It's no secret that there is federal funding forthcoming for our school districts to help subsidize the costs of electric buses. While a subsidy is great, like any business decision, there are capital and operating costs to be considered when analyzing whether electric buses make sense for your district’s fleet.
There are also many questions. What is the added investment to buy an electric bus vs. a diesel? What is the range of a bus if fully charged? How long does it take to charge? What are the maintenance costs? What additional infrastructure is needed to charge an electric bus fleet? What will the electric utility charge to upgrade its infrastructure to support the new fleet? What happens if an electric bus does not get charged the night before?
Current State of EV Buses
Today, the idea of electric buses is gaining traction with higher fuel prices paired with federal subsidies to help offset the additional capital cost. While electric vehicle technology continues to improve; some districts closely evaluating their fleet may want to take advantage of the federal subsidies. If your district is considering a partial change in its bus fleet, there are several areas you should include in its cost-benefit analysis.
Electric Bus Considerations
When conducting a cost analysis for electric buses, the cost of the chargers is normally the first line item thought of. However, there are many variable costs that fall under this line item that every district will need to consider when deciding if electric buses are right for them.
Every district knows that they need electric chargers but spending additional capital to install a charging management system could optimize the benefits of the investment. Such a system can help appropriately stagger the number of buses charging to reduce the demand cost as well as maximize the amount of charging after 11 PM when electricity is typically less expensive. An added benefit is that such systems also can alert the district if there is a charger malfunctioning. Understanding how the local utility rates and energy supply costs interact with an electric bus fleet is critical when analyzing the total operating cost. An EV management control system can be an important component in reducing these costs.
Another important aspect to consider is the electric distribution capacity at your bus garage. As you would expect, charging buses can draw large quantities of power. The electric capacity available at that location today will almost certainly require an upgrade if the district is looking to convert a significant portion of its fleet. You should communicate with your local electric utility to help quantify the cost of supplying additional power to the location. The cost to supply the additional power to these locations can vary greatly and diminish the viability of the project. If your district allows bus drivers to park their buses at home overnight, an electric bus conversion may not be a viable option.
While not directly tied to infrastructure, an important consideration is creating a contingency plan. With petroleum-powered buses, if a fuel tank is empty, that problem is quickly rectified, and a bus could still operate on its normal route. If there is a loss of power to the facility, a malfunction with a charging station, or not being charged overnight for any reason, the district will need a contingency plan to make sure that all bus routes are serviced if an electric bus is inoperable. As mentioned earlier, a control system can help mitigate this risk, but it will still need to be managed. Some districts may consider keeping a few extra petroleum power buses or installing a rapid charger to help with this issue, however, the appropriate contingency plan should be tailored to each district.
There are many different areas to consider when evaluating electric buses for your district. Fully understanding the capital and operating costs will greatly increase Ohio districts’ chance of success in transferring part of their bus fleet to electric.
Joe Sokol is the regional manager of professional services at Palmer Conservation Consulting, and OASBO Strategic Partner. He can be reached at 330.592.3946 or firstname.lastname@example.org.