In energetic bus-based two-step, an ‘elegant’ e-effort

Charged up: Several Long Island energy interests are optimistic about a sustainability pilot program featuring electric-motor school buses.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

An ambitious school bus pilot program could ease the summertime burden on regional energy grids (students not included).

Suffolk Transportation Service – a Bay Shore-based bus operator boasting a fleet of 1,400 school buses, 80 transit buses and 143 paratransit buses – has submitted a proposal to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that would see electric-powered school buses not only replace traditional gas-guzzlers during the school year, but feed low-cost electricity back into the regional grid during the summer, when temperatures rise and energy demand peaks.

The secret sauce: three electric-motor Blue Bird Corp. school buses, each equipped with state-of-the-art inverters that allow stored electricity to be fed back into the power grid.

The buses, which would otherwise take summers off, can be charged at night, when demand eases and rates recede – and the power can be fed back to the grid during the day, covering peak demands and otherwise promoting sustainability.

That’s the gist of the “vehicle-to-grid” plan submitted to NYSERDA on Suffolk Transportation Service’s behalf by Edgewise Energy, the Plainview-based middleman between energy utilities and end-using customers.

Sammy Chu: Component proponent.

The 2015 startup aggregates a variety of regional energy projects, all looking to maximize efficiency and optimize value streams, and the bus company’s small-but-motivated V2G plan hits all the marks, according to Edgewise Energy co-founder and CEO Sammy Chu.

It’s not just about taking three traditional internal-combustion buses off regional roads – itself an environmental win – but the notion of levering the current realities of energy generation and distribution into a smarter sustainability effort, Chu noted.

“There are a lot of value components today when it comes to your electric bill,” he said. “Location, the time of day you use the energy, the time of day you produce the energy … that’s what makes something like vehicle-to-grid so important.”

And particularly attractive to a specialty shop like Edgewise Energy, which “translates between what’s going to value the utility the most and what’s going to value the customer the most, which is not always the same thing,” Chu noted.

In this case, the value is in the numbers. On an average day, counties like Suffolk and Nassau will burn up somewhere around 2,400 megawatts of electricity, according to Chu – but on peak days, that can spike closer to 6,000 megawatts.

That only happens about 10 times a year, but the grid has to be “capacitized” to meet that demand, Chu said – a conundrum for providers and ratepayers alike.

“Imagine you had to stock your refrigerator 365 days a year for the one day you have a party,” he added.

Enter the Blue Bird buses with the cutting-edge onboard inverters, facilitating the green-gen two-step. Created in conjunction with PSEG Long Island, the pilot plan was pitched to NYSERDA through the agency’s REV Connect program, an online platform that networks tech companies and utilities with similar environmental ambitions, and included in PSEG-LI’s Utility 2.0 Long-Range Plan, which is slated to be officially adopted later this year.

It’s an “elegant solution” for reducing carbon emissions during the school year and promoting sustainability in the summer, according to Chu, who in addition to leading Edgewise Energy is both chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Long Island chapter and vice chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

The busiest man in Long Island sustainability is “optimistic” the three-bus mini-fleet will be deployed by Summer 2020 – perhaps as the vanguard of an entirely new, zero-emissions Long Island student-transportation system.

“We know it will take many years,” Chu said. “But we believe this pilot program will give us an opportunity to eventually electrify all of Long Island’s school buses.”