podcast

Electric School Buses: Big Picture

June 23, 2023

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Albert Burleigh and Lauren Beaty are joined by Andy Moore to discuss the big picture of electric school buses, including the growth of the EV industry and how you can electrify your school bus fleet.

Transcript:

00:00:04:18 – 00:00:18:11
Speaker 1
Hello. Welcome to Bird’s Eye View. In this series, we’ll discuss everything bus related from the perspective of an industry leading school bus manufacturer. I’m Lauren Baty, grants manager at Bluebird.

00:00:18:12 – 00:00:22:04
Speaker 2
And I’m Robert Burley Bluebirds executive director of EV business development.

00:00:22:09 – 00:00:28:20
Speaker 1
In this season, we’ll discuss how to electrify your school bus fleet. So let’s jump on the bus.

00:00:28:22 – 00:00:38:02
Speaker 2
Let’s get started.

00:00:38:04 – 00:00:50:19
Speaker 1
Hi. Today we’re going to talk about the growth of the EV industry and what you can do if you’re interested in electrifying your school bus fleet. So, Albert, today you’re not our featured speaker, but can you tell me who is.

00:00:50:21 – 00:00:58:23
Speaker 2
Yeah, we have a guest speaker today. Andy Moore has joined us. and he’s a bluebird. Why don’t you tell us what you do? here at Bluebird and what your role is.

00:00:59:05 – 00:01:02:14
Speaker 3
Hey, guys. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here to talk about EVs.

00:01:02:15 – 00:01:03:06
Speaker 1
We can tell.

00:01:03:07 – 00:01:13:21
Speaker 3
So I have been with Bluebird for nine years, and in that time, I’ve held a variety of roles at the company, doing a lot of different things. But in all of those roles, I’ve had a specific focus on electrification.

00:01:13:23 – 00:01:30:10
Speaker 2
Now, you say you’ve been, there from the beginning, Andy. That’s great. So this is good. I’m gonna kick right off with some questions for you. EV school bus is really the fastest growing segment of the school bus industry. why is that? When did that all start? And really, what was that kind of catalyst for that growth?

00:01:30:10 – 00:01:52:04
Speaker 3
Well, if you want to talk about when EV school busses really started, you’ll have to go way before. When I started, Bluebird actually introduced our first electric school bus way back in 1994, ahead of the Atlanta Olympics. We built, I think, about a dozen busses, put them into service during the Olympic Games, and they were used to transport athletes, to and from event venues.

00:01:52:06 – 00:02:06:11
Speaker 3
It was really early on, early technology then, use a lot of lead acid batteries. I think it took a full day and a half to charge, so kind of ahead of its time. But even then, Bluebird was thinking about being on the cutting edge and putting a zero emission product on the road.

00:02:06:12 – 00:02:09:23
Speaker 1
So when did we first go to market with our EVs today?

00:02:10:01 – 00:02:36:04
Speaker 3
So the new generation, in kind of more modern electric vehicle, we put the first ones on the road in 2018. this got started really the program that started in the 2016 timeframe with a grant that we received from the Department of Energy on that. We were looking at the commercialization of electric school busses. What would be some of the hurdles to overcome and work through some of those early stage challenges in order to put a good product on the road?

00:02:36:06 – 00:02:46:05
Speaker 2
Pretty good. So we were one of the first in the modern kind of day EV school bus to really kick off this, this whole wave of, interest in electrification.

00:02:46:07 – 00:02:58:08
Speaker 3
Absolutely. And we’re actually coming up pretty soon on our thousandth EV put on the road, including all types, AC. And so that’s going to be a really exciting milestone. Very cool.

00:02:58:10 – 00:03:06:06
Speaker 1
You often hear that school busses are the perfect vehicle for electrification. Can you explain why?

00:03:06:08 – 00:03:26:00
Speaker 3
Absolutely. And it really is one of the best duty cycles for electrification. The reason being is that a school route is set and it’s defined. It’s relatively short, in fact. And in rail study that we’ve looked at and used before shows that about 94% of school bus routes are 100 miles in length or less. And that’s for the day.

00:03:26:00 – 00:03:51:16
Speaker 3
So that’s 50 miles in the morning and 50 miles in the afternoon. So more than enough capacity to get through a full route day for most. Most districts on one charge. Plus, you have the opportunity to charge in the middle of the day for some of those, longer routes. Like I said, you can charge in middle of the day, and then once you’re at the end of the day, you can charge overnight using, a slower charge rate, and you’re ready to go the next morning.

00:03:51:18 – 00:03:59:06
Speaker 2
Yeah. You mentioned duty cycle. And I think about school busses, obviously, a lot of start and stop. is that beneficial for electric busses?

00:03:59:06 – 00:04:27:10
Speaker 3
It’s actually perfect for electrification where you lose a lot of efficiency in an internal combustion engine. you look at, city versus highway mileage on your truck or car. highway is usually a lot better because they’re more efficient at high speeds. Not a lot of start stop. It’s actually the opposite for electric vehicles. All that starting and stopping, especially the stopping part is, is good because, the bus can actually regenerate electricity and put it back in the batteries.

00:04:27:10 – 00:04:34:01
Speaker 3
So the more start stop you have for an electric vehicle, the more range you get. Not to mention how quiet they are.

00:04:34:03 – 00:04:40:12
Speaker 2
Yeah. Huge benefit for being quiet. Certainly got to be better for the kids. Ride better for the driver. They don’t have all that distraction.

00:04:40:12 – 00:04:53:09
Speaker 3
So that’s my biggest the biggest benefit being zero emissions. Know no fuel is being burned. Nothing is coming out of a tailpipe. It’s clean. Quiet. School bus operation?

00:04:53:09 – 00:04:57:16
Speaker 2
Yeah. No fuel has got to be savings, right? For the energy cost versus putting diesel.

00:04:57:16 – 00:05:13:10
Speaker 3
On this thing every day. Absolutely. You look at the cost of diesel prices today. Just continue to seem to go up and up. especially when you charge a bus overnight when there’s low, low electric rates. the, the savings on fuel alone can be quite significant. Yeah.

00:05:13:15 – 00:05:19:13
Speaker 1
Can you talk a little bit about why there’s such a sudden interest in EV?

00:05:19:15 – 00:05:44:13
Speaker 3
well, just, nationwide and really kind of globally, electric vehicles are really kind of having a moment now. All the big automakers are coming out with new vehicles. so so electrification is is popular, but especially for, for school busses. There was, legislation passed in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that actually allocated an earmarked funds for electric busses.

00:05:44:15 – 00:05:57:04
Speaker 3
we talked about how the duty cycle is perfect, and then couple that with, the incentives and the grants from the federal government. And it just seems like it’s a win win to get these out in the out on the road and, get them running.

00:05:57:06 – 00:06:03:17
Speaker 1
So if I’m a school district and I want to electrify my fleet, what what do you suggest I do first?

00:06:03:19 – 00:06:29:13
Speaker 3
well, I would I would talk to, you know, one of your your representatives, one of your OEM representatives to find out which which bus routes are appropriate for electrification. We recognize that, you know, super long routes, maybe with a lot of highway, may not be the perfect application right now. with the busses. So. So identifying which routes are good for candidates for electrification.

00:06:29:15 – 00:06:54:15
Speaker 3
from there, Bluebird has a great, kind of ecosystem, which we call Bluebird Energy Services, which allows us to help you through that whole process, looking at route planning, looking at infrastructure requirements, because that’s a big thing that’s going to be it is one of the hurdles that that needs to overcome is when you think about an electric vehicle, how you fuel it and that infrastructure needed the chargers, all of the utility work.

00:06:54:19 – 00:07:06:07
Speaker 3
That’s something else to work through. But but working with Bluebird Energy Services, we have, some great partners that are here to help you through that whole process to to adopt and electrify your fleet.

00:07:06:09 – 00:07:10:12
Speaker 1
Could you talk a little bit about some of those partners in charge? I know is.

00:07:10:13 – 00:07:33:06
Speaker 2
Major. Yeah. In charge is somebody we use that Andy is familiar with their charging partner and certainly can come in and do those help with the route assessments. Look at what charging equipment what you know level two slow charge versus fast charging. What makes the most sense right for that particular district? Really a key step in electrifying and understanding what’s needed to electrify your fleet.

00:07:33:07 – 00:07:39:06
Speaker 3
But we started this talking about grant funding. Our do you know anybody that could help customers with grant funding?

00:07:39:08 – 00:07:53:09
Speaker 2
I you know, I actually do here at Bluebird we actually have a grants manager. Who me that would be Lauren Bailey who, she just lives our whole day about grants and is a great resource for school districts.

00:07:53:11 – 00:08:12:19
Speaker 1
Yes. So I came on board about a year ago, to help, particularly with what Andy referenced for the, bipartisan, bill and the clean school bus program. So I’m very interested in helping our school districts. electrify their fleet and can help walk through that whole process.

00:08:12:23 – 00:08:30:21
Speaker 2
Yep. Awesome. So, I mean, if you think about it, a lot of positives, obviously, for EV growth, but it’s still a really small piece of the market. I mean, what are some of those roadblocks you think are kind of keeping a quicker adoption? rate on electric school busses?

00:08:31:01 – 00:08:52:07
Speaker 3
Yeah. Like we talked about, the cost of the busses is significantly more than a traditional internal combustion engine. there’s a lot of rare earth minerals, using the batteries, the components, lower volumes. As adoption increases, we expect those that cost to come down. But right now, we have the advantage. Like we just talked about is the grant funding.

00:08:52:07 – 00:09:12:07
Speaker 3
So that that’ll really help with that adoption. Second, like I mentioned, was infrastructure, making sure that you’re planning your future proofing, whether you need utility upgrades, at your location where you’re going to electrify. working through that whole process to make sure you’ve got everything ready. So when your bus is delivered, you can plug it up and charge.

00:09:12:09 – 00:09:32:11
Speaker 3
those are really two of the kind of biggest, biggest hurdles. The third, I would say, is just education, learning what an electric bus can and can’t do. What, really, how fun they are to drive, really what their capabilities are. I know a lot of people are used to how a diesel works in their fleet.

00:09:32:11 – 00:09:50:08
Speaker 3
It’s reliable. they’ve been using them for decades. And so this is something new. that’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s actually very exciting. And once you get behind the wheel of an electric and electric bus, that’s really what turns, a lot of people on to do electrification. Yep.

00:09:50:11 – 00:09:55:19
Speaker 1
And you’re such an advocate that you and your wife drive an electric minivan.

00:09:55:22 – 00:10:16:11
Speaker 3
We do. We, it’s a plug in hybrid, electric minivan. We actually fight over who gets to drive it each day. she usually wins that fight, but, But no. It’s great. It’s perfect for, day to day around and around town. if we have to go, on longer trips, it’s a hybrid. But.

00:10:16:13 – 00:10:17:16
Speaker 2
it has a range.

00:10:17:16 – 00:10:20:11
Speaker 3
I believe it. I believe in electrification.

00:10:20:13 – 00:10:29:20
Speaker 2
That’s cool. So what resources are out there if customers want to start just educating themselves? Are there places you would direct them to to just learn more about EV in general?

00:10:29:22 – 00:10:55:21
Speaker 3
Yes. So there is an organization called the World Resources Institute that, launched with a grant from the Bezos Foundation, a, a program specifically for clean school busses. They have put together, a wealth of information about electrification, about all the busses that are out and available, what they’re, and they constantly update it. But what, specifications are for different OEMs?

00:10:55:23 – 00:11:20:21
Speaker 3
Just everything that you need to know you can find at their at their, on their website. And it’s it’s free and publicly available. That’s that’s one place to start. second is with your OEM, sales rep. we’ve done a lot of training here at Bluebird with you and your team, to really go out and educate people about the benefits and advantages of electrification.

00:11:20:23 – 00:11:39:20
Speaker 3
finally, if you really get serious about it, you can talk to your utilities about electrical upgrades for infrastructure, like we talked about many states. utilities have make ready programs that will actually help fund some of that infrastructure improvement. and there’s just a lot of resources out there that, that Bluebird can help you with.

00:11:40:01 – 00:11:43:03
Speaker 3
Again, through our Bluebird Energy services.

00:11:43:05 – 00:11:43:20
Speaker 2
Fantastic.

00:11:44:02 – 00:11:47:14
Speaker 1
Well, it sounds like there’s a lot of opportunities, to take advantage of.

00:11:47:14 – 00:12:02:15
Speaker 3
You know, electrification is really exciting. we believe in it here at Bluebird. It’s something that we see as the future of school bus transportation. It’s it’s really a bright future. So bright, in fact, that I’ve got to wear shades.

00:12:02:17 – 00:12:06:05
Speaker 1
Yes, Andy, the future certainly is bright.

00:12:06:07 – 00:12:08:09
Speaker 2
And that’s all the time we have today.

00:12:08:11 – 00:12:12:17
Speaker 1
Thankfully, that’s our bird’s eye view on school bus electrification.