Renewable Roundup: EV school buses take the next step

  • Published on May 20th, 2020

School buses are not the thing during the Coronavirus disaster with the schools closed, but that will end. When we last looked, there were a few hundred electric school buses in tests here and there. We will soon have entire states going all in on them, 100%, Virginia first.

Daimler-Thomas electric jooley schoolbus EV

By Mokurai

Largest Electric School Bus Program In United States Launching In Virginia

Dominion Energy has partnered with local Virginia school districts to begin replacing diesel buses with 100% electric school buses in phases. No phase can come too soon, so CleanTechnica wishes all school districts a rapid rollout after the initial 50 launch the program. Children are more sensitive to air pollution than adults, and it hurts them and their studies.

Thomas Built Buses Inc (TBB) has been selected as the provider of all 50 of the initial electric school buses. These buses are supposed to go into operation this year. This will already be the largest deployment of electric school buses in the United States. After 2020, Dominion Energy will add 200 electric school buses per year for the next 5 years, with the goal being to reach a 50% electric bus fleet — 1,000 electric school buses — by 2025. The aim is to reach 100% electric school buses by 2030.

Air quality inside the buses is reportedly 6× better than in non-EV buses.

New Vehicle-to-Grid Technology

The benefits of the buses go beyond clean transportation and greatly reduced pollution. The buses can be used as batteries for the grid or for electricity use off the grid as well. Dominion Energy shares, “When not in use, they can be tapped as an energy resource through vehicle-to-grid technology. If energy needs are high or if renewable resources are intermittent, the batteries can provide stability to the grid. During a power outage or emergency, the batteries could serve as mobile power stations.”

1,050 electric buses could provide enough energy to power 10,000+ homes.

Increased Safety

Going another step further, the electric buses provide more child and driver safety than previous buses. “Electric buses are quiet, allowing for better communication between drivers and students,” Dominion Energy adds. “Every bus is equipped with a seatbelt for each student.”

Cutting Maintenance Costs

As everyone who has had an electric car knows, electric vehicles require very little maintenance. They don’t need oil changes or muffler fixes, and they’re unlikely to need new brakes before you’re done with the vehicle. Here’s a list of more specific benefits from Dominion:

  • Reduce operation & maintenance costs for schools by 60%
  • Lower cost + Less maintenance
  • Equivalent of 17 MPG compared to 6 MPG for diesel
  • Charging stations & infrastructure provided at no cost to school
  • One bus reduces C02 emissions by 54,000 pounds each year
  • 50 buses reduces emissions by 2.7 million pounds
  • Replacing 1,050 buses over 5 years with new electric ones will reduce emissions by 810 million pounds, the equivalent to taking 78,000 cars off the road!

EV School Buses. Take Two.

There are about 550,000 school buses in United States and Canada. Each day some 26 million children ride on school buses.

For long school buses have been the ideal candidate to go electric instead of being diesel. Eliminating the exposure of the exhaust from diesel engines would be a significant health benefit. In addition, from the electric grid perspective the battery storage in the school buses could be a valuable resource for balancing the system, thanks to school buses having defined schedules, idle during the middle of the day and parked during the summer.

As discussed four years ago, Plug-In-Electric-School-Buses-What-Are-We-Waiting-For? , one would, at a first glance, think EV school buses would be a “no-brainer”, but at a closer look many barriers exist. Especially, the lower first cost for the traditional diesel buses has been hard to overcome for the roughly 3,400 contractors and 10,000 school districts, which in most cases are financially constrained.

Probably the first demonstration of an EV school bus was in 1994 in Southern California with a bus built by Blue Bird. It was probably too much ahead of time to be a viable concept. For example, the battery technology was still lead-acid. However, in the last 5 years there have been significant progress. The interest for clean buses have grown substantially and with the lithium ion battery advancements, the idea of EV school buses has become much more viable. Pioneering companies like Trans Tech Bus, have in several pilot programs demonstrated operational EV school buses. In most cases, the buses in these pilot programs have been conversions of traditional school buses to electric drivetrains, developed and supplied by specialist companies like Adomani and TransPower.

In addition to retrofit EV school buses companies like Lion Electric Co. in St-Jerome, Quebec, Canada, have developed dedicated EV school buses, incorporating also other technical advancements such as composite materials to reduce weight. The school bus, named eLion, was launched late 2015 and started to sell the following year.

Three companies dominate the school bus industry: Thomas Built Buses, Blue Bird Corporation and IC Bus. In a remarkable turn of events, all three of them presented EV school buses [in 2017].

Thomas Built Buses, which is owned by Daimler, presented its first EV school bus with the basic option of a 60-kWh battery providing a range close to 100 miles.

Volkswagen diesel settlement funding electric school buses

Of all the kinds of vehicles that can be made electric, school buses sure make a lot of sense.

Electric school buses have fewer maintenance needs and no noise pollution. And they curb diesel emissions—including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide—that can contribute to asthma and other health issues.

Michigan announced Tuesday that 17 electric school buses, split over seven school districts across the state, are being placed into service to replace older diesel buses.

In Michigan’s case, the buses are covered partly by the Michigan Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, established by the $64.8 million the state received from the VW settlement. The projects under the plan will also include local freight vehicles and shuttle/transit buses starting later this year.

Now, if they plow the savings from the first set of electric school buses into buying more, they’re off! You know, you can actually talk to Republicans about saving real money in government.

Last fall one of the other best-known coachbuilders, Blue Bird, revealed that it had about 100 orders for electric school buses and had delivered them to schools in California, North Dakota, and Washington. That company in its demo buses uses a 140-kwh battery pack—also with a two-speed transmission—good for about 100 miles in a 75,000-pound vehicle.

North Dakota! Where it can get to −60 °F/−51 °C outside in the winter! (Jack London’s deadly To Build a Fire temperatures) Yes, battery pack insulation and warming circuitry have also made notable advances in recent years. They’ll still lose some range from keeping the kiddies and the driver from freezing to death.

You know what? I’m OK with that.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

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