Photos courtesy of the Utility Expo.

From Grid to Green: Innovations Paving the Way for Sustainable Utilities

The Utility Expo, the largest event for utility professionals and construction contractors seeking comprehensive insights into the latest industry technologies, innovations and trends, made its return to the Kentucky Exposition Center in September. A record-setting gathering of over 21,000 utility construction professionals from all 50 states and 60 countries converged in Louisville to experience firsthand the latest equipment and cutting-edge technologies that bolster the utility sector.

Drawn by the promise of gaining profound industry insights, this event serves as a conduit to the latest trends, innovations and best practices in utility construction, ensuring participants remain on the cutting edge of their field.

The construction of utility infrastructure plays a pivotal role in modern society, offering a multitude of benefits that are indispensable to society’s well-being and progress. At its core, modernized utility infrastructure provides reliability, ensuring a consistent provision of essential services like electricity, clean water and Internet connectivity to homes, businesses and industries. This reliability, in turn, forms the foundation for economic growth by facilitating industrial production, attracting businesses and generating employment opportunities.

The equipment showcased by the exhibitors offered a firsthand look at the newest tools and machinery, allowing professionals to test and assess their relevance to their work.

The trademark of The Utility Expo was the spirit of innovation that permeated every corner. Pioneering technologies and groundbreaking solutions took center stage, underscoring the event’s commitment to driving progress and shaping the future of utilities. And the event did not disappoint, featuring a rise in alternative-energy equipment, reflecting growing regulations and changing customer preferences regarding off-road equipment emissions.

Photos courtesy of the Utility Expo.
Photos courtesy of the Utility Expo.

Stop the Engine, Start the ePTO

The current generation of bucket trucks relies on the truck’s engine to power the hydraulics that lift the crew into the air to access the utility lines or tree limbs that are on a job’s itinerary.

Now, manufacturers are introducing the ePTO, the electric power take-off. These systems allow an operator to turn off the engine of the bucket truck when they arrive on site, and use electricity, supplied by an onboard battery, to lift and hold the bucket in place. Two examples on hand at The Utility Expo 2023 were Terex’s HyPower SmartPTO and Custom Truck One Source (using Vanguard’s award-winning lithium-ion battery system) and Load King’s Lightning ePTO. The ePTO system also reduces wear and tear on the hydraulic oil and equipment because the electric system holds everything in place, adding maintenance cost savings to the existing fuel cost savings and emissions reductions.

Big Power, Small Cost

Volvo brought its electric-forward equipment lineup to The Utility Expo, including its ECR25 that debuted at The Utility Expo 2021, and the medium-duty EC230 electric excavator that debuted at CONEXPO-CON/AGG this past March.

For utility crews working jobs taking less than a day, the EC230 costs less to operate. Using an average cost of $0.16 per kWh (the EC230’s battery has a 264-kWh capacity), a full charge costs an operator just over $42 and provides four to five hours of active runtime. That could get a full day’s work done since the battery doesn’t use much energy while not actively working. That gives the Volvo an approximate operating cost of a little over $8 per hour, which is approximately half the price of similar diesel units at current fuel prices.

More Ways for Utility Crews to Go Electric

J-Tech, a key player in highway safety vehicles, unveiled an innovative attenuator truck in collaboration with Canadian EV startup Lion Electric. Using Lion Electric’s Lion6 Class-6 commercial chassis, J-Tech’s electric attenuator truck ensures highway safety for utility crews, bringing the benefits of lower costs and eliminating the environmental impact of engine idling.

Over at the Milwaukee Tool booth, the company, renowned for quality tools, showcased its hand-tool-focused M18 FUEL, and heavy-duty MX FUEL battery systems. The M18 system, when combined with Milwaukee’s REDLITHIUM technology and Super Charger, powers tools like the M18 FORECLOGIC 3” Underground Cable Cutter or SUPER HAWG Right Angle Drill with a 30 percent smaller battery, providing an 80 percent charge in just 15 minutes.

Simultaneously, the MX FUEL series powers tools, previously the domain of gas-powered equipment, such as the 14-inch Cut-Off Saw, 20-inch Plate compactor, or their all-electric Breaker. These battery-electric tools offer lighter weight, less vibration, less noise and no engine emissions enhancing utility jobsite efficiency.

Although some alternative energy equipment showcased at The Utility Expo remains in the concept/prototype stage, a substantial portion is ready for arrival on jobsites. The 2023 show featured a record amount of alternative energy tech, hinting at an even greater presence in the 2025 show.

AEM Hall of Fame inductees Akio Takeuchi (L) and Susanne Cobey (R). Photo courtesy of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).
AEM Hall of Fame inductees Akio Takeuchi (L) and Susanne Cobey (R). Photo courtesy of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

What Else is on the Horizon?

According to a Fact Sheet published by the White House in November 2022, approximately 70 percent of the country’s transmission lines are more than 25 years old, and lines that reach their lifespan cause energy distribution issues.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) published a report the previous year that documents how many hours energy customers experienced disruptions. In 2020, electricity customers experienced more than eight hours of power disruptions that year, which was the highest amount recorded by the EIA.

Energy companies face numerous challenges from power disruptions to environmental concerns to cost increases.

Energy storage is one of the latest means energy companies are using to address several of their top issues. By connecting large-scale battery energy storage solutions (BESS) installations to the grid, energy companies have the potential to make energy distribution more reliable, cheaper and greener.

Battery storage in the U.S. is growing exponentially. According to a 2022 analysis by the McKinsey Battery Insights team, “The entire lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery chain, from mining through recycling, could grow by over 30 percent annually from 2022 to 2030, when it would reach a value of more than $400 billion and a market size of 4.7 TWh (terawatts).”

Several recent changes to battery costs and power densities have made batteries more attractive as a large-scale solution. Also, new battery technologies, architectures and chemistries have been developed, which offer different strengths and characteristics, so batteries function better in specific applications.

Lithium-ion batteries are the dominant battery type on the market. According to the EIA, more than 90 percent of large-scale BESS systems in the U.S. use lithium-ion batteries.

The world’s largest BESS is the Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility in California. It’s a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery.

The growth of solar and wind-generated power is one of the top drivers of BESS, because solar and wind aren’t consistent sources of energy. And energy companies are planning for even more clean power development, so BESS is a great tool for helping them green their grids.

In response to the demand for greater storage solutions, companies are developing new solutions.

The Modern Tech That makes Modern Society Possible

If you’re interested in the latest trends in this industry, you can keep up to date at The Utility Expo. The Expo will return to Louisville and the Kentucky Exposition Center October 7-9, 2025.

Author Profile
John Rozum
Senior Director of Agriculture and Utility Exhibitions and Events - Association of Equipment Manufacturers

John Rozum is the Senior Director of Agriculture and Utility Exhibitions and Events at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

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