Electric School Bus Performance
Although many acknowledge the need to transition the transportation sector away from fossil fuels, some have expressed performance concerns surrounding electric school buses when compared to traditional fossil powered vehicles. This section aims to address such concerns and show that electric school buses are capable of meeting and exceeding the performance benchmarks set by ICE vehicles.
Weather and Topography
Electric school bus performance has historically been sensitive to extreme temperatures. While it is true that extreme cold weather events can reduce lithium-ion battery range (typically by around 15%), there is ample evidence of electric school buses performing exceptionally well in cold weather, even being able to operate in temperatures as low as 40 °F at a without issue. Furthermore, battery technology is constantly improving and battery packs are now engineered to stay within their optimal temperature range regardless of ambient temperatures. Other technological integrations, such intelligent battery thermal management systems, help ensure that batteries are operating at peak efficiency.
Topographical conditions represent a similar obstacle, with some worrying that electric school buses lack the power to overcome steeply graded inclines. While many early versions of electric school buses are not able to meet these challenges, newer editions come equipped with cutting edge technology. For example, Navistar recently featured an electric school bus that was able to handle 20 percent grading, using smart controls and a high-torque magnet motor.
The life expectancy for an electric school bus is comparable with that of a conventional school bus, lasting around 12 years. However, lithium-ion battery technology is constantly improving, and certain studies indicate a usable life of closer to 20 years.
In terms of rider feedback and comfort, electric school buses are generally well regarded. By using a lithium-ion battery instead of a noisy internal combustion engine, electric school buses provide a calmer, quieter, and smoother ride than a diesel school bus. Drivers indicate that electric school buses are enjoyable and easy to operate.
There is also evidence that students are generally quieter and calmer during bus rides. A smooth, emissions-free ride on an electric school bus can lead to improvements for students with sound sensitivity and help them settle into academic activities faster.
Because electric school buses lack internal combustion engines, they must rely on an electric heating mechanism to regulate interior temperatures. One way to manage this is through the use of heat pumps, which are less energy intensive than resistive heaters and relatively cheap. Manufacturers such as Lion Electric utilize auxiliary fossil fueled heaters in their buses, while Blue Bird and Thomas Built use all-electric heating.