The California Energy Commission has funded a first of its kind vehicle to building (V2B) project that will allow the batteries of electric buses to provide backup power to community buildings so they can provide a safe place for residents during emergencies. The electric buses used in Oakland were purchased from New Flyer and are operated by AC Transit.
According to a press release, the CEC’s Electric Investment Charge program awarded the project $3.2 million in funding, while an additional $400,000 in matching funds was contributed by West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and AC Transit. This pilot study is known locally as “V2B Oakland” and is a collaboration between the Center for Transportation and the Environment, Mobility House, AC Transit, New Flyer, Schneider Electric, the City of Oakland, and WOEIP.
Emergency Backup Power From Electric Buses
Each of the battery-electric buses will contribute six hours of backup power to the critical loads at the West Oakland branch of the Oakland Public Library. In addition, hydrogen fuel cell electric buses will provide up to 11 continuous hours of backup power, displacing nearly 100 pounds of carbon emissions per hour compared to traditional diesel backup generators. Working in close coordination with New Flyer, this project marks the first time a US transit agency will have the ability to use a hydrogen vehicle for V2B backup power.
“Initiating the first community resilience hub powered by a bidirectional V2B charging system has been an incredible journey. By bringing together leading edge technological innovation and sustainability, we are able to offer much needed emergency response benefits for both transit agencies and communities,” said Jason Hanlin, director of technology research at CTE. “For a project with so many key players, we are excited to apply CTE’s proven project management approach to usher this novel project from concept to fruition.”
The resilient backup power system, which combines Bus Exportable Power Supply (BEPS) capability with bidirectional chargers and smart software, will be integrated and tested at New Flyer’s Hayward facility, then deployed at an AC Transit bus division and the Oakland Library. The system is designed to power the library’s upgraded HVAC and air filtration system, providing clean air and electricity inside the building to create a public shelter during emergencies and outages.
“We are thrilled to bring our ‘vehicle-to-everything’ expertise from numerous projects in Europe and Asia to now develop the first ever vehicle-to-building resilience hub in the U.S.,” said The Mobility House US managing director Gregor Hintler. “Our ChargePilot system ensures all transit mobility needs are met and orchestrates the charge and discharge of the bidirectional chargers so that the buses can power critical building loads.”
Electric bus fleets are uniquely suited for backup power and emergency relief because of their energy storage capacity, electrical architecture, independent mobility, and ability to be quickly dispatched. When compared to diesel generators — the current default technology for emergency backup power — the electric bus system provides quicker response times and lower emissions. Not only is it more cost effective, it also increases the value of zero emission vehicles and chargers by providing community support benefits.
“Powering emergency shelters with islanded energy supply is an innovative feat we are honored to help facilitate,” said Jana Gerber, president of Microgrids North America at Schneider Electric. “It is also exciting to demonstrate how different technologies can integrate with each other so seamlessly and intelligently to allow for crucial backup power for the community and infrastructure.”
“Unquestionably, delivering reliable public transit service to nearly 22 million annual riders is our highest priority but we also pursue partnerships and initiatives that advance zero emission technology,” said AC Transit general manager Michael Hursh. “V2B is one example of a zero emission program that permits us to leverage our resources to enhance the resiliency and emergency preparedness of the diverse communities we’ve served for the past 60 years.”
“Many low income communities share streets and fence lines with the freight industry and suffer deadly pollution from petroleum combustion, says Brian Beveridge, co-executive director of WOIEP. “With our electrical grids straining under the demands of global warming and solar and wind not keeping pace with the urgent need, hydrogen may offer another tool in the toolbox of zero-emission freight transportation opportunities. Communities like West Oakland will benefit from an expanded set of transportation energy options by getting cleaner, safer streets and air quality.”
Infrastructure is expected to be installed by mid-2023, and demonstration, analysis, evaluation, and knowledge transfer for the pilot program will continue until July 2025.
The Mobility House is well known to CleanTechnica readers. It has been selected to manage the charging for the electric vehicles in the Austria Post fleet and the electric buses used by the public transportation agency in St. Louis. Its mission is to create an emissions-free energy and mobility future.
Projects like this in Oakland demonstrate that there is much more to electric vehicles than just zero emissions transportation. We are just beginning to figure out all the added value that electric vehicles make possible when they are integrated into the grid. Buses are especially valuable for this purpose as they can provide emissions-free backup power for hours on end when not in active service.
Utilities are slowly coming to realize that electric vehicles are not a burden, they are actually the key to the resilient energy grids of the future. Sure, we might not be quite there yet, but projects like this show us what’s possible. For those who think the future is too slow in getting here, we can only say, “Patience, grasshopper.” Electric vehicles are going to transform energy markets in ways we can’t even imagine today.
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