HomeGreen BusGreen Bus Summit Sessions Focus on Efficiency, Information

Green Bus Summit Sessions Focus on Efficiency, Information

During the Green Bus Summit at STN EXPO Indy, five school bus supplier companies hosted in-depth sessions on bringing electrification and related technology to a school bus operation.

The Benefits of a Turnkey Solution for Fleet Electrification
Blue Bird

Stephen Whaley, eastern alternative fuels manager for Blue Bird, shared that the 100-year-old company continues to evolve, noting that currently 60 percent of its buses are not diesel.

Western Alternative Fuels Manager Brad Beauchamp added that Blue Bird offers all the major bus fuel options currently in use and leverages partnerships, such as with Cummins for diesel and now for EV, to do that at scale. He confirmed that priority is given to refining the dealer network and providing training for drivers, mechanics and first responders.

David Clamage from Generate Capital explained that the Clean Bus Solutions (CBS) program is a 50-50 joint venture between his company and Blue Bird formed to help districts electrify by providing buses, charging infrastructure and support for a single monthly payment. He added that EV mandates nationwide will grow but funding may run out, and this solution will help with that.

“This is a complex transition … and this is how we look at it holistically,” he said.

Strategic Market Business Developer Michael Robinson explained how PowerFlex specializes in flexible and customizable one-stop-shop charging solutions that include solar and storage when desired.

Clamage shared that the average cost to districts is $1300-$1800 per month per bus. This includes the school bus, charging, grant services and training with a 10-year bus warranty.

The Differences Between Charging Cars, Trucks and Electric Buses
IC Bus

A.J. Palmisano, director of zero emissions charging and infrastructure for International Truck and IC Bus , reviewed the differences in EV charging availability for light-duty vehicles (cars), and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that have more challenging operations.

However, he said, the school buses are a great EV use case since they complete round trips, often come with funding, and have the potential to generate revenue via Vehicle to Grid. Cons are that unpredictable bus routes, field trips or early dismissal may require the more expensive DC fast chargers in order to turn the buses around in time.

He advised spreading out charge times or plugging in at night to avoid “gotcha” charging during the day at peak times. Interoperability is important, he said while addressing the challenge of having different charging and vehicle manufacturers.

“Sometimes your charger has a software update over the weekend and doesn’t work with your vehicle on Monday morning,” he added.

He explained that EVs have different connectors, so if a school bus pulls up to a public charging station, it may or may not be able to charge. Adapters may work but another challenge is that the software might not be compatible with the charger and vehicle.

“I know it’s a lot of information and seems scary, but we are going to get there. I have no doubt in my mind, it’s going to get a lot easier and a lot faster,” Palmisano summed up.

Exploring Contemporary Materials, Methods, Systems and Structures for EV School Bus Safety
GreenPower Motor

GreenPower President Brendan Riley shared that the company’s Type D BEAST and Type A Nano BEAST exceeded FMVSS standards, passed additional tests for structural safety, and come with a safe and sustainable battery solution.

He reviewed the vehicles’ structure, a steel frame forming a strong, lightweight lattice that is safer than other chassis due to its cage-like form. Bolts or rivets hold the aluminum together for a standard build like in airplanes, rather than the variability and potential imprecision of welding.

Videos showed the tests being conducted with concrete blocks placed on the buses and wide poles being flung at them, with the vehicles staying intact as required.

A flat floor with no wheel wells provides more space and wheelchair placement flexibility. The height of the floors keeps students outside the typical crash zone.

Attendees asked hard questions and Riley informed them it was about $65,000 to replace the BEAST battery, and $6,500 to replace the electric motor, along with a 5,000-mile recommended service cycle. He added that battery life is about 20 years, but data is still being collected. The new Mega BEAST has extra batteries to provide up to 300 miles per charge. Riley confirmed that lights and stop arm takes up very little battery.

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Related: Districts, Contractors Discuss School Bus Electrification Journey at ACT EXPO
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Setting a Path to Power Solutions

“We do take pride in being agnostic with this,” Ryan Vaughn, North American bus customer support manager for Cummins, said of the various school bus fuel and energy options on the market. He confirmed diesel is still being offered but is getting ever cleaner, and the upcoming “octane” or gasoline option will meet CARB standards. He reiterated that Cummins is eager to work with districts on the school bus specs that will meet their unique needs.

Kelly Samons, gas sales director of microgrid power generation for Cummins, dove into the microgrid and other redundancy and efficiency solutions Cummins offers for fleet charging to meet challenges in utility or grid outages, power demand increases, rising energy consumption, and sustainability goals.

Dr. Richard Garvin, director of strategy and commercial bus development for the alternative power department, reviewed Cummins’ offered EV charging solutions, including design, funding securement, equipment procurement, charge management software, operations and maintenance (O&M), and continuing service.

Garvin showcased Cummins’ offered charging equipment and confirmed that vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is also on their radar. He previewed soon-to-come solutions that will allow for point-of-sale transactions so other community fleet vehicles can charge at school district chargers without the district paying for the electricity. Vaughn confirmed for attendees that Cummins propane engine line has been terminated but hydrogen is being tested, with more information to come. He explained that Cummins looks at product demand and business financials to determine where to focus so they can be there long-term for their customers.

Benchmarking Your Fleet with Telematics & AI for Safety & Efficiency

Craig Berndt, student business segment manager for Geotab, the largest telematics and tracking company in the world, covered artificial intelligence best practices for student and driver safety, school bus maintenance and data-driven generative AI.

The rest of the panel included Weston Bartlett, Tyler Technologies sales manager and a former transportation director, Richard Lee, director of eastern U. S. school bus sales at Lion Electric, and Joe Becker, vice president of government sales and business development at Uptake, a provider of AI and IoT solutions for industrial sectors.

Lee shared that Lion uses telematics to help with a holistic fleet electrification process. “Beyond vehicles, AI can assist with the infrastructure. The school bus is easy, but it’s the charger and infrastructure that lead to a successful deployment,” he added.

Becker said AI can help transportation departments make sense of incoming data so they can better understand and predict needed bus maintenance. “When you start to leverage it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start doing it sooner,” he stated.

“The movement of data is extremely important to all of you,” Bartlett told the audience.

He underscored that suppliers are here to help.

“These [technology] companies are all a phone call away, and all they need to know are the three or four things you want to fix,” he noted. “They can quickly make a dashboard report to show you what you need to know.”

Berndt also gave security and efficiency tips. He addressed the use of generative AI versus in-house AI models, choosing integrated technology solutions if using multiple providers, and regularly passing on data to relevant administration and stakeholders.

“People get in trouble because when the accident happens, they were responsible because they did have the previous data available to them,” he noted.

The Green Bus Summit Ride & Drive Experience was held Monday afternoon at Victory Field and allowed attendees to take rides on clean school buses.

Taylor Ekbatani and Ruth Ashmore contributed to this report. Photos by Taylor Ekbatani. 

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