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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. The pilot project will continue to monitor performance for at least the first three school years.
We purchased a battery electric school 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 had delivered 70 in Canada and 30 in the U.S. The eLion bus is 100 percent electrically powered and seats up to 72 students. It has a conventionally-fueled cabin-space heater for winter use which is projected to use about 100 gallons of diesel fuel per year. The eLion space heater emits far fewer emissions while idling than a traditional diesel-fueled bus.
The bus is powered by Great River Energy’s Revolt program, which sources 100 percent 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 eLion bus makes very little noise while it’s running. Because the eLion does not have natural engine noise and vibration, it comes equipped with a set of external speakers that play a loud tune at speeds below 20 mph to alert children that it is approaching. The tune is customizable for each bus as a fun, added feature (think: your school fight song!).
The eLion comes with three, four or five battery packs. Our pilot bus has five, 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.
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 percent 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 park at the bus garage overnight and have the ability to charge when wind energy is most abundant and electricity prices may be the 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.