The familiar rumble of a garbage truck rolling down the block may soon fade out of certain Palo Alto neighborhoods, as the city prepares to send its new all-electric truck on its first route.
The new truck, custom-made for Palo Alto by the Lancaster-based company BYD (which stands for "Build Your Dreams"), is just one refuse vehicle in a fleet of about 30. But if the experiment proves successful, it could be the sign of things to come for a city where the City Council has been doubling down on electric vehicles in recent years as part of a broad plan to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030.
GreenWaste of Palo Alto, which serves as city's vendor for refuse collection and owns all the trucks, planned to start experimenting with the BYD vehicle last week, said Chris Siebenthall, the company's operations manager. The idea is to start with recycling bins but ultimately test the truck on black and green bins that hold garbage and compost, respectively.
"We're going to try all three commodities," Siebenthall said. "We'll spend a week on one, try different drivers and get their feedback."
The goal is to ultimately have the truck handle all three streams in a route, said Phil Bobel, assistant director of Public Works.
City officials believe the new electric refuse truck is the first such vehicle in North America. As such, GreenWaste plans to slowly roll out the truck and experiment with the vehicle before making any major expansions in the fleet. According to BYD, it takes about two-and-a-half hours to fully charge the vehicle, which can travel between 65 and 70 miles on that charge.
One big question that has yet to be answered is whether it will be able to maintain this performance while carrying the garbage load from a Palo Alto neighborhood. Bobel said one of the reasons why this is a pilot project is because the city has yet to see how the truck performs with all the stopping, starting, compacting and loading that running a refuse truck entails.
"When you add all the things together, it's hard to predict," Bobel said.
While the new electric truck is significantly more expensive than the conventional diesel-powered variety (just over $400,000 for the former, compared to a little under $300,000 for the latter, according to Bobel), officials are excited about the possibilities. On Nov. 13, members of the City Council mingled with Public Works staff, and officials from BYD and GreenWaste during a celebration of the new vehicle.
Mayor Greg Scharff called the addition of an electric truck to the garbage fleet "amazing" and touted its environmental benefits. The truck is expected to save the city about 6,000 gallons of diesel per year and cut carbon dioxide equivalents by 72 metric tons annually.
"I'm hoping to get all-electric trucks everywhere because I'm always behind (garbage trucks) when the diesel comes out," Scharff said.