Transit Agencies Are Turning to Microgrids to Power EV Fleets

Transit agencies in Maryland and Massachusetts have turned to renewable energy microgrid projects to better manage the needs of their bus fleets. The move will also help meet aggressive sustainability goals.

Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot.png
An artist rendering of the Brookville Smart Energy Depot, currently under development in Montgomery County, Md.
Courtesy Photo: AlphaStruxure
Transit agencies are not only making the transition to electric buses and other vehicles, they are also launching renewable energy microgrids to power them and better manage the growing electric needs.

A bus depot built out with electric vehicle charging and a solar farm floating above a parking lot in Montgomery County, Md., will enable the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to grow its electric bus fleet from the current four buses to 44, as it transitions away from fossil fuels. The microgrid project, known as the Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot is set to be completed by spring 2022.

The facility will be owned and operated by AlphaStruxure, a joint venture of the Carlyle Global Infrastructure Opportunity Fund and Schneider Electric, in an emerging configuration known as energy as a service. The 5.6 mega-watt microgrid integrates solar photovoltaics, battery energy storage and charging infrastructure, said Juan Macias, CEO of AlphaStruxure.

“The microgrid ensures bus operations can continue in the event of extreme weather and power outages,” said Macias.

The project will use Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure platform, an IoT-enabled system to provide cloud-based, interoperability with other systems as well as cybersecurity controls.

Meanwhile in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) will have half of its 32 buses powered by electricity by mid-summer. VTA has been involved in a transition process that involves a recharging facility, which includes a renewable energy microgrid, as well as the development of inductive charging stations at certain bus stops. Inductive charging allows for buses to be topped off with electric power from wireless connections at bus stops or transfer points.

“With the PV we want to be able to go off-grid when we need to, due to power outages, since we are on an island,” said Angie Gompert, administrator for Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority, using the shorthand for photovoltaic, the solar-generated electric power technology at the bus depot. “And still be able to fuel our fleet with local[ly]-generated PV.”

Electrifying the VTA fleet has already netted about $25,000 in fuel cost savings since 2018, said Gompert, adding this savings is set to increase as more electric buses come online. The pandemic further complicated the savings when the price of diesel nose-dived, making that fuel source briefly attractive during 2020.

In Edgartown, Mass., another microgrid system is just now coming online and will function as an overall power management center, taking the lead on ensuring buses are charged with an adequate level of power to serve bus routes, as well as feeding excess power back into the utility grid. The microgrid will better manage electric demand, saving VTA “demand charges,” where electric consumers generally pay more for electricity during peak demand times, Gompert explained. New inductive charging infrastructure also communicates with the microgrid management system, allowing it to adjust how much power is reserved and how much is sent back to the grid.

“The microgrid’s function is really to be the leader for the entire aspect of the system,” said Gompert.

Public-private partnerships exhibited in arrangements like energy as a service, said Macias, bring the kinds of technical and financial expertise to transit agencies, helping them to get the most benefit from electrifying fleets, while also meeting sustainability goals.

“With the Biden administration’s focus on fleet electrification and aggressive goal to slash greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot provides a national model for municipalities and private fleet owners to efficiently deploy the charging infrastructure and distributed energy resources that this transition requires,” said Macias.

"Electrifying our bus fleets is a necessary step in reducing carbon emissions, which is why the microgrid and electrification project brings us one step closer to meeting our ambitious climate goals," Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said, in a statement. "This project can show a sustainable path for other counties and cities to follow Montgomery County's lead in transitioning away from dirty energy and moving toward electrification."
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 Sacramento.
Sponsored Articles
Featured Resources