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Taking the EV Market to School

Nov. 9, 2020
Massachusetts school district starts down path of electrifying its fleet of school buses.

When looking at the numbers, the overall market share of electric vehicles (EVs) still falls within the niche offering category. However, as more technology startups and mainstream manufacturers invest in further developing the underlying technology, the attraction seems to be magnetic. And, while there are still quite a few questions requiring answers, there appear to be certain applications where an investment in EV might make sense.

Case in point

The Massachusetts City of Beverly and Beverly Public Schools recently unveiled its first all-electric school bus, marking a significant milestone as the community transition its fleet of school buses from diesel to EV. Beverly selected the Thomas Built Buses Inc’s Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley electric school bus is powered by Proterra EV technology. The project represents the first all-electric school bus in Beverly and the first Thomas Built all-electric school bus in New England. Beverly is a leader in sustainability efforts and has a long history of supporting and adopting green and sustainable initiatives. Among the community’s sustainability goals, Beverly Public Schools intends to convert its entire fleet of 27 school buses from diesel to battery-electric.

“Beverly is incredibly thrilled to have our first all-electric school bus.  We are proud to be one of the first communities in Massachusetts to acquire an electric school bus and to begin transitioning our fleet from diesel to electric.  This bus produces zero emissions which creates a healthier environment four the students and residents.” stated Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill who also serves as a Beverly School Committee member. Mayor Cahill is a member of the Climate Mayors Steering Committee, a group of over 20 mayors who will serve as a leading voice in efforts to further climate action across the U.S. making up the Climate Mayors coalition.

Thomas Built Buses and Proterra are providing a comprehensive, turn-key electric vehicle program including electric school buses, charging systems as well as charging infrastructure design and installation. The Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley couples 220 kWh of total energy capacity, the highest battery capacity in the industry, with the Proterra drivetrain to offer unparalleled energy efficiency and up to 134 miles of drive range to meet the needs of school bus fleets. Additionally, the Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley electric school bus can fast charge in about three hours with the Proterra DC charging system.

Educated match?

Transitioning to electric school buses in Beverly offers multiple benefits to students and the community. In addition to providing a zero-emission transportation solution that will reduce emissions harmful to human health and the environment, EVs offer greater efficiency with fuel cost savings as well as lower maintenance and operating costs.  For students returning to school, these buses offer additional safety features, such as interior and rear back-up cameras, Wi-Fi and ventilation systems to help mitigate the spread of harmful viruses and bacteria.

“Switching to battery-electric school buses offers a safe and reliable mode of transportation that improves air quality and protects the health of students and communities. Beverly has long been a leader in the adoption of clean energy solutions. Proterra is proud to help build on this legacy by powering the city’s transition to electric buses with our partner Thomas Built Buses. We look forward to delivering clean, quiet pupil transportation to the community,” said Proterra CEO Jack Allen.

Proterra tells IndustryWeek, the ability to offer a safe and clean mode of transportation is exactly why communities, such as Beverly, Massachusetts, are adopting this emerging technology. As cities and school districts become more familiar with this technology and the benefits it brings to communities, Proterra hopes to see many more join the growing movement for battery-electric school buses.

Of course, moving forward, Proterra stresses that school districts need strong partners in electrification with companies like Proterra and utilities playing a meaningful role in helping electrify transportation. “Consider that 10 years ago, Proterra delivered its first battery-electric transit bus. What started then with three transit buses has transformed into a transportation revolution as transit fleet operators adopt zero-emission technology,” says Proterra. “Early adopters, such as Beverly, Massachusetts, can spark a similar transformation in the electric school bus industry. Along with Thomas Built Buses, Proterra is excited to work with school districts nationwide to bring our proven electric vehicle technology and deliver clean, quiet transportation to students.”

Proterra is also excited to see a growing number of communities adopting electric school bus technology. After all, fleet electrification is a complex challenge for many transit agencies. To combat this challenge, Proterra has built a team of experts dedicated to taking school districts and communities through the process of installing charging infrastructure and working with their local utility, with extensive experience building our charging system for electric vehicle fleets.

Understanding the utility role

Proterra sees utilities playing a strong role in helping electrify transportation and there are many benefits to doing so. “That’s why as communities continue to invest in electric school buses, we hope this will set the stage for even greater adoption, particularly as utility providers and other manufacturers commit to this technology,” says Proterra. “For instance, in Virginia, Thomas Built Buses powered by Proterra electric vehicle technology was selected as the provider of 50 electric school buses for the first phase of Dominion Energy’s electric school bus program. The program represents the largest deployment of electric school buses in the United States.

National Grid, the utility that serves Beverly, MA, has deployed thousands of charging ports across the Northeast to encourage and enable EV adoption.  National Grid, the electric utility provider, is a key stakeholder in this project. “Clean transportation is key to fighting climate change,” said Badar Khan, president of National Grid, US. “We are proud to have helped Beverly Public Schools offset the costs of this electric school bus by providing the infrastructure that connects the charger to the grid. All children deserve to breathe clean air and travel to school without compromising their health. We will work with Beverly Public Schools to replace more diesel school buses with clean electric buses. We want to help other school districts do the same.”

Further incentives

Until manufacturers cross a supply, demand and technology threshold, incentives will continue to play an instrumental role in encouraging communities and districts to make investments in EV alternatives. 

In January 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced the availability of five VW Settlement Trust-funded open grant programs aimed at reducing emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and greenhouse gas (GHG) across Massachusetts, while supporting electrification of the state's transportation network.  Beverly issued a request for proposal (RFP) in summer 2019 to lease its first electric school bus and the winning bidder was Highland Electric Transportation of Hamilton, Massachusetts.  In addition, in September 2020, Beverly issued a request for proposal for a second electric bus and again the bid was awarded to Highland Electric Transportation. 

The second electric school bus will arrive in early 2021. To assist with the electric school bus project, Highland Electric Transportation received a Volkswagen Open Solicitation Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP)  and was also recently awarded grant funding from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Accelerating Clean Transportation Program to secure a second bus. 

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