Case Study: Hawaii Electric Light Keeps Employees Safe, Reduces Operating Costs With Telematics


by Gregory Van Tighem

Located in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Lanai and Molokai are powered by independent electric grids.

Responsibility for servicing those grids falls under the Hawaiian Electric Cos., which serve 95 percent of the state’s 1.4 million residents.

Hawaii Electric Light and Maui Electric Co. are subsidiaries of Oahu-based Hawaiian Electric Co.

Together, all three companies are part of the Hawaiian Electric Cos.

Blessed with an abundance of renewable energy sources, the Hawaiian islands give Hawaiian Electric Cos. the opportunity to help the state achieve the most ambitious clean energy goals in the nation.

More than 40 percent of Hawaii Electric Light’s generation comes from renewable sources such as geothermal, wind, run-of-river hydroelectric and solar.

Because of that, the company is a national leader in renewable energy integration, said Kelvin Kohatsu, fleet administrator at Hawaii Electric Light.

At some 4,028 square miles, Hawaii, or the Big Island, is the largest of the five Hawaiian islands.

Its terrain ranges from lush, tropical growth on the east side to desert-like conditions on the west side to freezing temperatures atop Mauna Kea mountain.

To serve the 80,000 customers who live and work on that vast, diverse terrain, Hawaii Electric Light’s distribution system is composed of more than 3,300 miles of overhead lines, more than 780 miles of underground lines and 641 miles of overhead transmission lines.

Telematics Improves
Employee Safety

The large service area, diverse terrain and variable weather make maintaining infrastructure and reliability a challenge, but safety is Hawaii Electric Light’s top priority, Kohatsu said.

His drivers log 1.7 million miles annually. Crews can work in distant, remote areas, and some employees work alone.

Hawaii Electric Light operates a fleet with more than 300 pieces of equipment including bucket trucks, pickup trucks and forklifts.

In 2013, its fleet was recognized as one of the Top 50 Green Fleets in the nation by Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.

All diesel-fueled vehicles run on biodiesel; nearly all use B20 and the rest on pure biodiesel.

The fleet also contains 26 light hybrid vehicles, three electric-powered Nissan Leafs, two plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) Toyota Priuses, six Class 5 Dodge diesel-powered bucket trucks with Altec JEMS 48 systems’ providing electric-powered bucket operation, and two hybrid diesel-electric class 7 Kenworth bucket trucks.

The Kenworth T370 hybrid is the first of its kind in the state and has nearly double the fuel mileage of the truck it replaced.

In 2008, Kohatsu turned to telematics to improve safety.

With telematics, the company could monitor equipment and employees better.

This feature was critical for the safety of employees who work alone in remote locations, Kohatsu said.

Telematics also resulted in dispatching efficiencies and safer driving practices.

“The telematics system gives us a much higher degree of transparency into our fleet operations,” Kohatsu said. “We can monitor behaviors and correct those that are costly. Our drivers aren’t going as fast, and we aren’t seeing those jack rabbit starts. When drivers stop at company offices or at job sites, they turn off the truck engine instead of leaving it idling.”

Hawaii Electric Light also reduced its diesel fuel consumption by more than 22,000 gallons in the first six months compared with the same period in 2007, Kohatsu said.

“We were essentially traveling the same number of miles-about 1.7 million per year-but we were still seeing a huge reduction in our fuel consumption,” he said.

By 2009, telematics systems were installed on all trucks in the fleet.

The company switched to Zonar in 2012.

“I did some research on different telematic system options,” Kohatsu said. “Zonar had such a great reputation for service, which was key for me.”

Consistency Through Automated Inspection Reports

Zonar’s Electronic Vehicle Inspection Reporting (EVIR) system is an effective tool for Hawaii Electric Light; however, Kohatsu was skeptical at first.

“I’m an old-timer,” he said. “I didn’t know if this technology would actually help our operations. I was used to doing things the old-fashioned way with a pen, paper and a clipboard.”

As a former vehicle inspection judge for state truck driving championships, Kohatsu believes in the basics: Drivers must do their inspection reports completely and consistently for inspection reports to be effective.

He found the EVIR system automates the process with prompts to help drivers complete pre- and post-inspection reports completely and consistently.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are placed on Hawaii Electric Light’s equipment in critical inspection zones.

These weather-tough tags contain information about their location on the unit, the components to be inspected and the identity of the vehicle or piece of equipment.

Using Zonar’s EVIR inspection tool, drivers conduct inspections by placing the reader within inches of the tag and indicating the condition of the components within the zone using one-hand, push-button responses.

When a defect is discovered, the driver selects a description from a pre-defined list and indicates whether the equipment is safe to operate.

“Zonar’s EVIR holds drivers accountable since it keeps track of when they did their inspections and how long it took them,” Kohatsu said. “As a manager, EVIR gives me the ability to counsel drivers more effectively.”

Kelvin Kohatsu
Kelvin Kohatsu, fleet administrator at Hawaii Electric Light, is responsible for one of the Top 50 Green Fleets in the nation, according to Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.

Fleet Maintenance System Integration Improves Repair Shop Efficiency

When the inspection is complete, drivers place the handheld unit into the EVIR mount inside the cab.

The telematics platform gathers the inspection data and remote diagnostic information and wirelessly transmits it to Zonar’s Web-based Ground Traffic Control data management application.

Zonar then integrates the data from its EVIR and telematics system into FleetFocus, Hawaii Electric Light’s fleet maintenance system developed by AssetWorks.

This integration allows service requests to be generated and transmitted automatically through email and the FleetFocus portal to Kohatsu and Hawaii Electric Light’s maintenance vendors.

Once repairs are performed and marked complete in FleetFocus, they are uploaded automatically to Ground Traffic Control, indicating the vehicle is in compliance for operation.

Because the data management application is Web-based, the utility’s dispatchers know when trucks are ready to return to service.

Diesel Consumption
Reduced by 40,000 Gallons
in Four Years

After the telematics equipment was installed in 2012, Hawaii Electric Light saw further diesel fuel consumption reduction: about 18,000 gallons.

Combined with the 22,000-gallon reduction from 2008 to 2009, fuel savings totaled more than 40,000 gallons although the fleet’s annual mileage stayed constant at some 1.7 million miles during those four years.

“It was clear proof to me that telematics strongly influence driver behavior,” Kohatsu said. “You can’t hold drivers accountable and change their behaviors without an objective way to measure their performance.”

The integration of Zonar and Asset Works has made the generation of work orders as a result of driver-identified defects or vehicle sensors seamless for Hawaii Electric Light, Kohatsu said.

“Our uptime has increased, and our life cycle costs have dropped,” he said. “Most important, we have a safer fleet operation, and injury incidences have been nearly eliminated.”

Gregory Van Tighem is a business writer living in the Seattle area. He writes business stories about truck transportation and manufacturing, telematics and truck financing. He also has worked as a reporter at three newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 1989.

More PowerGrid International Issue Articles
PowerGrid International Articles Archives
View Power Generation Articles on
Previous articleDemand Response – The New Customer Engagement Language of Smart Grid
Next articleSmart Grid Demand Response Communications – The Need for the Right Standards

No posts to display