Wow, what a great idea for applying EV technology. The fact that school bus routes (and even inner city bus routes) have specific routines with little opportunity for variation do make them strong candidates for EV transportation. Problem is what the problem always is: Cost. School systems don't have the budgets to fund these type of vehicles and while many schools sub out bus transportation to private providers, the question is whether they could sustain any additional cost associated with not only the new vehicles, but the infrastructure that would have to go in place to handle the nightly charging.
Beth, actually the issue is the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a system like this. For new technologies like electric and natural gas driven vehicles (I know these aren't really new, just coming back) this type of application is perfect. I have long advocated that these technologies be mandated for government entities, where appropriate, as a first step. But, the TCO first. Electric vehicles do not need the maintenance that conventional vehicles do. They also do not use diesel fuel, which fluctuates wildly in cost. So, while the article did not give us enough information to make a final determination, there is a good chance that this could be the case. School districts often purchase captial equipment through bond issues, therefore spreading out the cost, so that might not be as big a deal either.
As for the use of these technologies by government agencies, I think that is a great way for the government toevaluate and prove new technologies without mandating them for the private economy. Often local governments have their own refueling infrastructure and their vehicles operate in a limited geography. Thus, if the technology is useful, this helps build an industrial base for it and gives valuable information to potential future users. If it really works, then the private economy will adopt it.
I still see a problem with range anxiety for school buses.
Looking at rural America, what if the fleet of electric school buses plugged into their overnight charging stanchions either at school or more likely in the dooryards of the bus drivers have no commercial power due to an overnight storm? Weather is fine the next morning but school might have to be cancelled since most children may be without reliable bus service.
And what about communities whose nuclear power plant evacuation plans include moving children out of the danger zone via school buses whose mid-day charge might prove insufficient for the unexpected route change and interrupted charging supply?
Good point, Bdcst. Those would be relatively infrequent events, but they do happen inevitably. So instead of just snow days, the school system would have to allow for power-out-last-night days. I have two kids who live in separate rural areas, and power outages due to storms are much more frequent in rural areas than they are in the city.
@bdcst: Your point about the range issue for rural communities is real. I think the key takeaway with that very real reminder is that even with the very benefits the EV buses can deliver, they (and alternative vehicle technology in general) is not a use case for every situation. Rural communities have different circumstances to deal with than an urban school system. Therefore, the backup plans and equipment they'd have to put in place to support a transition to an EV bus fleet would shoot the ROI right in the foot, hence not a sound use case. That said, I do think this has great potential and just because it isn't a fit for some doesn't mean it wouldn't be great to see pockets of adoption out there.
bdcst, you raise good points about the viability of this tchnology in rural communities. Here's another potential problem: Some rural communities have multiple children who live as many as ten miles from the school. If you add up the mileage for all the morning pick-ups, and then realize that the bus has to be recharged for all the afternoon drop-offs, the range may not be enough.
School bus range is the least of many school boards' problems these days. Because of falling tax revenues, how far their money will go is. Investing in electric buses is committing to a very long payback. The article says such buses will cost "considerably more" than diesel-fueled buses. This is exactly what will be looked at when it comes to replacing fleets. When school districts by the hundreds are cutting back on essentials such as teachers and upgraded textbooks, going green will not be on their agenda. Sorry. As much as this is to be desired, this isn't the time it will happen in many areas. It will be a matter of the haves and have nots. Those schools who have the revenue will get; those who do not will have to make do with what they got.
The bus shell is innovative -- it doesn't look ugly like every other school bus -- and the range issue is adapted perfectly to the application. That said, Justajo and William K, make critical points about the cost of acquisition and service of these buses. To that I'd add, I don't know how it is in most cities, but in New York and New Jersey, there are a bunch of school buses companies and they're all independent companies which bid for business with the cities and various school boards. So it goes beyond getting school boards to buy these things; there has to be an economic argument at the contractor, which is orders of magnitude harder. So unless there are some special grants involved to test deployment of these electric buses, I think they're going to have a tough row to hoe.
Plus, for kids now in college, Electric School Bus is the name of a CD-based game from Microsoft, where the bus drives around in outer space, not an actual vehicle on the road :)
Early bus designs were much more streamlined and pleasant on the eye than today's buses, even this one. To make a bus slippery the back end has to be tapered like a teardrop. And the front of this bus doesn't have much to suggest it went through any CFD or wind tunnel testing. The design is driven by practicality (how many passengers can fit in a given length) and safety (the front flashing lights have to be visible).
As far as servicability, electric is the way to go. Without the vibration of a diesel, electrics typically have far fewer problems. The electronics can't be any worse a challenge for a mechanic than the ECU on current diesels.
The economics of purchasing and running an electric bus will be the make or break issue. I am in total agreement. 120kWh of batteries would be, IMHO, $2,000/kWh x 120 kWh = $240,000. Hmmm, the banks will love the "gas tank".
However, electric buses do have some advantages. They could actaully drive into the school building since the don't give off any fumes. For special ed or educational field trips the quietness would be a definite plus.
Since electrics have no need for drive shafts or conventional frames I would expect an electric bus to be three feet lower to the ground that a conventional bus and have better weight distribution for better handling and tip over resistance. I would also expect electric buses to have battery modules that can be quickly removed and replaced much like fork lift batteries.
And a certain number of buses in any fleet are used throughout the day, sometimes on unexpected field trips.
Justajo - I think your comment about the budgets leads into another issue with range anxiety. How much safety factor is going to be built in? Are the school boards going to keep costs contained by looking solely at the range the bus currently drives and buying on that is the closest match? Then the anxiety hits when its cold, unusually bad traffic, the battery starting to wear out....
You raise another good point, Jack. Weather can make a huge difference for electric vehicles. When Wall Street Journal writer Jonathon Welsh tested the Nissan Leaf in 20-degree weather in 2010, he put just 49.5 miles on the odometer before finding that the remaining range was in the single digits. That's a preciptious drop from its stated range (somewhere between 73 and 100 miles). The culprit was apparently the interior heater. Imagine how much the range would drop on a bus if a driver tried to heat the cabin.
Wow - I was thinking that the temperature issue was just the effect that cold weather has on a battery (like trying to start your car in the middle of winter). I didn't think about heating, which I am sure is a major draw. Maybe that's another reason the current crop of electric vehicles tend to start at the smaller end. I can't see how they could even heat the volume of a bus off the battery.
These busses sound good, however they only make any sense in dense city environments where other electric transportation (communter trains, etc.) are already there or would be less expensive to setup and install.
These EVs place a huge (more than several houses) load on the electric grid when they re-charge (if they are to be re-charged in one 'night'). Has anyone looked at the tremendous strain a couple of hundred of these would put on electric infrastructure
Refueling a conventional bus takes an hour. Refueling an EV of this size takes all night and the batteries may require cooling if it is to be recharged in one 'shift'.
Electric companies will be anxious to get their power grid loaded and used over night. It would be great if the electric companies could control the time and sequence of overnight charging to help even out grid load. There's an over abundance of electricity available on the grid, starting at about 10:00 at night and ending around 7:00 in the morning.
The comment about a 13 ton school bus needing less surge to get started than a small electric car is taxing my intelligence. A shcool bus driver presses the pedal as hard if not harder than a car driver to get started. Its battery may be larger, but it's still one heck of a load to get going, especially when you've got 40 passengers on board.
Good comment about the nighttime charging. With some of the new smart grid applications, the buses could automatically charge at midnight, even if they get plugged in immediately after the school day ends.
You write as if the government really has ever worried about the cost of anything. Just borrow the money, write the check and let the next generation worry how to pay for it. I am not very aware of any politician of any party affiliation that is unwilling to kick the can down the road for someone else to worry over.
Very interesting concept, Chuck, and I think it demonstrates the kind of engineering thinking and focus on efficiency solutions that we need more of. It will be interesting to see how much the cost premium is versus diesel-based buses.
Aside from the additional loads on the grid there is a huge problem with electric school bus use, at least in my city, which is that nobody will be able to service them. That will probably mean also that there will be a union electrician required to plug them in for recharging every evening. So the reduced cost of powering the buses will be offset by the much increased costs of every other aspect of owning them. One more question is how would these buses be heated? Electric heat is a poor choice for any application at any time, and fueled heaters would sort of reduce the environmental savings a bit. About the only problem that they would solve would be the range problem.
Innovation must understand the need and should not try to embed the soultion in it. I think this project has really understood the need. There are always going to be electrification applications that fit nicely in the 100-mile duty cycle," Hansel said. "School buses are one of those applications." This proves that. Good work
It seems to me that the electric bus would also be an excellent place to put solar panels (on the roof). You should be able to get at least 90 watts of panels on the roof to charge the battery with during daylight hours. Even if you lay them flat, could extend the range of the bus by several miles. Just a thought.
A quick look into the merger of two powerhouse 3D printing OEMs and the new leader in rapid prototyping solutions, Stratasys. The industrial revolution is now led by 3D printing and engineers are given the opportunity to fully maximize their design capabilities, reduce their time-to-market and functionally test prototypes cheaper, faster and easier. Bruce Bradshaw, Director of Marketing in North America, will explore the large product offering and variety of materials that will help CAD designers articulate their product design with actual, physical prototypes. This broadcast will dive deep into technical information including application specific stories from real world customers and their experiences with 3D printing. 3D Printing is