timer and the big problem with that is it comes on at a specific time, it shuts off at a specific time, but like you said, it has no outside kind of influence on what the temperature is. So there’s no way to put that information into the timer and say, well, it’s colder longer today.

So we need more power and it’s warmer over the next couple of days so we need less power. There’s no way to regulate that, it’s just on, off, on. So I can see how there was an opportunity to create something that would produce more efficiency. And that’s really at the end of the day, what this product has done.

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Kurt earlier, we were talking about how much it’s costing fleets. I’d like to really focus on the amount that can be saved. So when people start to use this product, what’s the real savings in dollars that fleets can expect?

Kurt:

Give an example. We did a school system here in Indianapolis back in 2019 and they had 186 buses and we estimated their savings based on our calculations to be $35,000 in savings. By the end of that season from November through March, we ended up saving them over $42,000. So we far exceeded that and they couldn’t have been happier. So the other thing that we didn’t anticipate was another additional savings to that was block heaters.

The mechanic there the head maintenance guy told us that the year prior, he had to replace 60 block heaters. And that was at a cost of about $125 to $150 to replace each one, including labor. So that can vary as well, depending on your labor rate. So there was another $7,000 additional savings because the year that our block heater controller panel was in, they only had to replace three block heaters. And he didn’t know if that was residual leftover from prior to that. So that was awesome.

Jamie Irvine:

So is that because of the efficiency gains, the block heater doesn’t have to work so hard, so then it doesn’t wear out as quickly as that kind of the thought process behind that?

Kurt:

You’re exactly right. You know, they’re not utilizing it. So like I said, if the three o’clock in the morning or whatever time that we have it set for comes on and the temperature is above our set point, it won’t activate the block heater, so it’s not running it. So it doesn’t have that on off cycle going on throughout the day. And we reduce that quite a bit. People would be very surprised at how many days that actually they don’t turn on at all.

Jamie Irvine:

Right. So Sonny, maybe you could explain to us, how is it powered? How does this power sync control panel get installed?

Sonny Martin:

For a quick visual, think about your breaker panel in your house. That breaker panel has a breaker. There’s an electrical circuit that goes out to your plugs on the wall. Same thing with block heater. Circuits are typically a 20 amp circuit that goes from the breaker and goes out to that plug at the post for the vehicle. What we do is we intercept that circuit.

That’s going after some of them are indoors. Some of them are outdoors, but what we do is we put our panel between the breaker panel and those receptacles where it makes sense. And at that point is we intercept that circuit. And then that’s how we control. We’ve got a temperature probe if the panel is installed indoors, the temperature probe goes to the closest outside wall.

That’s where we get our reading for outdoor temperatures. And then the rest is basically controlled between those two points. So any basically qualified electrician can install like a 42 truck panel in just a few hours.

So they’re pretty straightforward are pretty easy to install. Like I said, they can go indoors, they can go outdoors. It doesn’t matter. The panels will work either way. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s pretty easy. And it saves a lot of money. And not only that is, you’ll see not only energy savings, but from an environmental standpoint, you’re going to reduce your carbon footprint as well.

Jamie Irvine:

Kurt there’s many vocations in commercial trucking, and the range can be everything from off-road fleets that are working in logging and mining and industry all the way down to fleets that operate in the inner city. So what is the best application for the Power Sync?

Kurt:

Anybody that has a fleet of vehicles with 20 or more, we can get down to as low as 12 vehicles and do a cost justification of 24 months or less typically, but anybody with a 20 vehicles or more with a diesel engine that they plug in either day or night would be a candidate.

Some of those guys would be LTL carriers where their day cabs go out and they come back in They sit in a lot during the day, they sit in a lot during the night, no reason to heat those block heaters, but we can control those route trucks, delivery trucks that are delivering your bread, delivering your stuff to the grocery stores.

Those are another good candidates because they plug their trucks in every night. Buses, concrete fleets, waste management, people, trash trucks, you know, they’re all plugging in because they’ve got to be onsite the next morning.

You know what people don’t realize as well is when you have a bus or a truck or trash or whatever vehicle, it doesn’t start in the morning, well, that creates a whole snowball effect of additional things that we didn’t even talk about.

And they have to either reschedule another truck pull in the truck from different lots, or they have to pay overtime for their drivers or their operators to get their products delivered or get it to the site. It’s a snowball. Again, people don’t think about those things and it adds up.

Jamie Irvine:

Another area that I was thinking in places where they’re working night shifts sometimes in the spring, for example, in our area, as things start to warm, it’s still cold, but as things start to warm, they put road bans on. And so then you can’t run like a fully loaded truck on the gravel roads to get out to let’s say like an oil field site during the day.

So then they switch and they work at nighttime, but it can still be Celsius, minus 15, and the daytime minus 20, you still would need to plug that vehicle in during the day so night or day, depending on the outside temperature. And depending on when the vehicles working you still have to have that vehicle plugged in. So that’s another place where this would be a great product.

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Sonny, could you just go into a little more detail about what makes the control panel on the Power Sync so unique?

Sonny Martin:

What makes our panels so unique is you have the ability to control it remotely. So if you have to change a schedule it’s easily done through a desktop computer, you can do it from your phone if you’ve got access to your network. We’ve actually got the panel set up now that it uses back net over IP, which it can be on a building management system. So you can do a lot of things with it and get access to it from no matter where you’re at.

So if you’ve got somebody that’s responsible for the fleet, they need to change your schedule, whatever it works very well. And we also use what’s called a zone feature. So if you had 20 vehicles, we can make four sets of five trucks, all have different schedules, so you can actually schedule your fleet.

So if you have different start times or whatever, you have the ability to do that as well, which actually also increases your savings instead of turning them all on at one time, you can stage them on. So we have that ability to do that as well.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense for vocational fleets, because like, let’s say that you have, if you’re oil field, for example, maybe you’ve got some water well drilling trucks because you do water wells, and then you also have some tank trucks because you’re hauling fluid and you’ve got some other work trucks.

And then you’ve also got medium-duty diesel pickup trucks that need to be all plugged in. So you might have several different types of trucks, all doing different jobs, working at different times. So to be able to program that by the group of trucks or the shifts that those people and those trucks are working, man, that’s a lot of flexibility that works really well.

Sonny, when is Power Sync going to be the most effective at helping fleets lower their costs? I know in Canada, sometimes in the dead of winter, we can get up to minus 40, sometimes with wind chill, it could be minus 50. I would think that’s the time that the Power Sync would save fleets the most money. But when we were talking before we got on together, that isn’t necessarily the case. So could you explain?

Sonny Martin:

Yeah. It’s kind of a two part answer to that. And a lot of people think, well, the colder it is, the better in the more savings you get. It’s actually kind of opposite of that, no matter what it saves every month for the whole six, seven months, whatever your winter season is.

Jamie Irvine:

Six months in the states and nine months in Canada.

Sonny Martin:

Yeah you’re nine months. So as you’re coming into the coldest period of the time, you’re going to have days that may not necessarily need block heating the whole amount of time, but you still plug them in to be ready. So you would be using power that whole time.

So the way the panel works is now that it’s warmer, you’ll have those basically turning the times the day where it’s warmer, the panel will be shut down. It’ll have everything shut down. And as the temperatures get colder, that’s when it would activate. So at the beginning of the season, the end of the season typically is where this really saves the most money.

So like you talked about timers, timers are just, it’s shut off a certain amount of time during the day. Our panel does that, but it also looks at outside temperature. So for instance, if your panel is set for 26 degrees outside, let’s say, that’s when you’re going to act, you want it to activate. So when your schedule plays out, your schedules complete, it says, okay, I’m ready to heat.

Well, it starts looking at outside temperature that point, it says, well, it’s 28 degrees. It’s been there for a while. I’m going to go ahead and just l leave them off you don’t need them. So that’s kind of what people think, it’s not necessarily how cold it is, but it’s at the beginning, the end of the seasons where this thing really shines.

Jamie Irvine:

So really at the beginning of the winter season and at the end of the winter season is when Power Sync will save fleets the most money because in the dead of winter, the block heater needs to be running continuously, no matter what, because it’s so cold.

Sonny Martin:

So that’s really, when this thing saves to kind of second part of is just the, the controls algorithms that we use. The zone features. We give the customer the ability to decide how many hours prior to needing the vehicle that they want to activate the block heater.

We worked with block heater manufacturers, and they basically told us two to three hours that engine is going to get as hot as it’s going to get. So we’ve got a lot of really cool features built into the panel to give the customer the flexibility to configure how this block heater controller works that best fits their needs.

So our savings usually is pretty conservative and we’ve not missed one yet. We’ve always beat what we say. It just does what it says it’s gonna do and then some.

Jamie Irvine:

Where is there additional opportunities to save even more money because you’re using the Power Sync control panel to reduce electricity consumption?

Kurt:

And the other thing is most power companies recognize our panel as a custom rebate and a custom incentive. So the local power companies, depending on where you’re located, will offer incentive so that you’re not using as much power. And you kind of take some of the load off of their power grid. This one example I gave you earlier about the 186 buses, they received a $23,000 incentive. That’s pretty solid.

Jamie Irvine:

Put 23 grand in my pocket. I’d be happy.

Kurt:

Oh yeah.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine today. We’ve been speaking to Kurt and Sonny from Power Grid Energy Solutions. If you’d like to learn more about their solutions that reduce electricity consumption with block heaters, head over to power-sync.com that’s power-sync.com. Links will be in the show notes. Kurt, thank you so much for being on the show.

Kurt:

Appreciate it, had a great time. Thank you.

Jamie Irvine:

Sonny. I really appreciate you sharing your expertise and being on the show.

Sonny Martin:

Thank you so much. Appreciate it, Jamie. Thanks for having us.

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