The Chargers on the Bus: ERMCO works with the Indianapolis International Airport on its electric bus fleet

ERMCO Inc.
An Indianapolis Airport electric shuttle bus | ERMCO Inc.
Published On
Nov 15, 2021

Sustainability is a goal at the Indianapolis International Airport (IND). Among the numerous awards the airport has received are Airports Council International’s Airport Service Quality Award for Best Airport in North America from 2012 to 2020. Indianapolis was the first U.S. airport to earn LEED certification for an entire terminal campus. One example of the Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) commitment to an improved environment was the acquisition of a battery-powered electric shuttle bus, the first of a nine-bus fleet, the largest in the United States.

This project, which was launched with one bus in 2016, was made possible by a $2.6 million Zero Emissions Vehicle grant through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. It was the largest grant of its kind. These battery-electric buses (BEBs) have three main components: a battery, a storage system and charging infrastructure. It was their efficiency that caught the attention of the IAA.

Working with a crew of five on a year-long project, ERMCO Inc. installed the electrical infrastructure for the buses’ charging stations. Headquartered in Indianapolis with a branch office in Columbus, Ind., ERMCO is a 100% employee-owned electrical, systems and automation contractor that has worked with the Indianapolis Airport for 25 years and on landmark projects throughout the United States. As a full-service specialty contractor, ERMCO provides design-assist, preconstruction, installation, maintenance and technical support services for different projects. Since its founding in 1962, ERMCO has grown to be one of the largest electrical contractors in the Midwest.

The electrical infrastructure on the project included new pieces of switchgear and seven new chargers built by Complete Coach Works (CCW), a California corporation established in 1987 that is the largest U.S. bus remanufacturing and rehabilitation company. CCW developed the world’s first and only remanufactured all-electric, battery-powered bus. The company’s Zero-Emission Propulsion System (ZEPS) technology was created to provide an affordable route to eco-friendly transportation while potentially revolutionizing the transportation industry and supporting the environment for future generations. CCW provided the IAA with six ZEPS on all-electric 35-foot buses.

“They shipped the chargers to us, we put them on stands and did the install in different areas, which provides the airport with the potential for future growth in terms of room for additional chargers. We then made the final connections,” said Henry Rosebrock, account manager at ERMCO.

“The electrical infrastructure for the project was in a flat, empty parking lot. We had to go from the nearest utility transformer and put in our underground conduits. From there, we installed a new walk-in 2,000A switchgear house that enclosed our panels. We went out with more conduits underground, and then we went to each individual bus charger,” he said.

“We ran the wire for the chargers and all the pipe and wire, which ended up in the switchgear house locations. The switchgear housing is part of the infrastructure, part of how we get the power out there. We installed five chargers at the parking lot area, one charger and a new substation behind the parking garage, and one charger and some infrastructure at the building maintenance facility. Because this equipment is in different areas, it provides the airport with the potential for future growth.”

Indianapolis Airport bus charging station | ERMCO Inc.
Indianapolis Airport bus charging station | ERMCO Inc.

What makes the wheels go ‘round?

Buses simply pull up and are connected to the chargers. A six-hour charging session provides enough energy to travel 120 miles and lasts for eight hours, supplying power with electricity instead of an internal combustion engine. ERMCO encountered and solved an unanticipated problem when putting the first buses into use: there was no design for the charging-cable placement. To keep the cables off the ground where they could potentially be run over, ERMCO designed a retractable device, so drivers can pull on a cord to safely store the cable when not in use.

“Several of the buses picked for the project were ones that had been headed to the scrap yard,” Rosebrock said. “Instead, the old bus chassis were salvaged, and new bodies put on them as part of a LEED effort. The airport took pride in doing that.”

While electric buses usually cost more to purchase than diesel ones, they cost less to operate. The BEBs will save about $2 million during a 10-year period through reduced maintenance and fuel expenses—$0.30 per mile, compared to $1.35 per mile for diesel-powered buses.

“For us, there’s not much ongoing maintenance since these BEBs have been put online. We’ve had some issues with a fuse or breaker, but we have maintenance electricians onboard at the airport to maintain the equipment now,” Rosebrock said.

Indianapolis is also home to the largest airport-based solar farm in the world. The IND solar farm generates 17.5 megawatts (MW) of AC power and has the capacity to power 3,210 homes for a year. Partners in the solar farm include the IAA, contractor Johnson-Melloh Inc., Indianapolis Power and Light (now AES Indiana), and developer Telamon Corp., Carmel, Ind. Today, the solar farm occupies more than 183 acres of airport-owned “buffer” land and uses more than 87,000 solar panels, with all phases funded by private sources. ERMCO implemented one phase of the installation.

“I’m proud to have been part of a team of excellent partners who came together and found a way to take acres of airport land and repurpose them into a viable producer of clean energy for future generations. It’s a great way to serve our community,” said Mario Rodriguez, IAA’s executive director.

Some 15 U.S. airports have solar farms, implemented in an effort to reduce operating costs and demonstrate a commitment to sustainable development. A 2.1-MW solar farm in Chattanooga will be completed in 2023 and will produce enough power to meet 85% of the airport’s energy needs.

Indianapolis Airport’s broader carbon-reduction efforts have resulted in reducing emissions to a level equal to removing 5,720 vehicles from the road. In response, Michael Wells, IAA president, praised the airport management for being forward-thinking in its commitment to protecting the environment.

Today, ERMCO continues its work at the airport.

“We have been working there for 25 years,” Rosebrock said. “In addition to being part of the new Midfield Terminal project, which was completed in 2008, we have worked on projects in almost every area of the airport. We upgraded the technical systems for TSA screening equipment, security controls, jet bridge security and departure gate TVs. We installed new digital signage and USB charging stations in the airport’s Civic Plaza and throughout its concourses. And we recently completed upgrades for new food court tenants and for the rental car companies with locations in the parking garage. Big or small projects, the Indy airport is a great client, and we enjoy working with their facilities team.”

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