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Rural Electric Co-op Will School Colorado On How To Make The Most Of An Electric School Bus

Rural Electric Co-op Will School Colorado On How To Make The Most Of An Electric School Bus

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
FROM: https://www.cleantech.com/ev-charging-software-and-grid-services/

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

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.

 https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/ev-charging/time-shift-how-to-make-ev-charging-as-clean-as-possible

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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Ten Big EV Developments That Transpired During Covid (2020 – mid 2021)

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

Ford Mach-E

Tesla Model Y

Polestar (Volvo) 2

Mercedes EQC-400

Jaguar i-Pace

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model X

Porsche Taycan

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.

And locally:  
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.

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CO Legislators Need to Hear From You Today, Sunday 3/8/20, or Monday morning – And Insight from CO Senators Against the EV Bill.

Happy Rural Colorado EV Drivers in Durango, CO

Two bills to speak up on here. Sorry for the late notice! One is HB 20-1155, which requires home builders to offer buyers of newly constructed homes options to install electric wiring for EV chargers and solar. No one is making anyone actually DO anything – just making sure buyers of new homes are reminded to consider if they want these facilities at the moment when it would be easiest to add the wiring to their homes. Write to your State Representative in this case – You can find them at: https://leg.colorado.gov/findmylegislator

The second is SB20-167, which creates a new exception that allows the ownership, operation, or control of a motor vehicle dealer if the manufacturer makes only electric motor vehicles and has no franchised dealers of the dealer’s line-make. This exception should appease Senators, such as the one quoted below, that this bill won’t hurt existing car dealers. Both bills are described in the pdf below. This bill is now headed to the House. See Bob Andersen’s comment below for who to contact.

After I wrote my State Senator, Don Coram of CO senate district 6, I got the response below from Senator Ray Scott, of senate district 7, which covers Mesa County, CO. I assume it also reflects Mr. Coram’s views, because he didn’t respond to me independently.

A main reason why I believe this bill is unnecessary is that Tesla, with a Colorado dealers license, has done just fine. I do believe there is a future for electric vehicles in certain markets, but they leave much to be desired for rural consumers and commercial applications. With so many current dealers already selling electric vehicles I see no need to destroy the current franchise agreements. That being said, the way that SB20-167 is currently written, I do not believe it would be in the best interest of the motoring public. 

Ray Scott, Colorado Senator SD 7

Even if you don’t make the deadline to comment on the bills above, it would be worth contacting your rural Colorado senator to let them know you are a rural consumer, their constituent, and that an electric vehicle meets your needs well and you’d appreciate more EV choices from dealers and local support for charging infrastructure. Unless you drive a Tesla with their distinctive look, most people and senators probably don’t even recognize your car as an EV. They likely are not aware of how many EV drivers reside in their districts.

Contact Senators Don Coram at don.coram.senate@state.co.us and Ray Scott at scottforcolorado@gmail.com. Write them both since they seem to be voting as a block on this one.

Thanks go again to J. David McNeil of the Denver Electric Vehicle Council for keeping an eye on the Colorado state legislature!

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Montezuma County, CO goes EV x 3!

County Administrator Shak Powers and Commissioner Jim Candelaria show off one of three Chevy Bolt electric vehicles the county purchased for Social Services, IT and Health Departments
Photo by Jim Mimiaga/The Journal

Check out this article at the Durango Herald! Montezuma County purchases three electric vehicles. Why would a small, rural county in the Four Corners choose EVs? Read the article to find out. Better yet, send the link to your county’s administrator. “Efficiency, cost savings cited”

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