The transportation sector of our economy has recently become the number one contributor of greenhouse gasses, surpassing electricity production just this year. Oil production is up due to improved recovery methods, essentially fracking. This causes a lowering of the price of gasoline stimulating the purchase of bigger cars and hence more fuel consumption.
Meanwhile, greenhouse gas production from the electricity sector is down because of increases in electricity production from renewables such as wind and solar. Coal-fired plants are on the decline with much of that production being replaced with cleaner-burning natural gas.
The obvious need now is to wean our transportation systems off the use of fossil fuel products such as gasoline and diesel and convert them to electric power. Electric vehicles are inherently more efficient even when charged from the grid. Gasoline and diesel are pure fossil fuel whereas electricity from the grid has contributions from fossil fuel free wind, solar, nuclear, and hydro. Much electricity is produced from natural gas but it is cleaner burning than gasoline and diesel.
Most types of transportation are accessible to electrification. Some rail lines, particularly passenger trains in the east are already electric powered and there are no great impediments to extending this to all rail traffic both freight and passengers. Long-haul trucking will soon see the first generation of electric 18-wheelers. Tesla Motors is currently testing a semi with a 500-mile range. In the wings are delivery vans and pickup trucks.
Several totally electric passenger vehicles are on the market now. Tesla model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt are small sedans showing up across America. They both have a range of about 250 miles and the build-out of rapid charger networks will transform passenger car traffic.
Short range delivery vehicles are ripe for conversion to electric power. They have defined routes and predictable energy needs plus a central location for charging when not in use. Charging delivery vehicles at night is especially beneficial because there is excess generating capacity so rates are lower.
One of if not the best application of electric fleet vehicles are buses. Clean running buses in urban locales can greatly improve air quality over fossil fuel powered buses, even those employing clean burning natural gas. With electric buses there are no local pollution emissions and greatly reduced greenhouse emissions from remote generating plants.
Everyone with a child or grandchild, a niece or neighbor, who rides a school bus daily is exposed to noxious emissions from those buses. The bus that idles while waiting to pick up a load of children at school, the bus that idles while picking up and dropping off children in the community, the bus that runs up and down our highways and byways are all significant sources of pollutants such as fine particulates, carbon monoxide, and the components which form smog and ozone.
And finally, if climate change and the health of children aren’t enough, consider the fact that electric vehicles are cheaper. Electricity as a fuel is one third to one quarter the cost of gasoline and diesel. Maintenance costs are considerably lower for electric vehicles – fewer moving parts, no oil changes, radiator fluids, longer brake life due to regenerative braking, etc.
It’s time to start talking to superintendents, school boards, the PTA – anybody that will listen. Electric school buses are good for both our children and our pocket books.