podcast

Electric School Buses: Infrastructure and Charging

August 3, 2023

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Albert Burleigh and Lauren Beaty are joined by Luke Nolan from InCharge Energy to discuss initial steps for implementing charging infrastructure, charge and load management, interoperability and more.

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 – 00:00:35:00
Speaker 2
Let’s get started.

00:00:35:02 – 00:00:45:23
Speaker 1
Today we’re going to talk about infrastructure and how to charge an electric bus. Today we have a very special guest with us, Luke Nolan from in Charge Energy.

00:00:46:01 – 00:00:46:22
Speaker 2
Welcome, Luke.

00:00:47:00 – 00:01:16:23
Speaker 3
Hey. Thank you. It’s nice to be here in Macon, Georgia. I, as you guys know, I’m the global account manager that supports the Bluebird partnership. And, in charge is the preferred partner of Bluebird for all, hardware, software and turnkey installation solutions for the dealerships and the end customers. And, happy to be here supporting the school bus industry, because growing up, I also rode the school bus and school bus 51 for Wayne Highlands School District brings a lot of, happy memories for me.

00:01:17:00 – 00:01:36:03
Speaker 2
Awesome. Yeah, we’re really happy for you to be here as well. So thanks for coming. I know all the way from Santa Monica, California. So, we’ll get started. we obviously get a lot of questions from customers on charging infrastructure and how to charge your electric school busses. Is it just chargers when we’re talking about infrastructure, or is there more?

00:01:36:05 – 00:02:01:22
Speaker 3
There’s most certainly more. you know, the charger is of course, an important component of that. But, you know, often includes everything from infrastructure and grades like switchgear and transformers. At times it can include solar photovoltaics, battery energy storage and microgrids. so it really varies based on the application. and it’s all, you know, we always say that it’s kind of like a snowflake machine, not a cookie cutter.

00:02:02:00 – 00:02:20:11
Speaker 3
You know, every scenario is kind of unique. And, we try to customize and make sure that we assess each situation in a way to, you know, understand what are the school’s dwell times, what are the routes they run? what is their nameplate rating on the existing equipment so that we can apply the correct solution for each customer?

00:02:20:13 – 00:02:22:03
Speaker 2
A lot involved. Absolutely.

00:02:22:04 – 00:02:34:09
Speaker 1
Yeah. So if you were to, break all of that down into what would the first steps if you could walk us through maybe the first 2 or 3 steps? a school district we need to know.

00:02:34:11 – 00:02:58:08
Speaker 3
Yeah. So it kind of all begins in that discovery phase of doing an assessment with the school district. that kind of begins with understanding what’s their load capacity. You know, what is their current nameplate rating on the electrical equipment? what is their short and long term vision for, transitioning the fleet from diesel to electric? So these are all considerations that we began to understand.

00:02:58:08 – 00:03:10:01
Speaker 3
And also factoring in size constraints or with the way it looks like for them, so that we can apply all these factors towards a solution that will ultimately work best for them and begin with a preliminary layout.

00:03:10:03 – 00:03:19:01
Speaker 1
Okay. And can you explain a little bit more? I know Albert probably knows this, but the nameplate reading and then what you mentioned before that just says load capacity.

00:03:19:02 – 00:03:37:18
Speaker 3
Yeah yeah, yeah. Load capacity. Like think of load capacity in the way of, you know, how much capacity you have, you know, generally, a lot of, the electrical use could already be, taken care of by the existing electrical in the building. And when we talk about nameplate, you know, it’s what’s coming into the building, right?

00:03:37:19 – 00:03:47:00
Speaker 3
Is it 480 volt? Is it to a to to 40 volt? These are all really important considerations with the type of equipment that you would end up pairing. to watch for your fleet.

00:03:47:05 – 00:04:02:14
Speaker 2
Okay. Yeah. So that’s interesting. You said it’s kind of like a snowflake machine. They’re all different. would you say most school districts who are looking at infrastructure require some kind of upgrades? Is it is it generally more than, you know, fewer that don’t what’s.

00:04:02:16 – 00:04:21:14
Speaker 3
Yeah, I would say nearly all school districts require an upgrade in some form or another. So, especially if they’re looking at larger steps in terms of transitioning their fleets, you know, there are some instances where, you know, level two equipment might be apt for what the school is trying to accomplish with their electric school bus.

00:04:21:16 – 00:04:38:13
Speaker 3
But in most scenarios, you know, if they currently don’t have 483 phase power coming into the facility that, some sort of upgrade would be required. And generally it’s wise to kind of do that upfront. you know, if you’re thinking of the long term, solution for fleet electrification.

00:04:38:13 – 00:04:48:02
Speaker 2
Okay, so it’s 1 or 2 busses, maybe not, but if they want to continue to electrify their fleet over time, certainly upgrades are going to be required. So. Right.

00:04:48:04 – 00:05:00:07
Speaker 3
I would say eventually, especially in all these states that are zero emission vehicle or EV friendly states, you know, you’re going to want to be thinking in that direction anyway. And if you can dig only once, you know, that saves you money in the long run.

00:05:00:09 – 00:05:14:10
Speaker 2
Yeah, that advice. so, here a lot about charge management. and what’s, what’s involved in that and why is that important for a school district to understand charge management, how it can assist their fleet through this.

00:05:14:12 – 00:05:34:18
Speaker 3
That charge management is kind of like the brains behind the operation. And it’s ultimately how a fleet operator or, you know, a driver who’s using the charger is would be able to monitor and optimize their fleet. So there’s a number of ways that it’s really important for school districts. I I’d say, you know, big one is lowering your total cost of ownership.

00:05:34:19 – 00:05:55:06
Speaker 3
another is that when it comes to these grants and what the utility is giving you, that, it’s required often to report on the charging data in order to receive that money. So, you know, free money isn’t even free. You got to do something to go get it. and that’s important. there’s also revenue opportunities for schools through the charge management software.

00:05:55:08 – 00:06:17:07
Speaker 3
So I can touch a little bit on that. But, you know, one of the really primary uses is, is just focusing on deeper productivity. so through our platform, which we call in control, we’re able to use it to log service requests. it tracks all of that information so that we could see a history. Imagine that versus, kind of logging things through an email or phone.

00:06:17:07 – 00:06:38:18
Speaker 3
It’s kind of difficult and you lose track of that. So the very basics we do that and given that it’s able to be managed remote, we’re able to solve a lot of our service quests without even sending a truck or deploying a technician to the site. You know, nearly 75% of our requests for service are solved just over the, ER, 40% of those requests are just solved with a reset.

00:06:38:19 – 00:06:57:09
Speaker 3
It’s kind of like rebooting your computer sometimes solves the issue. So, you know, same thing. And, you know, every minute or every day that your bus’s inoperable or your charger’s inoperable. You know, that’s kind of time or money lost, depending on the way you look at your fleet. So kind of having in control is one way that facilitates that.

00:06:57:10 – 00:07:20:14
Speaker 3
You could also use it, just monitor usage, understand the charges and use, you know, if you’re deploying a large fleet, that kind of becomes important to just overall productivity. And, you know, lowering the TCO is, you know, a big thing that we think of it, the school districts, you know, world management is a capability that we’re able to offer with our DC chargers so that, can help with demand savings.

00:07:20:16 – 00:07:44:05
Speaker 3
make sure you lower your, you don’t fall into, like, peak territory and you’re shaving off that so we can create rules that, help them save money in the long run. And then as far as, you know, revenue opportunities are concerned. You know, there are in states like California, the LCS credits. so that requires reporting data, which can all be automated through a platform like in control.

00:07:44:07 – 00:08:05:03
Speaker 3
in the future, too, you think of the opportunity, right? and control will be a tool to help facilitate that as well. So. Okay. you know, even in demand response events, you know, where I’m in California, we have these public safety power shut offs. Right? And so in those events, when you can sell power back to the grid, or they’ll pay you to not use power at all.

00:08:05:05 – 00:08:11:13
Speaker 3
you know, having a platform like, in control to help monetize that, is something that help benefit a school district customer.

00:08:11:16 – 00:08:31:23
Speaker 2
Wow. That’s amazing. I mean, it shows how important that charge management really is. You talked about load management a little bit. So what would happen if a school had, let’s say, Genevieve busses and decided to charge them all at the same time? You know, using DC fast chargers, putting a lot of energy, using a lot of energy from the grid all the same time.

00:08:32:01 – 00:08:33:15
Speaker 2
What what would happen there typically?

00:08:33:17 – 00:09:04:05
Speaker 3
Well, in all likelihood, you know, depending on its particular utility, you know, you may creep into what they call demand charges, right? So let’s just use a wild example of saying, you know, past 15kW, you know, then you’re into a new threshold of, you know, payments, right? And maybe that’s double, you know, the charge, right? So you might be a little surprised what your energy bill looks like if, if you’re doing that, but kind of knowing what those utility rates are allows you to apply some rules through the software, so you can help manage that a little bit better.

00:09:04:06 – 00:09:18:06
Speaker 3
You know, of course, there may be times where you just need to charge because you got to run your, your routes. Right. These are all important. But, you know, planning around that is important. And so, you know, like I said, lower your total cost of ownership of, your operating bus fleet.

00:09:18:08 – 00:09:23:16
Speaker 1
so that charge management software that is standard with every bus.

00:09:23:18 – 00:09:43:22
Speaker 3
We sell it as a part of every, you know, every engagement. Yeah. you know, I school could just buy the hardware. Okay. Honestly, I don’t know why they would. You know, the load management really pays for itself. so, you know, I think if a school district’s being smart about this, they would really require this, that it’d be very important for them.

00:09:44:00 – 00:09:49:15
Speaker 1
Yeah. How hard or easy? What’s, to train people on this? Is it?

00:09:49:17 – 00:10:08:08
Speaker 3
it’s incredibly user friendly. you know, a few months ago, I knew nothing that I didn’t control. So, you know, it’s like being able to operate it, like, on a day to day basis. You kind of see how easy it is. It’s not even app based, you know, it’s something you log in from your browser anywhere, whether that’s your phone, tablet, to, to get a view of.

00:10:08:08 – 00:10:12:21
Speaker 3
Okay. Oh. So, it’s very user friendly, very intuitive.

00:10:12:23 – 00:10:24:14
Speaker 2
so another thing we heard, you know, get a lot of questions about are customers asking, should I use level two charging? Should I use DC fast charging? Kind of what are the differences and how do you help a customer decide what the best solution is?

00:10:24:16 – 00:10:51:21
Speaker 3
Yeah. So the level two would be what we call AC charging or alternating current. really these products come with about three kilowatt to a 19.2kW, sort of output rating. And generally they’re 208 to 240 volt, connects. So important consideration I think overall when talking about AC versus DC is that when it comes to the battery they can only store DC.

00:10:51:23 – 00:11:19:11
Speaker 3
So somewhere along this line the AC needs to get converted into DC to be stored in the battery. Generally that occurs on an onboard charger or somewhere outside of the charger itself, but there’s a little power loss in that process. Right. so you’re thinking of charging from 3 to 19.2 kilowatts. It’s a lower maximum output rating. So in most instances, AC level charging just doesn’t make sense for a school customer based on its routes.

00:11:19:11 – 00:11:27:04
Speaker 3
But there are some scenarios where it may make sense. you know, it all kind of varies. And like we said, it’s a snowflake machine. When we talk about.

00:11:27:06 – 00:11:31:08
Speaker 2
It takes a lot longer, right, to charge. I mean, that’s one of the downsides.

00:11:31:13 – 00:12:01:18
Speaker 3
Exactly. If you have a really long dwell time and maybe something that works for you. but in most scenarios, you know, a higher power charge is necessary. And also with AC level charging, you’re missing out on a lot of that smart software technology like load management that you could be getting because it’s more or less a smart switch, you know, on and off where DC, you have a little more, you know, with DC, like you’re saying level three or DC direct current charging, you know, generally that’s coming with for 80 Volt Connect.

00:12:01:20 – 00:12:32:14
Speaker 3
And some of them are one phase. for the most part though, it’s three phase connect, which is kind of the general, distribution for the industry. With DC, you get all the smart, capabilities that we’re talking about, with within the software and also the output ranges anywhere from, let’s say, 24kW to 350kW. So, you know, when it comes to, you know, maintaining, a route, you know, say you’re running 70, 80 miles with your bus.

00:12:32:16 – 00:12:50:12
Speaker 3
You know, in all likelihood, a DC charger is going to be your best fit, to meet the demands of your route. But that’s really where we come in, you know, we we do this assessment. We try to analyze your routes, your dwell times, the climate that you’re in, for instance, understand what the best solution is for you.

00:12:50:13 – 00:12:52:10
Speaker 2
Fantastic.

00:12:52:12 – 00:12:58:22
Speaker 1
so do all chargers, work with all EV busses? It’s a really softball question.

00:12:59:00 – 00:13:18:09
Speaker 3
Well, it’s it’s kind of a complex question because I think the short answer is kind of yes, but also the answer is also no in a way. You know, it’s a it really depends on compatibility between the bus and the charger. within this program, we put a lot of effort into interoperability testing the chargers with the busses.

00:13:18:11 – 00:13:19:12
Speaker 2
What’s that?

00:13:19:13 – 00:13:42:10
Speaker 3
It’s kind of just testing the chargers to make sure that the functions that we have work with bus, that, you know, the charging operates as it should. and I’ll give you an example is there’s a DC charger that I’m familiar with that’s about 24kW, right. this charger has like a 550 to 700 volt rating.

00:13:42:10 – 00:14:19:11
Speaker 3
And with the Bluebird bus, which I think it was around 650, that directs, the output, I think 30 amps. So really, with the 24 kilowatt, you’re now charging at 19kW, right there. so it’s a, at a reduced rating, making it still a decent solution if you’re testing the DC fast charging capability on the bus or just trying to bring the bus up to a higher state of charge, but factor in other, considerations, like you’re in a cold weather climate and the, you know, the thermal management system, is going to help support preconditioning the bus before the route.

00:14:19:13 – 00:14:48:11
Speaker 3
You know, with a thermal management system consuming, say, somewhere around ten kilowatts of that charge, you’re now charging at nine kilowatts, with that unit. And that makes it a poor operational experience for the bus driver. And I think that’s why interoperability testing is so important, for our end customers and, and for the Bluebird partnership, because it can give customers the peace of mind that the sort of product that we’re presenting to them and that we’re recommending is truly the best fit for them.

00:14:48:12 – 00:15:02:01
Speaker 3
And there’s going to be no surprises down the road. You know, they they may see a lot of recommendations for level two because it’s, less expensive. you know, with us, we’re truly going to give you a recommendation that only works for your needs.

00:15:02:03 – 00:15:04:23
Speaker 2
Perfect. Makes a lot of sense. Okay.

00:15:05:00 – 00:15:10:18
Speaker 1
Well, I think that’s all the time we have for today. So thank you very much for being here. We really appreciate it.

00:15:10:20 – 00:15:11:18
Speaker 3
Yeah. Thank you.

00:15:11:20 – 00:15:15:15
Speaker 2
Thank you. Look. And that’s our bird’s eye view on infrastructure and charging.