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Solar-Powered Bus Depot Adds New Energy to Maryland Transit

The Brookville Smart Energy Depot in Silver Spring will be capable of charging 70 buses, setting the stage for not only the transition to a zero-emission transit fleet, but one powered by an on-site microgrid.

Electric transit buses operated by Montgomery County, Md., sit at the new Brookville Smart Energy Depot in Silver Spring. The county now has the nation’s largest electric-bus solar-powered microgrid depot, capable of charging up to 70 buses.
Submitted Photo: Montgomery County, Md.
A bus depot in Maryland will eventually have no need for costly diesel or natural gas; or for that matter, electricity from the local power grid.

Montgomery County, Md., has opened the nation’s largest solar-powered microgrid depot, capable of charging up to 70 electric buses at its Brookville Smart Energy Depot in Silver Spring.

The project was a public-private partnership between the county and AlphaStruxure, a provider of energy-as-a-service (EaaS) solutions. AlphaStruxure will own and operate the facility under a long-term agreement with the county. It is only the third bus-charging microgrid project using renewable energy in the country. Solar panels and energy storage, in addition to charging infrastructure, are all part of the facility.

Montgomery County has 14 electric buses, and plans to purchase up to 100 more next year, ultimately transitioning all 400 buses in its fleet to zero-emission versions by 2035. The Brookville Depot will be a crucial piece of infrastructure to enable this development, said Chris Conklin, director of Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT).

“Now that this is operational, we just have to figure how to get the other 330 vehicles transitioned to zero-emissions fuel,” he remarked during the unveiling in late October.

Montgomery County is no stranger to making the most of e-buses. In 2021, Montgomery County Public Schools entered into an agreement with Highland Electric Transportation to transition its entire school bus fleet to electric in the next several years. Those same buses will also be used to better manage and stabilize the electric grid via their vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities.

Mark Specht, western states energy manager and senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, spoke with Government Technology in September following a major heat wave that stressed California’s electric grid, voicing his concerns about the need for increased grid resiliency and reliability.

“What we should be doing right now is basically doing everything we can to add as much renewables, storage, demand response to the grid to dig ourselves out of this reliability hole,” said Specht about California, while also illustrating an existential energy issue for the entire country. Grids across the U.S. have struggled to adapt to increasingly extreme weather and unplanned demands on aging electric infrastructure, as well as the demand caused by more electric vehicles.

For its part, Maryland ranked 7th in the country on the recently released 2022 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The annual ACEEE state scorecard examines energy efficiency across a range of more than 40 different scoring metrics covering utilities, transportation, buildings, industry and appliances.

“This is doable,” remarked County Executive Marc Elrich at the depot unveiling. “My message to folks around the country: It’s not rocket science. If you can figure out the financing and the partners, you can do this, and you can do it quickly.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.