Electric buses are predicted to make up 44% of new bus sales and comprise a majority of the global bus fleet by 2040, according to Bloomberg. As adoption of electric buses, promulgated as a means to reduce costs as well as carbon emissions, gains momentum across the United States, recharging has become the next focus.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide $7.5 billion for an electric vehicle charging network across the country, but Montgomery County, Md., is poised to have one of the first transit systems to use microgrid technology for public, rather than private, transportation by powering its electric buses.
Solar panels powering the microgrid will be placed at the Brookville bus depot, which will be capable of charging up to 70 buses. Designed to survive natural disasters and disruptions of the electric grid, the microgrid will store energy generated by the solar panels, as well as natural gas power generation and the electric utility.
As part of Montgomery County’s climate goals, publicly owned vehicles will be zero-emission by 2035. To that end, the county plans to add 10 electric buses to its fleet this year, with another 100 by the end of 2023. Thus, the need for convenient recharging is urgent.
However, the cost of the initial capital investment often hinders plans to transition municipal fleets to low- or zero-emission, with the entailing infrastructure. Fortunately, the Infrastructure Law’s $5.6 billion allocation to help reach that goal is a game-changer.
An additional financial boost in the form of Federal Transit Administration grants helped the county purchase the buses, but the microgrid project itself is being funded by a public-private partnership with AlphaStruxure, a joint venture between asset management company Carlyle Group, Washington, D.C., and Schneider Electric, Andover, Mass. The county will pay back the money fronted by the joint venture group over 25 years.
Other municipalities and transit agencies are watching Montgomery County’s progress. Because the Environmental Protection Agency has cited transportation as the largest contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it’s imperative to find ways to reduce GHGs from public transport. In some places (e.g., California), getting to a zero-emissions fleet in the next few years is a requirement.
That’s why the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in the San Francisco Bay area is following Montgomery County’s model of partnering with private companies to facilitate the transition to zero emissions. The VTA will also use a $4.7 million grant from the California Energy Commission to help pay for the microgrid infrastructure.
Montgomery County’s Ride On transit system hopes to launch their microgrid in September 2022, and already has plans for additional microgrid facilities at other depots.
Metrobus, the service operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, has a fleet of 1,595 buses that run 269 routes in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. It plans to transition its entire fleet to zero-emissions by 2045, starting with the purchase of 12 new electric buses this year. They’ll also need a place to recharge.