Electric school buses are rolling up to Virginia schools

By: Erin Miller  May 07, 2021 wtvr.com

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- Some schools across Virginia will be adding electric school buses to their fleet thanks to a program by Dominion Energy.

The Chesapeake school district added two of the new vehicles to their transportation compound recently.

Dominion Energy's electric school bus program is on track to bring 50 buses to localities across the Commonwealth.

Bonita Billingsley Harris, Regional Director for Dominion Energy, said, "Transportation is the number one source of carbon emissions, so it's important to us in our efforts to expand clean energy to help schools in that effort. We're especially proud that school districts like Chesapeake Schools are innovative enough to take this on at a time when there are so many other things going on."

Under the program, school districts will pay the same cost as they would to replace a regular diesel bus -- which is around $100,000 -- and Dominion Energy will offset the additional cost for the electric school bus -- which is upwards of $300,000 -- and related charging infrastructure.

Along with the buses, Dominion's grant covered the charging stations, which are currently housed at the district's transportation compound.

To ensure that everyone from the bus drivers to the local emergency responders know the ins and outs of an electric bus, Chesapeake Public Schools and its partners will undergo a week-long training.

"We're hoping to get answers to a lot of the questions like length of time for a charge, and then once it's charged, the approximate mileage that you can get out of a single charge," said David Benson, Director of Student Transportation. "We'll be able to learn through these two [electric buses] how we can incorporate and how we can plan on moving forward."

Benson said the average round trip for their current diesels is around 30 miles. He said the large size of the City of Chesapeake, about 351 mi², will have an impact on what routes the bus is able to travel.

"When you start talking about trying to cover that kind of geography and you're limited as to where you can get your fuel and not having access to other charging stations, [it makes logistics] a little bit more of a challenge than a diesel bus, which is able to pull into multiple sites throughout the city and refuel," Benson said.

However, Dominion Energy reports that those logistical changes will be well worth the effort in the long run.

According to the company, replacing one diesel bus can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54,000 pounds each year. That’s the equivalent of 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide for every mile driven.

Another change you will notice is how quiet the electric buses are. Benson and Harris said this increases safety on board because it allows for better communication between drivers and students.

"They also save a lot of money in the operation and maintenance, 60% less in cost that can go towards learning for the students," said Harris.

Getting away from diesel, the buses also have what's called "vehicle-to-grid technology."

An electric school bus acts as a giant battery, storing energy until it is needed. When energy demands are high or if energy resources are intermittent, the batteries in electric school buses can provide power to the grid to help meet current demands.

Harris said, "These buses can also work as batteries so we are advancing our technology when it comes to battery storage and energy storage."

Benson said the buses also teach students what happens when technology and sustainability collide.

"It will certainly plant the seeds and let them know that there are alternatives even for a school bus," he said.

According to Dominion, other local schools interested in the pilot program include Norfolk, Virginia Beach, James City County and Hampton.

 

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What does “upwards of $300,000 mean? Does that mean $290,000 or $390,000. At any rate, the difference in capital cost of $100,000 for a diesel bus vs “upwards of $300,000 is pretty significant, I’d say!

So are the savings: maintenance and fuel cost will be considerably less over the life of the buses.  The fewer moving parts will also mean less hours lost for repairs.  Also worth remembering is the fact that all electric vehicles will continue to become cheaper as the cost of a battery kWh is less each year.  In about ten years, it has gone from just over $1000 to $135.  And it is still going down.  The point of cost parity with light duty vehicles is projected to be $100.

If a new bus costs $300,000, what is the current replacement cost of a battery or batteries to power that bus?

If he cost of a diesel bus  has dramatically increased over the past 20 years, I somehow find it hard to believe that the cost of an electric school bus would decline over the next 20 years.  Have battery prices for your fishing boat gone down lately, or the price of steel, or the price of rubber?

The most recently mass produced battery design is just now going into use.  You can likely find estimates in the range of one million miles.  School systems can likely dollar that out based on use history.  It would be hard to project the cost of a replacement battery that far in the future.  It is also worth remembering that the end of use life for vehicles batteries is not the end of use.  Those batteries still have much useful life remaining in other uses such as residential back up batteries in combination with solar arrays.

A captive fleet that returns home everyday is an ideal test for EV’s. I will be interested in the range of this multiple stop and go application.  Especially in winter.

EV battery systems are designed to use a portion of the output to warm the battery pack in cold conditions which would decrease range somewhat.  I suspect that has been taken into account here by both Dominion Energy and the Chesapeake School District.  Real world use serves to inform both technology and system design.  Not every effort will turn out as planned but will serve to incentivize innovation.  The arc of battery evolution is not just impressive but, to an extent, surprising.  The reason is that capital flows to projects and technologies that have the potential to change paradigms ....and make investors a tidy profit.  The capital market has been speaking loudly with their actions for a number of years now.

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