In the race to roll out cleaner, “greener” school buses, electric school bus projects are increasingly making headlines, with the latest news coming out of California’s Silicon Valley. Health advocate Breathe California and Gilroy Unified School District have unveiled a full-sized electric school bus converted from diesel that is part of a new pilot project.
The ribbon-cutting event drew about 70 attendees, including the mayor as well as city and school board officials. Participants had the opportunity to ride the quiet, all-electric school bus and to see the solar array that will help generate electricity to fuel the bus.
The 50-passenger, Type-D electric bus, which will start transporting district students this fall, looks like a regular yellow bus until the engine compartment is opened and the large electric batteries are revealed. Currently the bus plugs in to charge up, but the plan is to eventually charge the batteries with solar power.
While each bus costs approximately $150,000 to upgrade, the San Jose office of Breathe California points out the savings over time would be significant considering the rising cost of the fuel, typically diesel or gas, used to power the vast majority of the 400,000 school buses on the road.
“I have long imagined a world where clean, zero-emission vehicles would take children to school … and now that vision is a reality,” said Margo Sidener, president and CEO of the organization.
Sidener noted that displacing traditional diesel buses that are “so expensive” to run with clean electric buses will allow school districts to shift resources from transportation to education — so everybody wins. With this pilot project, she said they will gather the data to prove it.
Project Manager Bob Garzee emphasized that seven entities and investors worked together to launch this project, which he called "a complete package" that could change school transportation nationwide.
“It’s the only project with all the pieces in place to make it a reality … It has financing that allows school districts to implement it without having to take money out of their main school budget. It also has training for the mechanics so they don’t get left behind when they put in an electric vehicle. It has our group in it, which is an expert in the school bus industry,” said Garzee, who founded the Electronic Transportation Development Center (ETDC), is leader of the Green Team and chairs the Board of Silicon Valley Clean Cities Coalition.
According to Breathe California, there is $200 million of financing available to project schools. Schools can then pay back such loans through fuel and maintenance cost savings, eliminating the need to use general funds for their green vehicles. Making this possible are Government Capital and Atlantic Capital, which joined the project as funders.
Garzee added that another benefit of conversion is that school districts no longer have to “throw away” any bus when they upgrade to an electric school bus, but can use a current bus and install an electric ADOMANI kit with Silicon Valley safety technologies.
“If you get in the vehicle, you would not know it’s electric because it acts and looks just like a diesel bus, except there’s no smell,” Ed Monfort, CEO of ADOMANI, which created the all-electric conversion kit, said in a statement.
Of all the states, California is leading the charge for all-electric school buses. Napa Valley Unified Transportation Director Ralph Knight told STN some in the state have been "playing around" with electric school bus conversions since 1996. Back then, it was Apple Valley Unified in Southern California that actually received the first prototype of a Blue Bird school bus converted to electric power from diesel.
More recently, school systems in San Diego County, including Escondido Unified High School District, began testing a new 48-seat electric school bus developed by TransPower of Poway, Calif., as part of a statewide pilot program to introduce school districts to clean-energy bus fleets. Additionally, Kings Canyon Unified School District in the San Joaquin Valley received its first SST-e model from Type-A school bus OEM TransTech in February and has three more on order.
As an electric school bus pioneer, Knight stays abreast of who is doing what, and when and where.
"The ADOMANI bus had their prototype in Florida before the Thomas (Built Buses electric prototype) in Escondido, because it was up and running a year ago. That was the test model they got up and running to show proof of concept to be able to do that on a big bus," he explained.
Read more about electric school bus conversion projects in STN's July "STN EXPO/Green" issue.