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Great River Energy, Dakota Electric Association and Schmitty & Sons have partnered on a pilot program to bring a battery electric school bus into service in one Minnesota school district beginning in the 2017-18 school year. The pilot program is designed to study the economic and emissions benefits the bus provides, demonstrate battery electric technology in a cold-weather climate, and exhibit its performance on suburban and rural routes.
We are purchasing a pilot bus from The Lion Electric Co. They’ve been manufacturing school buses since 2011 and began selling their electric bus, after two years of testing, in January, 2016. As of July, 2017, they have delivered 70 in Canada and 30 in the U.S., with another 50 set to be delivered by the end of 2017. The eLion bus is 100% electrically powered and seats 72 students. It has a conventionally powered heating element for winter use which we anticipate will use 100 gallons of diesel fuel per year. Because it is an ancillary unit not powered by the entire combustion engine, the eLion heater emits far fewer emissions while idling than a traditional bus. The heater tailpipe is removable and will thus not be visible on the bus during warmer months.
The bus will be powered by Great River Energy’s Revolt program, which commits to sourcing 100% of the energy used to power an electric vehicle with wind. We do this by retiring renewable energy credits, which is an accounting method used to ensure the energy generated by a wind plant goes to the school bus – and other electric vehicles in our territory.
Lion Electric Co. started as a diesel bus manufacturer. Their electric bus has the same body and build as their diesel bus, only replacing the combustion engine with electric batteries. It has been certified by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as meeting or exceeding all school bus safety requirements. It is worth noting that school buses in general have very stringent safety testing, and for good reason—they transport our kids! The eLion meets these standards ensuring its high level of safety.
Like other electric cars you see on the road, the Lion bus makes very little noise while it’s running. Because the eLion does not have natural engine vibration and clanking, it comes equipped with a set of speakers that play a loud tune at all speeds below 20 mph to alert children it’s nearby. The tune is customizable for each bus as a fun, added feature (think your school fight song!).
The eLion comes with either 4 or 5 battery packs. Our pilot bus has 5, which gives it a 100 mile range or 130 kilowatt hours worth of charge. According to the American School Bus Council, the average school bus route per day is 66 miles. This means the eLion is capable of servicing almost any route a school district services.
Electric vehicles in general have far fewer moving parts because they do not have a traditional internal combustion engine. There is no transmission, for instance. Electricity powers the one gear, seamlessly accelerating the eLion, which not only means lower maintenance, but a much smoother ride. Electricity prices are much more stable than diesel, and less expensive per mile traveled. Because of these factors the Lion Electric Co. anticipates the eLion will save $12,000 over conventional buses annually. Our pilot program is testing this assumption to determine cost savings against a comparable, new diesel bus in Minnesota.
Charging time greatly depends on the output of the charging station used, but eLions can charge relatively quickly. The bus uses the North American standard J1772 plug and is capable of receiving AC 19.2 kilowatts. This means it can charge from 20-100% using a level-2 80 amp, 240 volt charger, in a little more than four hours. Although charging time is important for many electric vehicles, it is less so for school buses because they sit idle throughout the night and charge when electricity prices are lowest.
This figure is derived from the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. Assuming a 66 mile route per day, 180 days of school per year, and 7 miles per gallon — all according to the American School Bus Council — each diesel bus uses 1,697 gallons of fuel per year. This is equivalent to 15.1 metric tons of CO2 annually.