RENO, Nev. – Sunday was packed full of informative classes sharing clean school bus knowledge from the industry’s biggest players and school districts with real-world experience.
“Our industry is the tip of the spear.”
Alex Cook, Chief Engineer for FirstGroup, on Commercial Vehicle Electrification
A panel discussion led by Tim Ammon, vice president and general manager for Zonar, discussed establishing partnerships to help overcome barriers to EV adoption.
Wes Bennion, solutions engineer with ChargePoint, advised looping in the utility earlier rather than later to ensure there is sufficient power for varied district needs.
Anton Lotter, director of transportation for Poway Unified School District in California, confirmed that miscommunication among any of the needed entities can result in delays for electric integration.
“EV is different but not difficult,” said Katie Stok, segment marketing director for IC Bus. She outlined the three main points that districts and their partners should hit on their timelines: consulting, charging and deployment.
David Pearson, senior solutions manager for Zonar, spoke on the importance of data collection for funding requirements and ongoing efficiency.
Albert Burleigh, Blue Bird’s executive director of EV business development, led a panel that tackled the question of infrastructure, including site assessments, future planning, charger selection, and charge management software.
Stephen Kelley, chief communications officer for InCharge U.S., underscored the importance of a roadmap in the interest of future-proofing.
Nuvve CEO Gregory Poilasne and Polara Vice President Stephen Koskoletos agreed that equipment specifications and upgrade options should be carefully considered as EV technology continues to develop.
Questions abound about deploying electric school buses in differing locations and weather conditions. GreenPower’s session shed light on the topic by examining the results of a nine-month, all-electric school bus pilot project that took place in 18 counties across West Virginia and accumulated over 32,000 miles. Buses ran in 10- to 80-degree conditions, in snow and rain, and on rural roads.
Mark Nesten, GreenPower’s vice president of business development and strategy, shared that heating used much more power than air conditioning. He added that mountainous terrain also had little impact on range as regenerative braking used on the declines recaptures energy.
Bus driver Dr. Barry Miller of Calhoun County School District and Superintendent Dr. Tom Williams of Kanawha County School District shared their positive experiences with the ESBs their districts piloted, mentioning that initial skepticism turned into driver, mechanic and student satisfaction with the clean, quiet, smooth-riding vehicles.
Zum’s session took a community focus as co-founder and COO Vivek Garg led a panel talking about how a school district can plan for its EV transition, keeping in mind both short- and long-term potential of the electric bus fleet and charging infrastructure in its community.
Sue Gander, director of the World Resources Institute, and Ernest Epley, director of transportation for California’s Fremont Unified School District, spoke to the need for comprehensive grant resources, proactive applications, and stacking funds for greater efficiency.
Rudi Halbright, expert product manager of vehicle-grid integration with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, shared how school bus battery size and route timing make ESBs an ideal choice for providing grid support, charging when rates are low and discharging when rates are high. He added that this setup also gives districts a financial incentive and helps prevent battery degradation.
“Utilities are going to be dependent on school buses,” said Garg.
“Are we making the grade when it comes to EV development?” queried a session by Autel and Geotab that looked at how telematics and connected vehicle data can enhance the EV transformation and selection process, while building a more reliable operation free of range anxiety and surprise costs.
Craig Berndt, business development manager of shared mobility for Geotab, stated that “everything starts with data.”
Malinda Sandhu, director of business development for The Lion Electric Co., compared an urban school district operation with short routes to a larger contractor operation or one whose drivers take their buses home. The details must be noted as different bus fleets will require unique charging situations.
Thy Tang, founder of Treker, noted that routing must be dialed in so electric school bus drivers are not going off route or taking wrong turns and using unnecessary battery.
A session by longtime diesel and CNG engine provider Cummins, which recently introduced its zero-emissions division Accelera, explored the next generation of internal combustion engines and zero emission technologies.
Franciso Lagunas, Cummins North America bus segment general manager, said that efforts must start now in the transition to Destination Zero, Cummins’ commitment to achieve zero emissions by 2050. The company’s technology approach will be a base engine design with different parts based on the chosen fuel or energy source. Offerings will include diesel, natural gas, gasoline, propane and battery electric.
“What Cummins can do that no other can, is offer the power of your choice,” Lagunas said.
Bahar Konak, Accelera’s global bus business development director, reviewed the division’s electric powertrain options and reiterated that Cummins looks to serve districts’ unique needs as no one size fits all.
Scaling an electric fleet operation can be a daunting task, so contractor Student Transportation of America took a wholistic look at the topic.
Panelists included Alec Borror, sales director of electric vehicles for IC Bus; Marcus Gilmore, Engie’s senior manager of sustainability solutions for the Americas; and Stephen Kelley, chief communications officer for InCharge U.S.
Borror affirmed Navistar is ramping up ESB production to support the needs of more and more districts moving to electric. “This is not just a transportation director project,” said Gilmore. He stressed the need for all hands on deck, or alternatively a turnkey solution like Engie provides, to achieve electrification smoothly.
For financial support, the panelists recommended creatively utilizing federal, state and local grants, bonds, utility and air quality district assistance, and private funding – with many options being stackable.
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A panel by Our Next Energy (ONE) and northeastern bus contractor Suffolk Transportation Services invited attendees into a discussion about the real challenges to electrification. Moderated by STN Publisher and President Tony Corpin, the discussion began with a look at Suffolk’s electrification journey for the past decade.
Thomas Smith, Suffolk’s vice president and executive director of operations, reviewed the challenge ahead to comply with New York’s mandate that all school buses must be electric by 2035 but expressed optimism with the head start the company already has.
“All changes are difficult, but we’ll get there,” Director of Vehicle Maintenance Tino Gustavson expressed. A big part of the shift, he said, will be training the diesel mechanics to work on ESBs.
Ben Richardson, senior vice president of business development for Our Next Energy, shared how the battery manufacturer is addressing the concerns of battery safety, sustainability and cost.
A Nuvve session hosted by Senior Vice President of Sales David Bercik and Senior Sales Manager Rawah Baker highlighted two school district “superheroes” of fleet electrification.
The story of Salt Lake City School District, the first district in Utah to go electric, appeared in the June issue of STN. Transportation Manager Ken Martinez spoke favorably of his partnership with Nuvve, which tracks telematics and can even bring attention to battery problems remotely.
Katie Delano, recently retired director of transportation services for Coalinga Huron Unified School District in California, obtained millions of dollars in grants from programs like California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) and ordered 26 electric buses from A-Z Bus Sales. “Be attentive, relentless and diligent,” she declared. “Follow the money for the grants.”
Martinez advised caution when choosing a charger provider as some may be more concerned with finalizing business deals and not being a good partner for the district. “Pay attention and know what you’re getting in chargers,” Delano agreed.
Brandon Bluhm, vice president of sales for A-Z Bus Sales, agreed with Baker that creativity is needed with obtaining funding and securing the best chargers for school bus operational needs. He added that Nuvve’s V2G options can assist with grid resiliency.
Brandon Bryson, president of Bryson Sales & Service of Washington, which serves four states, said that the proliferation of clean energy providers and funding sources on the market necessitate careful research and education so that all partners are on the same page.
National school bus contractor First Student recently began heavily integrating electric school buses into its fleet. Its panel focused on practical considerations and the partnership between energy providers and school districts for a greener and more reliable pupil transportation system.
Chief Engineer Alex Cook reviewed First Student’s charger choices based on site needs and location. “There’s a lot of possibilities in our space to use our assets,” he said while sharing how vehicle to everything (V2X) can make idle school buses useful in the summer. He added that school buses could be a big part of supporting the power grid during rolling brownouts and blackouts, which are only projected to increase.
Yair Crane, fleet electrification specialist with Enel Energy, expanded on vehicle to grid (V2G) options and other new technology available for buses.
“Our industry is the tip of the spear,” Cook declared.
Christina Celeste, director of transportation for Orange Unified School District in California, shared her experiences as well as insights into various aspects of implementing electric school buses.
“What we can do as industry leaders, we’ll do to help you,” Jason Songer, senior EV principal consultant for First Student’s parent company First Group, told attendees.
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