EV School Buses. Take Two.

April 29, 2018 – 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.

Transpower Electric School Bus

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.

eLion Electric School Bus

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.

Several recent developments are coming together and holding promise for real change in favor of EV school buses:

·         Technology progress, especially in terms of electric batteries.

·         Growth of EV city buses.

·         School bus industry starting to embrace the EV concept.

·         Total cost of ownership becoming favorable.

·         First cost coming down

·   New funding opportunities.

Lithium ion battery technology progress, more performance and lower costs, has been evident in the growth of EV passenger cars worldwide. Less visible has been the growth of EV city buses. According to EB Start by the end of 2017 there were 400 EV buses in operation in the US. It represented an 83% growth over 2016. Proterra and BYD are the market leaders. Both companies offer a several models of EV buses.

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 last year (2017) presented EV school buses.

Thomas Built Jouley Electric School Bus
Thomas Built Jouley Electric School Bus

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. It is planned to be available in 2019. Reportedly Thomas Built Buses have started to take orders.

Blue Bird Electric class D
Blue Bird Electric class D

Blue Bird presented two new EV school buses at the STN Tradeshow in July last year, one type D and one type A. They target start of production later this year (2018). Blue Bird had also been awarded a $4.4 Million DOE (Department of Energy) grant in 2016 to develop a Type C Vision EV school bus. For the type D EV school bus Blue Bird works together with California-based Adomani. The drivetrain is supplied by Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (EDI). The batteries will have 100-150 kWh capacity providing estimated 80-100 miles range on a single charge.

IC's chargE Electric School Bus
IC Electric Bus, the chargE (PRNewsfoto/IC Bus)

Also, IC Bus launched their concept EV school bus, chargeE™, last year, expected to be commercially available in 2019. IC Bus, which is part of Navistar International Corporation, is using an electric drivetrain from Volkswagen Truck&Bus. The first version will have a range of at least 120 miles.

In a recent (March 29 2018) report, Electric Buses in CitiesBloomberg New Energy Finance concludes that the total cost of ownership (TCO) already can be cheaper for EV buses than conventional buses thanks to lower operating and maintenance costs. The report predicts that EV buses will reach unsubsidized upfront cost parity with diesel buses around 2030.

Nevertheless, until EV school buses on a first cost basis are on par with diesel school buses, financial support to bridge that gap will be necessary, in order for EV school buses to really take off. One example how it can be done was shown in May last year, when Sacramento announced a fleet of 29 EV school buses to serve three school districts in the Sacramento area. It was the first of its kind in the U.S. The initiative was possible thanks to a $7.5 Million grant funding from proceeds of California’s cap and trade program, and $7 Million in cost share with the nine project partners, including Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

Probably the best opportunity to accelerate EV school buses may come from the 2016 federal court settlement with Volkswagen (VW) after VW was found to have intentionally programmed TDI (turbo charged diesel injection) diesel engines to activate the maximum emissions control only during emission tests. In real world driving NOx emissions could be up to 40 times higher. As part of the settlement VW agreed to pay $2.7 billion to states to reduce NOx emissions. Through a trust, Environmental Mitigation Trust, the money will be distributed states in proportion to the number of diesel vehicles sold. It will range from $7.5 M to $381 M per state. The money is expected to start becoming available this year. What better use of these funds than for EV school buses?!!

Source:  This Article was published by ORKAS, an independent consulting company serving companies and institutions active in primarily the electric energy sector, on June 9, 2014.

Electric Buses in Cities: Driving Towards Cleaner Air and Lower CO2

April 10, 2018 – Key findings in the report, Electric Buses in Cities: Driving Towards Cleaner Air and Lower CO2, authored by BNEF on behalf of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, highlight e-buses’ competitiveness with conventional diesel and CNG fueled buses. 

Air quality is a growing concern in many urban environments and has direct health implications for residents. Tailpipe emissions from internal combustion engines are one of the major sources of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulates. Diesel engines in particular have very high nitrogen oxide emissions and yet these make up the majority of the global bus fleet.

As the world’s urban population continues to grow, identifying sustainable, cost effective transport options is becoming more critical. Electric vehicles – including electric buses – are one of the most promising ways of reducing harmful emissions and improving overall air quality in cities.

E-buses have much lower operating costs and can already be cheaper, on the basis of total cost of ownership, than conventional buses today. The TCO of all electric bus configurations that we modelled improves significantly in relation to diesel buses as the number of kilometers traveled annually increases. For example, a 110kWh battery e-bus coupled with the most expensive wireless charging reaches TCO parity with diesel bus at around 60,000km traveled per year (37,000 miles).This means that a bus with the smallest battery, even when coupled with the most expensive charging option, would be cheaper to run in a medium sized city, where buses travel on average 170km/day (106 miles).

TCO comparison for e-buses and diesel buses with different annual distance traveled

Bloomberg Cost Chart

Large cities with high annual bus mileages can therefore choose from a number of electric options, all cheaper than diesel and CNG buses. Even the most expensive electric bus – the 350kWh battery e-bus, slowly charged once per day at the depot – at 80,000km per year has a TCO of $0.92/km, just at par with diesel buses. Compared to a CNG bus, it is around $0.11/km cheaper in terms of the TCO. This indicates that in a megacity, where buses travel at least 220km/day, using even the most expensive 350kWh e-bus instead of a CNG bus could bring around $130,000 in operational cost savings over the 15-year lifetime of a bus.

Despite the potential operational savings, there are still some challenges for electric buses, with their high upfront cost compared to equivalent diesel buses being one of the biggest obstacles. To tackle this, new business models are emerging, involving battery leasing, joint procurement and bus sharing. However, our analysis of battery cost curves indicates that electric buses will reach unsubsidized upfront cost parity with diesel buses by around 2030. By then, the battery pack in the average e-bus should only account for around 8% of the total e-bus price – down from around 26% in 2016. Furthermore, increasing demand for e-buses could bring e-bus battery prices down faster. In that case, electric buses would reach cost parity with diesel buses by the mid-2020s.

The full report is available for download here.

C40 released this report at the Financing Sustainable Cities Forum in New York City on April 10, 2018. Through their work and programs like the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative – a partnership funded by the Citi Foundation between C40 and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities –  C40 provides technical resources to help cities make the most efficient and most cost-effective policy and procurement decisions for their own circumstances.

Source:  This Article published on Bloomberg New Energy Finance Blog on April 10, 2018.

Plug-In Electric School Buses. What Are We Waiting For?

June 9, 2014 – The yellow school bus is an American icon. There are over 450,000 of them. Overall they are robust, reliable and safe.

However, they are anything but clean. Almost all school buses use diesel engines. The exhaust contains particulate matters, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOC). Studies have shown that children in buses are exposed to unhealthy levels of these emissions. While breathing diesel exhaust is not healthy for anybody, it is more serious for children, since their respiratory systems are still developing.

Transpower Electric School Bus

The exhaust problem is well known and several actions have been taken to mitigate the problem, e.g. by reducing idling time, changing  drive patterns, installing  filters, etc. New diesel engines are much cleaner than the old ones, but harmful emissions issues remain.

The ultimate, some would say “no-brainer”, solution would be to make school buses plug-in electric (PEV). It would eliminate the exhaust emission issue once and for all. The technology is available and is being demonstrated in pilot projects like the one in Kings Canyon Unified School District in California. The program started in March this year and will be expanded to four PEV school buses. The school district expects to save $10,000+ per year in just fuel and maintenance costs.

So why do we not have more of PEV school buses?  Why is it not happening? The reasons have been performance and cost. The performance issues have been limited operating range, insufficient power, inadequate reliability etc. However, major technical progresses, including applying solutions from other plug-in electric vehicles, have largely eliminated the performance issues. In a recent completed project, Economical Electric School Bus (EESB) project, implemented by TransPower with funding from California Air Resource Board (CARB) an electric school bus with an advanced electric drive train demonstrated excellent performance including one month of service with Escondido Union High School District. (Economical Electrical School Bus EESB Final Project Report June 2, 2014.)

The cost issue is the biggest challenge. School districts have limited funds and have rarely any other option than going for the lowest first cost when buying new buses. The present school bus design offers the lowest first cost.  A new diesel-powered school bus costs $110,000 – 180,000 (depending on type, size and equipment). Corresponding PEV buses cost $230,000 – 440,000.  A charging station can add several thousands of dollars unless the charger is integrated in the electric power train. Evenwith fuel and maintenance savings for the electric school bus the total cost of ownership (TCO) during the estimated 14 years of life tends to come lower for the diesel-powered school bus.

However, PEV school buses have unique features that can be monetized. When connected to the electric grid they can provide a power source for the grid. The Vehicle to Grid (V2G) concept has been demonstrated in PJM Interconnect. A fleet of 15 BMW Minis participated during 2013 in PJM’s Regulation Market, a reserve product to balance supply and demand on a second-by-second basis.

Fleet vehicles in general and school buses in particular, are by far the vehicles best suited for V2G applications. School buses have defined routes of limited range and very predictable time of use. During school days they bring the school children to school in the morning and back home in the afternoon. The other 17 hours of the day they can be plugged in, provide V2G services and collect the revenue for it.

Lance Noel and Regina McCormack at University of Delaware, which is a research and demonstrations leader in V2G, has done a detailed analysis, “A cost benefit analysis of a V2G-capable electric school bus compared to a traditional diesel school bus”, compares a Smith Newton electric school bus equipped with a 70 kWh battery to a Type C diesel school bus. The study uses data from PJM’s ancillary service markets and typical routes and schedules for the school buses. The conclusion is that a PEV school bus with the V2G benefits will have a lower TCO than a traditional diesel-powered school bus. The difference is significant, $218,000, which does not include the value of lower emissions!

The analysis shows that the annual fuel cost for the diesel bus is $6,350. For the PEV school bus the “fuel cost”, i.e. the electricity, will be $714. Nevertheless, the V2G benefits, which were calculated to be $15,274 per year for the regulation services, is the potential “game changer”.

Trying to quantify the emission externalities the analysis also takes into account the emissions from the power plants generating the electricity to charge the PEV school bus. Even so, the electric school bus emits (indirectly) only 1/6 of the emissions of the diesel bus. For the school children the real difference is much bigger, since they are in and at the source, the diesel school bus.

For the carbon (CO2) emissions the difference between the two types of buses is significant. According to the analysis the diesel bus emits 22.2 lbs. of carbon per kWhThe electric bus emits (indirectly) 1.18 lbs./kWh. Using the National Research Council’s estimate of the average social cost for carbon, $36 per metric ton, it adds up.

Transpower Electric Bus Charging
Transpower Electric School Bus Charging

With the much lower TCO, assuming the V2G benefits, and the additional benefits of lower emissions the rational decision would be to buy PEV school buses instead of continuing to buy traditional diesel school buses. Nevertheless, the first cost of the diesel bus will remain substantially lower than the electric bus. Realistically, it will be a major barrier for the PEV bus.

Over time the gap in first cost will be reduced thanks to increased production volumes and resulting economy of scale. However, due to the cost of the battery the electric bus will always cost more. A rough estimate is that for a full-size school bus, the cost delta could eventually be reduced down to $100,000, give or take.

In spite of the $218,000 savings in TCO even the $100,000 in the higher first cost may still be a hurdle for the school districts to overcome. One possibility to bridge the first cost delta would be in markets like PJM to have a third party contribute (basically invest in the battery) in return for a revenue stream from the V2G services. In non-electric markets it could be the vertically integrated electric utility to do the same.

In States like California, PEV school buses may also get carbon credits the same way as Tesla, who has been able to monetize the carbon credits up to about $35,000 per car! Since the purpose of the California carbon credits is to reduce carbon emissions, one could argue for awarding more credits to an electric school bus than to an electric passenger car.  The electric bus replaces a diesel bus, while an electric passenger car replaces an already rather fuel efficient passenger car.

In summary, technology progresses, more awareness of emissions, the opportunity of V2G and the possibility of carbon credits will make electric school buses increasingly attractive and hopefully the “no-brainer” choice.

Source:  This Article was published by ORKAS, an independent consulting company serving companies and institutions active in primarily the electric energy sector, on June 9, 2014.

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