The biggest microgrid and transit bus charging station in America are now located in Montgomery County, Maryland. The county transit system’s 70 buses will all be electric by 2026, and it now has the largest fleet of electric school buses in the country.
To maintain all those electric buses charged and able to serve the neighborhood, a lot of electricity will be needed. The issue of how to pay for everything else follows. Many individuals shout that electric vehicles would destroy the grid as they run around like chickens with their heads cut off. However, there are opportunities everywhere. Invitations to think differently and benefit from novel ideas are obstacles that are insurmountable to some people but opportunities for others.
The new Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot was created by AlphaStruxture, a collaboration between Schneider Electric and private equity firm Carlyle Group, and consists of chargers, solar panels, battery storage units, and advanced microgrid software. In return for recurring monthly payments from the county for energy as a service, it has funded the project.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. AlphaStruxture is not acting philanthropically in doing this. Like everyone else in the world, they are involved in order to make money. The secret is that AlphaStuxture is able to provide the chargers and microgrid to Montgomery County at no cost and still have enough left over to cover their own revenue needs by controlling the flow of electricity into and out of all those bus batteries as well as the output of the 1.6 megawatt array of solar panels on the roof of the depot, the 3 MWh storage battery onsite, and payments for grid stabilization services from local utility company Pepco. Sweet!
Of course, the buses must be able to run in any situation, so there is also 1.8 MW of electricity available from on-site natural gas-powered generators to keep them powered up even in the event of a prolonged grid outage or lack of sunlight.
According to Canary Media , AlphaStruxure CEO Juan Macias stated at the ribbon-cutting event on Monday that the Brookville microgrid is “a national model for municipalities and private fleet owners…to efficiently deploy the charging infrastructure and distributed energy resources that the energy transition requires.”
Marc Elrich, the executive of Montgomery County, highlighted that the Brookville microgrid is currently the third transit bus charging station in the US to be powered by solar energy. The Vineyard Transit Authority, which serves the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, built the second, and the Antelope Valley Transit Authority in California constructed the first.
However, an increasing number of transit organizations are including backup batteries and solar panels into their bus depots in order to assist supply their expanding electric bus fleets with clean, self-generated power. Some are being created in markets with fewer incentives for solar electricity, while others are being built in California’s sunny and solar-rich state.
In terms of the quantity of electric buses being charged at once, Maryland has already grabbed the lead. In addition to the Brookville project, Montgomery County is where the majority of the nation’s electric school buses are being used. The newly passed Climate Solutions Now Act in Maryland sets strict goals for cutting carbon emissions from building and power generating, and it also stipulates that by 2030, at least 50% of the state’s bus fleet must be composed of zero-emissions vehicles.
A major obstacle to expanding electric bus fleets is figuring out how to make the current electrical system capable of supporting massive new loads. Reduced grid pressure can be achieved in a number of ways, including installing solar panels to generate electricity when the sun is out and storing that energy in batteries to use at other times.
This on-site energy equation gains the benefit of resilience by structuring these systems as standalone microgrids. In addition, while they are not operating their routes, electric buses themselves can act as backup batteries for the grid in times of emergency.
According to Canary Media, all of this does call for careful synchronization of charging schedules with the interaction of on-site and grid-supplied power. Greg Hintler, US managing director for Mobility House, the German business overseeing the charging infrastructure at the Brookville station, described the situation as “complicated and rapidly moving.” We as an industry still have a lot of work to do in terms of standards and interoperability, as well as making sure that our solutions can integrate for both customers and fleets.
The key to expediting the transition to electric transit is figuring out how to translate these potential benefits into lower upfront costs for electric buses, which are still significantly more expensive than their diesel-powered counterparts. The design for making it happen, however, might become more uniform as more initiatives like the Brookville depot are created, decreasing costs for transportation agencies considering their own electrification alternatives.
THE CONCLUSION Those who are concerned that EVs would disrupt the grid are partially correct—but only if doing so necessitates the construction of new thermal generating stations and transmission lines. They overlook the fact that microgrids alter conventional wisdom by focusing on producing electricity close to where it is needed rather than hundreds or thousands of miles away.
In the past, people believed that neither commercial aviation nor moonwalking would ever become commonplace. If we let it, the power of creative thinking can generate answers to any problems.
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