podcast

Electric School Buses: Cold Weather Operation

July 27, 2023

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Albert and Lauren discuss the technology behind Blue Bird electric school buses that allows for optimal performance in cold weather, answer FAQs, explain preconditioning and share best practices for charging in extreme climates.

Transcript:

00:00:04:16 – 00:00:18:08
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 Beaty, grants manager at Bluebird.

00:00:18:10 – 00:00:22:02
Speaker 2
And I’m Albert Burleigh, Bloomberg’s executive director of EV business development.

00:00:22:06 – 00:00:28:14
Speaker 1
And this season will discuss how to electrify your school bus fleet. So let’s jump on the bus.

00:00:28:19 – 00:00:38:12
Speaker 2
Let’s get started.

00:00:38:13 – 00:00:50:19
Speaker 1
In this episode, we’ll be talking about cold weather operation free electric school busses. We receive a lot of questions about school bus operations in cold weather. Why is that?

00:00:50:21 – 00:01:10:02
Speaker 2
Absolutely right. Lauren. I’d say that’s probably one of the most common questions I get from school districts who are starting to explore electric school busses. And a lot of it, honestly, is some of us misinformation. They just assume they hear things in the industry about cold weather operation of busses. They assume there are issues. but I could probably explain some of that.

00:01:10:02 – 00:01:31:11
Speaker 2
And really where those concerns come from. Some of it is with charging. And there’s certain strategies you need to understand if you’re charging busses and a really extreme cold weather conditions. and some of this about operation as well, they hear about, the energy it takes to, really maintain cabin heat and, maintain battery temperatures and there’s just concerns.

00:01:31:11 – 00:01:35:20
Speaker 2
So, yeah, that’s, that’s one of the most common ones. And I think again, quick question.

00:01:35:20 – 00:01:39:04
Speaker 1
Yeah. Can you define extreme cold weather?

00:01:39:06 – 00:01:53:15
Speaker 2
Yeah, I’d say probably if they have temps that are maybe 20 degrees on average during the winter months. Okay. those folks like, you know, here in Georgia where we are, if it gets in the 40s. And so, you know, that’s cold to us, but that’s not extreme.

00:01:53:15 – 00:01:54:11
Speaker 1
It it’s like 20.

00:01:54:11 – 00:02:12:07
Speaker 2
Yeah. And it feels like 20. Good point. But yeah that’s not we’re talking about we’re talking about busses running in Quebec or and you know, places like Wisconsin and Minnesota where they’re dealing with, you know, subzero or at least averages in the teens and 20s. That’s kind of cold weather that people have a little bit of concern about.

00:02:12:12 – 00:02:14:07
Speaker 2
Well, the busses operate in those conditions.

00:02:14:08 – 00:02:22:05
Speaker 1
Okay. Thank you. can you talk a little bit about the technology that that’s on the busses to help with cold weather operations?

00:02:22:07 – 00:02:38:21
Speaker 2
Yeah. One of the major components on an EV bus is called a thermal management system. And that really is the component that allows these busses to work really well in cold weather. So that’s what we try to explain to customers that, yeah, we’ve considered that we know these busses are going to be running all over the US and in Canada.

00:02:38:21 – 00:03:00:03
Speaker 2
We have quite a few of them right now. So we do know how they operate. But the thermal management system really has two jobs. One is to maintain the battery temperature, are the propulsion batteries because they like to stay at a certain temperature, just like your body likes to stay at a certain temperature. So do batteries. Around 70 to 80 degrees is really when they’re their most optimal and they can be the most efficient.

00:03:00:03 – 00:03:18:03
Speaker 2
So you have to have something on the bus to warm those batteries when it is really cold. And that’s one of the things the thermal management system does. It has an electric heater. it’s heated by the battery power and it heats up a coolant and it runs it through the batteries to take them up to temperature around that 70 to 80 degrees.

00:03:18:05 – 00:03:36:16
Speaker 2
And it does it very, very well. But it also does a second thing. It actually, warms the coolant to send it through the cabin heaters to provide cabin for the passengers. So it does it warms the batteries and it warms the cabin. And that’s the entire function of the thermal management system. And it does work extremely well.

00:03:36:16 – 00:03:38:21
Speaker 2
Busses couldn’t operate in those conditions without it.

00:03:39:01 – 00:03:53:05
Speaker 1
Okay. what about, preconditioning? We have a large deployment in Boston, and we’ve I’ve heard, talk about preconditioning and how that is so imperative to their successful deployment.

00:03:53:11 – 00:04:15:15
Speaker 2
Yep. Preconditions is something we talk about with customers quite a bit in those climates. It’s really a good strategy to help kind of, preserve some of that battery energy. And what preconditioning is, is basically warming the bus cabin while it’s still plugged in to the charger, because what you want to do is a driver comes in in the morning, they’re doing that pre-trip inspection like they always do.

00:04:15:20 – 00:04:32:10
Speaker 2
They can turn the bus on, turn the cabin heaters on, and basically get up to temperature while it’s still plugged into the charger. That way when they unplug it and leave for the day, the bus is completely charged and the back in the cabin is completely warm, and so they don’t have to use as much power to get it back up to temperatures.

00:04:32:10 – 00:04:42:17
Speaker 2
So it’s really all about preserving battery power. Preserving range and preconditioning is, really a strategy. We talked to customers that really live in those kind of climates.

00:04:42:19 – 00:04:48:06
Speaker 1
Is there anything else, outside of preconditioning that helps with a successful deployment?

00:04:48:07 – 00:05:08:06
Speaker 2
Yeah, actually, quite a few things. It’s, we talk a lot about charging. So that’s an area like customers don’t really understand charging, especially in cold weather climates. for example, if it’s really cold out and you’re trying to get that battery temperature up, batteries have to get about 40 degrees before they start to take a charge.

00:05:08:08 – 00:05:24:17
Speaker 2
And that’s true for all lithium ion batteries. That’s really every everybody’s using the same type of battery, same chemistry in their school busses, and they have to get to that temperature to start to take a charge. So when you plug it into your charger, you have to basically have enough power going into the batteries to warm it up.

00:05:24:22 – 00:05:47:18
Speaker 2
But then you also need power to actually charge the battery. And so in some markets we say, well, level 2nd May not be the best charging solution doesn’t have it’s more of a slow charge, didn’t have quite as much power. So we often recommend they use DC fast chargers in cold weather climates. It allows it to warm the battery, but also have a lot more power so it can charge the, the battery at the same time.

00:05:48:00 – 00:06:01:23
Speaker 2
So we talk about those strategies. You want to make sure the bus is doing what was an intended was basically be fully charged and ready for the day when the bus driver arrives. And in many cases, a DC fast charger is the best way to accomplish that.

00:06:02:01 – 00:06:04:05
Speaker 1
So 40 is the magic number.

00:06:04:06 – 00:06:13:10
Speaker 2
40 is the magic number. And the interesting thing is when people say, well, what if it gets below zero? Will they still operate as the electric busses will operate all the way down to -40?

00:06:13:11 – 00:06:13:23
Speaker 1
Wow.

00:06:14:02 – 00:06:31:19
Speaker 2
Now, I think in most cases school districts are probably going to close anyway. If it gets -40 below, the bus, you know, the battery won’t out, will not take a charge, the battery won’t operate the it just it just won’t in those conditions. but generally that’s not the case for majority of the customers. I don’t think you’re.

00:06:31:19 – 00:06:35:06
Speaker 2
Are you are I ever felt what, -40 feels like. And hope we never do.

00:06:35:06 – 00:06:43:17
Speaker 1
I hope I never do either. so what about, mountainous terrain? we talked about Boston, but what about over on the West Coast?

00:06:43:23 – 00:07:03:20
Speaker 2
Yeah. So we have busses running in, markets like Colorado. a good example, where they have a lot of mountainous terrains that deal with a lot of snow. People wonder, how do those busses operate in those conditions? Well, we have a lot of feedback from drivers and transportation directors running in those conditions, and they’ll tell you their best snow bus is the electric school bus.

00:07:03:22 – 00:07:20:02
Speaker 2
You kind of wonder why that is, right? So why is it so much better than their diesel busses? a few different reasons. One, they have a lot of power. So when the bus, you know, when the snow builds up and they have these snow drifts, these things can power through really easily because of all that additional power.

00:07:20:04 – 00:07:40:03
Speaker 2
And also they’re heavier, right? So you have a little bit more weight on electric school bus than you do a diesel based. So you have a lower center of gravity, more weight, better traction. So they pull through the snow better than a diesel bus. And that power I spoke about when you’re going up, you know, some of these passes, these long passes over the Rocky Mountains, more power to get up over and over those passes.

00:07:40:03 – 00:07:47:22
Speaker 2
So drivers love them for that reason. They say that’s a preferred product when they’re having to deal with those snow conditions in places like Colorado.

00:07:48:00 – 00:08:03:18
Speaker 1
I’m thankful I don’t have to drive in those conditions, but I’m glad there are people, who are willing and able. so if we’re talking, we are talking about extreme weather. What about on the opposite end of the spectrum, with extremely hot temperatures?

00:08:03:20 – 00:08:25:10
Speaker 2
Yeah. Good question. You know that not a big an issue for folks. but we do have busses and really high climates like Arizona and Southern California, and we’re talking temperatures like it gets up to 120 degrees, you know, like to say it’s a dry heat, but it’s still hot. And so that’s important, though. How do these busses operate in those conditions?

00:08:25:12 – 00:08:45:21
Speaker 2
Well, the thermal management system I mentioned earlier also has what they call a chiller in that component. So if it gets too hot in the battery start to warm up, it actually chills that coolant runs just to the battery, brings temperatures back down to that preferred 70 to 80 degrees. And again they work great in this condition.

00:08:45:23 – 00:08:59:04
Speaker 2
We basically have thought through any kind of condition these busses could operate in. And that component on that bus is key to make sure that they can do their function and get kids to school every day comfortably and safely.

00:08:59:06 – 00:09:02:23
Speaker 1
And so how many states, do we have? An even now.

00:09:03:01 – 00:09:10:22
Speaker 2
I think we’re up to 36 states and actually four Canadian provinces. So we even have, one bus currently in Hawaii. It’s kind of cool. Yes.

00:09:10:22 – 00:09:12:20
Speaker 1
We could go there to visit you should.

00:09:12:23 – 00:09:36:17
Speaker 2
I think they need a visit. Let’s see how those are doing. we have quite a few in Canada, too. Mainly in Quebec. We have some in British Columbia, in Ontario and Alberta as well. So yeah, from, you know, West Coast all the way the East Coast, we have nearly every state covered now. And with some of the, you know, EPA school bus funding, I expect we’re going to have all 50 states here covered with heavy busses before too long.

00:09:36:17 – 00:09:38:05
Speaker 2
So pretty exciting stuff.

00:09:38:05 – 00:09:43:10
Speaker 1
It’s very exciting. Yeah. Anything else that you’d want to add for our customers?

00:09:43:12 – 00:10:07:04
Speaker 2
No, I’d say, as they, you know, continue to have questions about any kind of weather related concerns they might have or special conditions and their markets. Please reach out to us. We, likely have experience in similar conditions that they’re going to be running these busses. We can even put them in touch with transportation directors, running busses in those similar type markets, and really kind of ease their mind that, yes, these things are going to work as intended.

00:10:07:04 – 00:10:12:15
Speaker 2
They’re a great product in almost every situation. So, let us know and we’re here to help.

00:10:12:17 – 00:10:18:19
Speaker 1
Okay. That’s all the time we have for today. And that’s our bird’s eye view on cold weather operations.