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What You Need to Know About Electric School Bus Charging Infrastructure

As governments and municipalities around the world continue to set aggressive goals for decarbonization over the coming decades in order to create a more sustainable society, school transportation fleets face a rapidly approaching electrified future. The benefits, of course, are clear – improved health for our kids through cleaner air and lower particulate emissions, less noise pollution, as well as lower fleet costs and increased reliability. In short, everyone wins.

It’s an exciting future, and one that The Lion Electric Co. is proud to be part of. We are sitting at a rare inflection point in history, with a century’s worth of transportation poised to make a drastic shift away from fossil fuels.

In order for electric school transportation to rapidly scale, there is another need to be addressed – where will all of these new zero-emission buses charge? Adequate charging infrastructure is critical to electric bus fleet deployment, and a problem that we are working to solve now to support future adoption.

Electric vehicle charging ranks among the highest concerns for potential adopters, alongside range. But the good news is charging really isn’t as complex as it may seem at first glance.

With a few unique exceptions, the majority of fleet charging is done overnight when buses would otherwise be out of use. As a bonus, that means fleet operators effectively start the day with the equivalent of a “full tank.” Daily refueling stops are also no longer necessary, simplifying dispatch schedules. Buses just plug in after finishing their daily routes.

It is important to remember though that those new, silent electric buses do need somewhere to plug in the day that they are delivered in order to seamlessly enter service.

Getting the necessary charging infrastructure installed does take some advance planning, and is a very important step that should be taken into account in tandem with the vehicle purchase process. Installing adequate charging isn’t quite as simple as plugging a new charger (also known as an EVSE, or electric vehicle supply equipment) into the wall, but it is not overly complex either – it just requires a bit of preparation.

There are a lot of EVSEs on the market and picking one can understandably seem overwhelming to those new to electrification. Charging is available at different speeds, depending on the use case of each individual customer. As part of the purchase process, Lion finds it important to assess customer needs not only in terms of what vehicle fits their unique parameters, but also to factor in charging equipment and facility infrastructure at the same time.

Both AC as well as DC charging solutions are available – and for the majority of customers, AC charging will suit their needs. AC (or Level 2) charging maxes out a lower charging power speeds (around 19.2 kilowatts) but is well matched to the service schedule of buses. A bus plugged into a Level 2 charger overnight will be fully charged in the morning in almost all instances. DC fast chargers are available at much higher charging power (over 100 kilowatts), and are better suited to fleet vehicles with higher duty cycles that cannot sit overnight.

However, the market is constantly evolving, and new DC charging products are coming to market which offer lower charging power (24 kilowatts) and have the potential to bring significant savings to an infrastructure installation project.

The ease of EVSE installation also depends on the utility service at any given facility, and this is where the process of installation can slow down. Most fleet facilities can handle an AC charger or two (which run at 80 amps, effectively on a regular circuit breaker), but a large number of AC chargers, or DC chargers which run at a higher amperage, will require coordination with utility providers in order to ensure adequate and reliable charging performance.

In some cases, service or hardware upgrades are necessary – and for this reason, advance planning for charging needs is critical. Any upgrades need to be carefully analyzed to minimize cost and match charging demand.

Here are some key tips for going electric:

  • Don’t let infrastructure stall your project – start the process of charger installation in tandem with purchase.
  • Assess your needs – most operators will find that AC charging is sufficient to fully recharge their buses overnight.
  • Consult with the OEM on which EVSE is ideal – EVSEs provide two-way communication between the charger and vehicle to determine state of charge and how much power to transfer, and some EVSE brands tend to be more compatible than others.
  • Don’t “over-upgrade” electrical service without proper consultation. Pulling more power than is needed to charge vehicles can actually increase the electrical cost for an entire facility dramatically, due to what are known as “demand charges” which can push all utility costs into a higher tier.
  • Consider installing EV charging stations on a separate utility meter from the facility itself. This can allow qualification for special EV charging rates provided by many utilities and also makes it easy to track charging costs by monitoring a dedicated meter.
  • Know your electricity rates. Time-of-use rates exist in many markets which disincentivize electricity use in the evenings, meaning overnight charging is often more affordable.
  • Use available software to schedule charging for times when the cost is lowest. For example, Lion buses have a built-in software feature that allows you to schedule charging in certain time windows, even if the bus is plugged in continuously.

All of these considerations can create a headache for operators looking to electrify that may deter them from doing so.

For this reason, Lion has taken a turnkey approach with a dedicated team to that supports customers by identifying their needs and taking care of the infrastructure process. We aim to take the trial and error out of electrifying fleets by employing a collaborative sales approach from the top down, identifying the vehicles that best match fleet needs and supplementing with necessary infrastructure.

By leveraging relationships with key utilities and approved infrastructure vendors and partners, we are able to put all of the pieces in place so that new electric buses are ready to roll with maximum utilization on day one.

Electrification might sound daunting at first, but by owning their own infrastructure, school bus operators stand to benefit by lowering costs and simplifying daily operations.

Once the right pieces are in place fleet operators benefit from cleaner fleets, lower costs and, most importantly, healthier kids. After all, no one likes buying gas – and as a bonus, plugging in is cheaper.

Make your next move a bright one. Learn how by visiting thelionelectric.com or emailing info@thelionelectric.com.

Lion Electric — The bright move.

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