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New Trucks Play Catch-Up

As Vehicles Get More High-Tech, Now They Also Must Get Greener

For years, the people who make news trucks just tried to keep pace with the latest technology. Stations wanted to collect news electronically so they could have a quicker feed without having to go through the film editing process, and truck outfitters delivered.

Then stations wanted satellite feeds, and satellite news-gathering trucks were born, most often in combination with electronic news-gathering vehicles, which were now an industry standard. Then stations wanted news in high definition from the field, and truck outfitters scrambled to oblige. All the news trucks, like ambulances and military command vehicles, were generator powered, and hardly anybody seemed worried about fuel emissions or carbon footprints.

In July 2007, L-3 Wolf Coach, now of Ayer, Mass., delivered the nation’s first hi-def news fleet to KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. The hi-def fleet was bigger news than the E-N-G OmniLink 2000 news van that was delivered a year earlier to KTVU-TV in Oakland, Calif., which boasted space for news production and laptop editing, along with a 1.2-meter satellite dish. It was also a hybrid.

But most hybrids present problems for news-gathering vehicles, and while many stations now want to reduce fuel emissions, green technology for TV news trucks is still hard to come by. It can be expensive to boot.

L-3 Wolf Coach, E-N-G Mobile Systems and Frontline Communications supply most of the electronic news-gathering needs of the television industry nationwide, in addition to outfitting command vehicles for the military.

“The technology is catching up with the need to go green,” said Rex A. Reed, director of business and product development at E-N-G Mobile Systems, which outfits electronic and digital satellite news-gathering trucks. “There haven’t been products till now that are capable of catching up. But there are new, high-quality products now. We’re at the crossroads where technology and consumer needs intersect.”

A number of problems must be overcome to make a news truck green, Mr. Reed said. Generators are efficient but high-emission. And batteries “tend to be direct current voltage, while equipment tends to be alternating. So we have to have a device that inverts the power from DC to AC.”

“That’s old technology,” he said, “but it’s always been done crudely, until the last five to eight years.”

Inverter technology has improved significantly, he said, and now there are many more inverter products that are “proven equal to the power in the walls of your building.”

“Consumer demand for solar power has increased,” Mr. Reed said, “and that demand has caused suppliers to build better equipment—because as demand for solar and wind power increases, manufacturers can afford to build additional alternative power sources.

“It always comes down to supply and demand. If high demand and competition go up, people build better products.”

Test vehicles are in the field to prove that the concept works, he said, noting that one test site for a public utility “has been successfully operational for nine months.

“The people [at television stations] must all be from Missouri,” he added, “because they all want us to prove that it works. They keep saying ‘Show me.’ But there are so many people who want this technology to work.”

Four Stations Testing

Four TV stations, including KTVU, which serves the San Francisco Bay area, are also testing the trucks. John Stevens, manager of electronic news-gathering operations for the station, said KTVU is testing “a unit that charges while the vehicle is running. It replaces the generator with a No-Gen product.”

“We’re looking at ways to cut maintenance, fumes and fuel usage,” Mr. Stevens said. But he cautioned it is too early to tell whether the No-Gen truck is ready. “It’s a first test run.”

According to product information provided by Mr. Reed, E-N-G’s No-Gen truck “replaces the generator with a very high-capacity storage battery and high-quality pure sine-wave inverters.”

A “typical news truck” can operate for more than two hours on the No-Gen, Mr. Reed said, and it recharges while the truck is being driven. It can also be recharged from an electrical outlet when parked overnight.

E-N-G expects to work out any kinks in the tested No-Gen units by the end of the year, and plans to begin selling the vehicles in January.

Frontline Communications in Clearwater, Fla., outfits broadcast vehicles such as the E-350 Hightop, Sprinter, and the NT series. According to a company spokesperson, “It takes a 5.5 all the way to a 10- kilowatt generator to power a news truck. And hybrids can be funky. They charge when they’re running, and TV trucks need to be parked for long periods of time. There’s so much engineering that’s needed to tie in the batteries to a longer timeframe of power.”

To sidestep the battery problem altogether, Frontline is hoping to develop a truck that would run on natural gas. The company has called in experts from New York, Chicago and “other areas that have green initiatives” to give their input on the development process.

For more stories about environmental journalism, visit TVWeek's Newspro page here.

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