As we look forward to distribution of the coronavirus vaccines and the eventual re-opening of schools, we also anticipate students again boarding a familiar fixture of American roadways: the yellow school bus.
Outwardly, school buses haven’t changed a whole lot over the decades. Times are changing, though, as hundreds of electric school buses are entering service. I think a school bus is one of the best use-cases for current EV technology.
Blue Bird, a leading school bus manufacturer in the U.S., has been churning out all-electric school buses since 2018. It delivered its 100th electric bus in April and received its 300th order in November, Autoweek reported. Blue Bird notes that its electric bus sales are up 250 percent in 2020, so the market for electric buses appears to be growing rapidly.
I was amazed at that growth and wondered what’s hidden under the sheetmetal. Blue Bird offers its Micro Bird, Vision and All American buses in electric form. Bolted to the frame under the floor are two banks of seven Li-ION NMC/G batteries adding up to a capacity of 155 kWh. These batteries are rated for 3,000 charge cycles (0 to 100 percent charges), or an expected eight to ten years of service.
Blue Bird’s offerings have a range up to 120 miles on a charge. But if that isn’t enough, Navistar International’s IC Bus subsidiary has its CE Series Electric. IC advertises more than 200 miles on a charge with a massive 315-kWh battery. For comparison’s sake, that’s larger than the beefy 264-kWh pack in Volvo’s VNR Electric trucks.
Both manufacturers are offering DC fast-charging options. These buses are capable of vehicle-to-grid integration. In short, this means the buses could be used for energy storage, returning power to the grid at times of peak demand.
Blue Bird and IC Bus aren’t the only bus makers in the EV market. Thomas Built Buses is also delivering Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley electric school buses to school districts on the Eastern Seaboard. Collins Bus Corporation and others also have electric school bus offerings.
Potentially fueling this rush to purchase electric buses are large grants from various government agencies. Illinois is using some of its Volkswagen Dieselgate settlement money for grants toward electrifying school bus fleets.
It blows my mind that so many choices are out there for electric buses, but it makes sense. Buses tend to travel an average of 31.73 miles during a set route on a driving shift. Even with more than one driving shift, EV tech is perfect for school buses.
It’s good for students, too, as exhaust from a diesel-powered bus can expose them to cancer risks as much as 23 to 46 greater than what’s considered significant under federal law; each year, one school bus in Texas emits the equivalent of 114 cars, according to the EPA. Worse, there is no known safe level of diesel or gasoline exhaust exposure for the developing immune system of a child.
If there is a major limiting factor in adopting these buses, it’s price. An electric school bus can easily be double the initial price of a diesel unit, being as high as $400,000. However, given the extremely low running costs of an electric and the potential availability of grants, bus manufacturers expect electric buses to be cheaper for school districts in the long run. The New York School Bus Contractors Association reports that there are more than 480,000 school buses on American roads, so these manufacturers have a long way to go.
As you all know by now, I seriously love school buses. While I’m partial to diesel propulsion I love how electric technology is transforming a staple of America. Given the limitations of current EV tech, I can’t think of a better application.