Electric Buses Get Solar Charging & Battery Backup On Martha’s Vineyard

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Martha’s Vineyard is an 87-square-mile island southwest of Falmouth on Cape Cod. You may never have been there, but you probably know of it because it’s where Jaws! was filmed in 1975. Like many islands, Martha’s Vineyard is vitally concerned with limiting its reliance on fossil fuels, which are more expensive than they are on the mainland because of the high cost of shipping. Island residents also tend to be more aware of the threat of rising sea levels as the Earth gets warmer.

The Vineyard Transportation Authority this week announced it will add 4 more electric buses to its fleet in June, bringing the total to 16 — 50% of its fleet. But that’s not the big news. We all know that electric buses can slash emissions compared to their diesel powered cousins and are less expensive to operate and maintain. What is newsworthy about the VTA electric bus program is that it will use electricity from solar panels to keep them charged. It has covered the roof of its operations center in Edgartown with enough panels to provide 700 kW of electricity. Since the buses travel up to 300 miles a day and need to run their heaters constantly during the winter, wireless charging stations are being install at several locations along their routes to add range while they are stopped to pickup and drop off passengers.

But even that’s not the end of the story. VTA has also added a 1.5 MWh battery storage facility to soak up all that electricity and use it to power its 12 recharging stations overnight. The system is the result of a collaboration between Arup, PXiSE, and Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. Half the funding for the project came from a public-private partnership between VTA and Enel X. The other half came from the Federal Transit Administration, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, according to the Vineyard Gazette.

Thanks to the battery storage component, the microgrid can be decoupled from the electrical grid during outages and used to provide emergency power locally. Enel X will own the battery storage component and manage it on behalf of the VTA to provide a reliable electricity supply to VTA and generate revenue by selling some of that electricity back to the grid in the future. Enel X and VTA will share any revenue created, which could amount to as much as $1 million over the life of the agreement. The cost of electricity to charge the electric buses will be 30% lower than if the electricity were purchased from the local utility, according to a report by Canary Media.

“VTA is proving that [fleet electrification] works, it’s cheaper to operate, and there are ways to provide risk mitigation and revenue streams that were historically unavailable,” says David Funk, senior manager for business development at Enel X. “We have now created a first-of-its-kind fully integrated, clean, resilient, and flexible public transportation system, which will drastically reduce emissions on the Island (and) save the VTA thousands of dollars in operational, maintenance, and fueling costs,” says Alice Butler of Oak Bluffs, chairman of the VTA advisory board.

Quiet, efficient buses that cost less to operate are wonderful news. But the real news here is the reduction in carbon dioxide those electric buses will make possible. The all electric bus fleet, which averages about 1.4 million miles of driving annually, will eliminate 36,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the next 10 years, according to Mass Transit Magazine.

That’s just counting the direct emissions diesel-powered buses would create during that time. Add in the emissions avoided by not shipping diesel fuel to the island, not delivering diesel fuel to the a mainland terminal, and not creating diesel fuel in the first place and the total carbon impact is huge. If you live on an island in an age when the waters around you are rising little by little, that may be the most important consideration of all.


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