Electric school buses are hitting the road across the nation. Perhaps a perfect example of how good these buses can be: Alaska’s first electric school bus that hasn’t missed a single day of school, even when temperatures have dropped to 40 degrees below zero.
Alaska Gateway School District in Tok has a 2020 Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley, operated by Tok Transportation, reports Alaska Public Media. To date, it is not just the state’s first electric school bus, but the only one. The bus is in its second season and it has perfect attendance, even when the weather is particularly foul.
School buses are one of the best applications for current EV technology. As much as I love the sound of a big diesel engine, the exhaust isn’t great, and there is no known safe level of diesel or gasoline exhaust exposure for children. Plus, with the short routes school buses run, an average of 31.73 miles a shift, range anxiety isn’t really an issue.
The Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley has two batteries adding up to 226-kWh saddled underneath powering a 295 peak horsepower motor, offering a range of up to 138 miles. And while this next spec doesn’t really matter for hauling a load of 81 kids, I feel like it is my duty to tell you: The Jouley sprints to 60 mph in just 49 seconds.
When the temperature drops to 40 below, internal combustion engines can be hard to start and run. Batteries are less effective while oils are real thick. And if you’re running a diesel, your fuel could be gelling up. This is one area where EVs can excel, given the lack of a grumpy engine to start.
Running the bus at those temps does come at a huge cost in battery drain. Tok Transportation’s co-owner, Gerald Blackard, says that the bus uses up more juice keeping the interior warm than it does driving its route. The bus must be kept at a minimum of 45 degrees inside and achieving that on a 30 or 40 degree below zero day will eat up a little over half of the bus’ batteries. Meanwhile, driving it uses a little more than 40 percent charge.
Tok Transportation tries to keep in as much heat as possible with insulation on the batteries and in what would normally be the engine bay.
One potential sticking point of electric buses are the high purchase costs. They can be double that of a bus with an internal combustion. Tok Transportation’s Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley ran $400,000 with the company paying $50,000 and an Alaska Energy Authority program fronting the rest.
Still, even with the heavy drain from heating, it’s awesome to see that electric school buses can even be a workable solution for schools in extreme climates.