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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Students ride the sun; take plug-in hybrid buses to school

From a article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Town of Oconomowoc — Sandy Syburg has driven school buses for years - but none like these.

When they start rolling on their routes next week, these hybrid electric school buses won't lurch forward the way conventional school buses do.

A diesel engine is least efficient when it's trying to get a 27,000-pound vehicle moving from a full stop, Syburg said. Thanks to the hybrid technology, the electric motor kicks in first, with lithium-ion batteries powering the bus forward from a stop.

"It's very smooth. It's like a gust of wind when you're sailing," said Syburg, chief executive of Oconomowoc Transport Co.

In the bus terminal, Syburg can plug an electrical cord into the side of the bus so that solar panels can charge the batteries that run the vehicle's electric motor.

To date, more than 100 hybrid school and commercial buses have rolled off of the IC Bus LLC assembly line since 2007. Eleven of them are plug-in hybrid electric school buses in Oconomowoc, ready to start the school year next week.

The investment, aided by a state grant through the federal stimulus package, aims to reduce diesel fuel use by 7,500 gallons a year. That would provide savings of $26,000 in fuel costs for the Oconomowoc Area School District at today's diesel prices.

When they're done with their morning school run, the buses will return to the bus company on Brown St. and their batteries will be recharged with the help of 224 solar panels that were erected by Renewable Energy Solutions of Waukesha.

It's the first solar-electric charging station in the state, and it's ready to power the biggest fleet of plug-in hybrid school buses in the country.

The buses are projected to result in saving because of a 50% gain in fuel economy. A typical bus gets 7 miles per gallon, but the hybrid technology will boost that to 12.

"It's a little glimpse of the future; it's very impressive," said Mike Barry, assistant superintendent of the district. The district will seek to incorporate the solar-powered hybrids into its curriculum.

"We're trying to make some links between the curriculum that the students learn about in school and the real world," he said. "When the connection is as immediate as the very bus that takes you to and from school, that's a powerful connection."

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