HomeGreen BusRural Districts Discuss the Move Toward Electric School Buses

Rural Districts Discuss the Move Toward Electric School Buses

INDIANAPOLIS – Representatives from districts in Michigan and Illinois discussed the adoption of electric school buses in their fleets.

Moderated by STN Publisher and President Tony Corpin, the session kicked off the Green Bus Summit at STN EXPO East on Sunday. The session was sponsored by RIDE.

Kenni Jean Schrader, the transportation supervisor for Three Rivers Community Schools in Michigan, discussed the district’s journey toward EVs, which first started in 2016 when she began researching electrification. Three Rivers has a total 24 school buses in its fleet, two of which are electric. She expanded upon her experience in the June issue of School Transportation News.

Schrader said that the buses hit the road in January 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after the pandemic-induced school closures, the two EV buses have saved the district a little more than $36,000 in fuel costs, which is about a 75 percent savings compared to diesel.

She noted that driver behavior impacts how the EVs operate, and her drivers have been receptive to the new technology. Three Rivers was also awarded another two EVs from the 2023 EPA Clean School Bus Program rebate, which was announced last week. Schrader noted that even though the district is not ready for a 100-percent EV fleet, range is improving and a total EV fleet is something that could be possible down the line. She encourages districts to start with one or two buses where they can.

Mike Jones, transportation program lead for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, also sat on the panel and discussed a new federal initiative to help support all aspects of the electric transition. He noted that in addition to free technical assistance, The Clean Bus Planning Awards aims to make deployments easier in terms of what questions to ask regarding electrification and where to start.

 

Jones added NREL is also planning to offer deployment assistance for select fleets. NREL would work with districts for a period of time on planning and implementation. He explained that electrification is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Meanwhile, Tim Farquer explained that Williamsfield Schools near Peoria, Illinois, where he is the superintendent went all in with electric. Like Three Rivers, Williamsfield is a small, rural school district where buses can travel on dirt and gravel roads. He stated that the district started on the electric journey about eight years ago with a student project that designed a microgrid to create energy resiliency. Electric school buses were built into the equation as an energy asset for the district.

The district has a total of seven Lion Electric Buses and 11 charging stations. It runs five daily routes and has one remaining diesel bus in the fleet. He noted that he too is experiencing a savings in fuel. With solar on site Williamsfield is seeing an 86 percent fuel savings.

As of November, five of the EVs were running on route. Farquer said he anticipates saving $6,500 in fuel per route bus each year. He noted that even in the winter months, Williamsfield’s EV buses outperformed neighboring diesel buses.

Farquer added that their longest route is 40 miles, and even while running air conditioning or diesel auxiliary heaters, the EV buses return with a 75 to 80 percent charge each day.

Questions to Consider

Farquer provided the audience with some questions to ask themselves before they start electrifying:

  • Do you own or lease your depot?
  • Check with your utility to see what your available power capacity is.
  • What is your facility capacity?
  • Do you need a new meter or not?
  • How much redundancy can I afford? He said Williamsfield has 11 chargers and are projected to have eight electric buses. They also use two different types of chargers, in case one doesn’t work.
  • Start with reviewing special needs routes. Can you electrify those first?

Farquer said Williamsfield has 11 chargers and will add an eighth electric bus. The district also use two different types of chargers, in case one doesn’t work.

He added that fuel savings and fuel tax credits are expected to result in the EVs costing less to operate than diesel buses by September of next year. Plus, he said, every student is riding in a brand-new bus with air-conditioning, and the buses are wider down the aisles.


Related: Why the Solution is Propane for Electric Bus Fleets, Too
Related: EPA Announces Nearly $900M Awarded in Latest Clean School Bus Rebate
Related: CEOs Highlight Need for Infrastructure Advancements to Increase EV Deployments
Related: Study Shows Increasing Complexity of Adding Electric, Alternative Fuels
Related: Districts, Contractors Discuss School Bus Electrification Journey at ACT EXPO


Schrader also provided the audience with questions to consider when planning for a new EV bus facility.

  • Electric utility – is there enough power to meet EV charging needs now and in the future?
  • Infrastructure – when upgrading one’s facility, include additional underground conduits from the building to the charging station for easier charger installation at a later date.
  • Generators – what is your plan if/when of a power-grid failure?
  • Repair facility floors and lifts – EV buses weigh more than diesel. That needs to be considered when selecting lifts/hoists as well as the concrete floor slabs.
  • Lightning protection – consider in electrical design that EV buses and chargers could be damaged if stuck by lightning.
  • Bus access – adequate access for buses being transported to shop by wrecker.
  • Dimensions – Take into consideration at parking stalls, shop bay doors and access drives that EV buses are wider than diesel buses
  • Foundation – Three Rivers used thicker concrete in service bays and the parking lot to support the additional EV weight.
  • Wider overhead doors
  • Increased Wi-Fi capacity and wireless systems – this includes diagnostics, data recording and camera systems for future technology implementation
  • Placement of Wi-Fi tower and increased paths

June 2024

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