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Durango, Colorado’s 9-R school district will soon be the owner of a brand-new, all-electric Bluebird bus. Thanks to a grant from the Regional Air Quality Council’s ALT Fuels Colorado program and southwest Colorado’s La Plata Electric Association (LPEA), the school district is getting the bus entirely for free. This was made possible by the state grant funding, which covered much of the $210,000 difference between the cost of a diesel vs electric bus, but also by LPEA’s initiative in penciling out how both they and the school district could benefit from nascent vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology.
It will be the first use of V2G technology with a school bus in the state of Colorado. LPEA aims to demonstrate how electric school buses can provide benefits and savings to everyone in their service area. I spoke with Dominic May, LPEA’s Energy Resource Program Architect, to learn more about the bus, V2G and the benefits.
V2G gives LPEA a return on their investment
LPEA contributed about $150,000 to cover the remainder of the cost of the bus and to install a 60 kW bidirectional charger at the school district’s bus barn. Bidirectional chargers are at the heart of V2G technology. They take the AC power provided by LPEA’s electrical grid and turn it into DC power which fills the bus battery. They can also go the other way and change the DC power in the bus battery into AC power, which can then be sent back into LPEA’s electric grid.
The bus and the bidirectional charger are now owned by the school district, but they have an operational agreement with LPEA which allows LPEA control of the battery for the coop’s benefit.
V2G is the big reason I got interested, in addition to finding a project that could be entirely free for the school.Dominic May, Energy Resource Program Architect
How can the school district and LPEA both use the same bus?
We have an operational agreement that we will run the battery to perform energy arbitrage in the background. The school district will never notice we’re doing it but will always charge at our cheapest off peak rate.Dominic May, LPEA Energy Resource Program Architect
The bus battery holds about 175 kWh of energy. It will charge overnight and during mid-day when the bus is back at the bus barn. On the commercial time-of-use rate LPEA provides, these are the cheapest times of day to use electricity.
After it returns from its morning route at about 9 AM, the bus will need about 3 hours to refill the battery. It arrives back from its afternoon route at 4:30 or 5:00 PM. LPEA’s evening peaks usually occur at about 6:30 or 7:00 PM. They will recharge the battery up until the evening energy use peak starts ramping up. As the peak 15-minute period approaches, LPEA will signal the bus battery to push 60 kW onto the grid. (60 kW is the maximum rate the bidirectional charger can discharge at.) When the peak is passed and peak rate time is over, the bus will continue recharging into the night.
What’s in it for LPEA?
LPEA’s supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, charges LPEA a monthly demand charge based on their peak monthly usage. For every kilowatt LPEA uses during their peak 15 minutes in each month, Tri-State charges $20/kW. By reducing their peak with the bus battery, LPEA realizes 60 kW x $20/kW = $1,200 savings a month. Says May, 60 kW of demand “that’s like a dozen houses or more coming off the grid during the peak hour.”
Just selling that off-peak energy, we don’t make much more than $0.02 per kWh and it would’ve been close to a 400 year payback period, but doing demand managing with the V2G system turns it into about a five to eight year payback period.Dominic May, LPEA Energy Resource Program Architect
After that, the savings will accrue to LPEA’s membership.
The bus is free to the school district, but is it cheap?
The electric fuel for the bus will be one sixth the cost of diesel. The electric motor and drive train require much less maintenance than gas or diesel buses. No oil or coolant changes, no air filters, no tune-ups. LPEA’s use of the battery doesn’t require any changes to the regular schedule the bus would run. They only use it when it would be sitting at the bus barn anyway.
A diesel bus will have to be sacrificed as a condition of the state grant dollars. The school district’s oldest bus must have its axles broken or its engine cored to ensure it is permanently disabled. The intent of the state grant is to reduce air pollution by taking old diesels, which have very dirty exhaust, off the road.
What else can you do with a school bus full of cheap energy and V2G technology?
Provide mobile electricity sources during blackouts.
Any school or other buildings designated as emergency shelters would need to be outfitted with a bidirectional charger, and the electrical infrastructure to support it, to be able to receive the energy in the event of a blackout. Once installed, these chargers could also be used as fast chargers for any electric vehicle in non-emergency circumstances.
They definitely can serve as an emergency generator. One of the cooler things they could do is come up and power something like a FEMA shelter. However, the caveat is the places have to be wired up to receive this and infrastructure will need to be built to support it.Dominic May, LPEA Energy Resource Program Architect
Demand management is getting bigger and bigger, especially as renewables come on the grid. You have this extremely cheap and clean energy, but it’s intermittent. So, anything you can do for storage is really what this is all about. That’s the dream of V2G – that we would multi-purpose this giant fleet of batteries that are out there to make the grid cheaper, cleaner, and more resilient.Dominic May, LPEA Energy Resource Program Architect
Does the electric school bus help decrease greenhouse gas emissions?
On some grids, the power used at peak times is dirtier than at other times. For example, on a grid which has solar generation, and uses natural gas “peaker” plants to provide energy during the peak evening hours just as solar is waning, energy used at peak times will have higher carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt. By decreasing the amount of kW used at peak times, those higher emissions are avoided.
On our current fuel mix, the school bus will reduce carbon emissions by about 2 ½ times its weight in carbon dioxide every year.”Dominic May, LPEA Energy Resource Program Architect
When greenhouse gas emissions are decreased, the other pollutants associated with burning petroleum are also decreased. Diesel engines emit particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and numerous toxic volatile organic compounds.
The bus is expected to arrive in Durango by the end of October 2021. It’s now at its final stop, getting outfitted by a company on the front range to the school district’s specifications.
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1) Tesla sales soared globally and nationally, jump-starting the EV revolution and attracting big investments in EV companies. Tesla dominates the global market for BEVs; no other manufacturer has even a fifth of the global sales of Tesla. At one point Tesla’s model 3 sales in California made it the single most popular new vehicle model bar none. As Tesla stock soared in price (at one point giving Tesla a market valuation greater than that of all the legacy car manufacturers combined), investors sought out other firms in which to plunk their money. Rivian raised several billion in new funds. Other investors were not so lucky. Nicola apparently fudged the numbers and collapsed after the Securities and Exchange Commission went after them. Lordstown fibbed when they said they were ready to begin sales, and its stock also collapsed, in part because Ford announced that Ford was to market to exactly the same niche market (electrical utility fleets) that Lordstown had bet its future on.
2) The major legacy car manufacturers got into a publicity arms race over promises about the future of EVs, but didn’t actually produce many. Most announced they were going to spend X dollars pursuing electrification, and that they planned to have Y percentage of their sales electric by date Z (or cease selling regular vehicles ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) by a certain date. Given their inability to meet any of the previously announced EV sales deadlines, one has reason to be skeptical, but the fact that they feel compelled to (over?) promise may be better than inaction.
3) VW may be an exception, as they committed billions of their own money to ramping up charging infrastructure. Whereas VW was legally obligated to spend the fines leveled as a result of the diesel cheating scandal to construct the Electrify America EV charging network (by the end of 2021: 800 sites in the US, featuring 3500 chargers), VW recently committed to spending about $2B of their own unrestricted funds to more than double the size of the Electrify America charging network. To put their claims in context, the US presently has about 41K charging sites and 100K public chargers. By 2025 Electrify America intends to have 1700 sites and 9500 chargers. Electrify Canada will be similarly expanded, and VW expects to spend $86B by 2025 to pursue electrification. This one-upped GM, which had only promised $35B for the same time period. So there!
4) Tesla announced a vague plan to someday share its charging infrastructure with others, which will double the infrastructure for non-Tesla EV drivers. The financial details remain to be worked out. Presumably the fillup cost to non-Teslas will be higher than those to Tesla owners, though the costs might alternately be borne by the other car manufacturers (as being discussed in Europe). Regardless, when you find yourself somewhere with a nearly drained battery and a handy Tesla supercharger, the cost differential might be immaterial. How this would work physically (who needs to buy which conversion cables) remain to be determined. With the rapidly dwindling number of CHAdeMo connector users, this portends a glorious future in which the connectors become uniform and interchangeable. However, some car manufacturers (e.g., Porsche) are pushing for a doubling of the fast-charging voltage standard (from 480 VDC to 960 VDC), which might complicate things and raise the cost of building fast-chargers.
5) Biden targeted EV infrastructure for a massive buildup, but so far the Republicans have stymied it; the White House has plans for covering some of the blocked buildup using budget legislation. Political inertia is with the Democrats, but political power on the Hill is very close to gridlock. Stay tuned.
6) EV sales have spread out from sedans to SUVs and crossovers. There are now many all-wheel drive vehicles (AWDs) at mid- or higher price points, though availability is somewhat limited in some places. Among the car models with at least an AWD option are (ordered by base MSRP from low to high) (see link for pickup trucks):
Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model Y
Polestar (Volvo) 2
Tesla Model S
Tesla Model X
7) EV pickup trucks were supposed to emerge in 2020, but did not. First at bat is Rivian, but for the last year this new manufacturer has been promising deliveries in about “a month or so.” Ford and Tesla are teasing mass-market EV pickups, but no firm sale dates have been announced; Ford will sell them to electric power company fleets in 2022. GM is teasing a $117K Hummer EV: that’s a little rich for me, but the day of capable AWD electric pickups is nigh. I expect to see one locally in September.
8) Policy makers have woken up to the cost and complexity of rapidly expanding clean power generation and delivery of electrons for EVs, but no coordinated response is evident. For most, the major expenses have been penciled in for “later”. Texas ran into catastrophic grid failures during a winter cold snap, in part due to their inability to obtain power from neighboring states, which had power (Texas is the only continental state with a stand-alone grid). Texas legislators are now patting themselves on the back for bold new initiatives long adopted by other states (e.g., requiring the utilities to cold-harden their generators), but connecting the Texas grid to the rest of the nation is not on the table.
9) Climate-related natural disasters make the front page almost daily, but most media outlets cry for money to build structural defenses, not prevent climate change. Record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented wildfires, smoke plumes reaching almost all of North America, chronic coastal floods, record-setting deluges around the world, and agriculturally debilitating droughts would seem to be enough to get the worlds’ attention, but media coverage has focused only on mopping up the mess.
10) The city of Durango and La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) wrote a seminal EV readiness plan, but near-term changes are underwhelming. For example, in the “lead by example” element, LPEA committed to buying two Ford EV pickups when they become available sometime in 2022 (or 2023). Meanwhile, fast charging (DC) has finally reached the local area, with Pagosa (2020), Durango (July 2021), and Purgatory ski area (late 2021) acquiring moderately fast-charging capability. Those chargers should boost visitation by tourists and provide solace to local EV owners who might suddenly need to go a long distance. The EV readiness plan has put all the right processes in place; the heavy lifting – you guessed it – comes later. Stay tuned.
In a surprising move, Volvo announced that it will transition its sales offerings entirely to electrics by 2030 (no ICEs or hybrids after that date), and that it will sell the electrics online only. This online-sales only announcement is a surprise because Volvo has an established car dealer network (though the nearest to the Four Corners is Corley’s Volvo Cars in Albuquerque) and a majority of states prohibit non-dealership sales of new cars. My source is an AP wire report Mar 2, 2021 by Matt Ott (accessed from Greenwire – eenews.com – which is unfortunately behind a paywall).
Volvo did promise that dealerships “…will remain a crucial part of the customer experience and will continue to be responsible for a variety of important services such as selling, preparing, delivering, and servicing cars. However, a Four Corner’s buyer would be inclined to take purchase locally, and seek service locally, rather than have to return a potentially disabled car to Albuquerque for routine service.
The prevailing business model for car sales is that new cars are sold with minimal profit in exchange for creating a captive audience of owners beholden, or at least greatly encouraged, to use the dealership for highly lucrative service. This business model is under threat from EVs, both because so many upstarts (Tesla, Rivian, etc.) are not following the plan, and EVs themselves need very little servicing.
In response to previous economic threats to dealerships, several states, including Colorado and New Mexico, have restrictions or total bans on the non-dealer sales of new cars. Colorado recently amended its laws to allow several additional manufacturers to permit in-state sales of cars without dealers (Tesla has a dealership in Denver and is therefore exempt). Volvo’s plan may run afoul of the dealership-protection laws in some states.
In addition to shaking up the business relationship between manufacturers and dealerships, Volvo’s push into EVs is startling in its ambition. Volvo has stated that it expects 50% of global sales to be fully electric by 2025 (US sales of pure electrics are about 2% now; about 100,000 of Volvo’s global sales of about 600,000 vehicles per year are in the US). Volvo’s first entry into the all-electric field, the XC-40 Recharge (crossover SUV) is currently held up in ports of entry, as an essential software update is needed before they can be sold to the public. That hiccup aside, Volvo is getting good technical reviews for their EVs.
Although Volvo’s timeline for the phase-out of ICE (internal combustion engine) cars is among the most aggressive of the major manufacturers, others are not far behind. BMW expects 50% of its global sales to be all-electric vehicles by 2030 (versus 2025 for Volvo). BMW has not announced a date for completing the phase-out of ICEs; they expect to sell hybrids for some time. GM is more aggressive for the end of the phase-out of ICEs (2035), but GM expresses it more as an aspiration than a commitment. Jaguar, on the other hand, has promised the earliest phase-out (2025), but of course, if you could afford a Jaguar, why would you settle for anything less than an electric.
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They don’t, but neither does your internal combustion engine (ICE) car, and no one whines about their ICE car in the winter (if it starts). All vehicles lose some efficiency when they are cold, but alert reader Richard Grossman pointed out a recent article (link: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11022021/inside-clean-energy-norway-electric-vehicles/) on Norway’s adoption of EVs: 56% of new car sales, compared to 2% in the United States. This fact was highlighted in a recent Superbowl ad for Chevrolet, but remember this: the top FIVE countries for EVs sales are all near the Arctic Circle:
- Norway 56%
- Iceland 23%
- Netherlands 15%
- Sweden 11%
- Finland 7%
The linked article explores the reasons for Norway’s rapid adoption of EVs, which include celebrity endorsements, an early and rapid government-funded build-out of charging stations, and tax breaks that provide purchase price parity between regular cars and EVs. If you are interested in EV policy incentives, be sure to check out the lively article by Dan Gearino in the link above.
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