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How does Alaska’s first electric school bus handle the winter?

How well do electric school buses do in extreme cold? One anecdotal answer comes from Gerald Blackard, co-owner of Tok Transportation, which operates a single electric bus for the Alaska Gateway School District in the small village of Tok in eastern Alaska.

The bus, which was manufactured by Thomas Built Buses, and features a battery system from Proterra, is Alaska’s first and so far only electric school bus, according to Alaska Public Media. It’s in its second year of service for the school district. Last winter it ran the routes every school day, even when the temperature dropped to 40 below. “It has not missed a single day of school,” Blackard told Alaska Public Media.

The punishing temperatures definitely have an impact, however. State regulations require that the inside of the bus be kept at a minimum of 45 degrees (yes, the kids dress warmly). “The bus heated well,” said Blackard. “It kept the interior at normal temperature.” However, “even with a little bit of insulation on the batteries and kind of covering up the engine compartment, to try to hold in as much heat as we could, we were still using more energy to heat the bus than we were to drive the bus.”

On the 40-below days, heating the bus drained a little over half of the battery’s charge. “On January 27th, we had 38 below,” said Blackard. “The bus’s efficiency that day was 3.46 kilowatts per mile. This fall, in August-September, we were running between 1.4 and 1.7 kilowatts per mile.”

Blackard’s company paid $50,000 to buy the e-bus—the rest of the $400,000 purchase price was covered by a grant from the Alaska Energy Authority. Solar panels help charge the bus, providing about half the electricity required. Blackard is looking into adding stationary storage to the system.

Blackard has been sharing the data he’s collected with the Alaska Energy Authority, Proterra and Thomas. “I’m in contact with [Thomas] often,” he said. “They’re always curious to see how things are going and making sure that it’s working properly.”

He’s also been sharing his data with some Alaskan nonprofits that are involved with EVs and renewable energy.

Source: Alaska Public Media

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