Director of UGA Transportation and Parking Services Don Walter is eager to talk about the plan to have more electric buses at UGA than any other university in the country.
“This is really cutting-edge technology,” Walter said. “We have people from all over the country calling us and visiting us.”
As reported in The Red & Black, UGA currently has eight Proterra buses at its transportation facility and 12 charging stations. Federal and state grants have made it possible for UGA to soon have 33 zero-emission electric buses, which will account for a third of the total fleet, and start phasing out diesel predecessors, on campus by 2021, Walter said.
“We don’t ever plan on buying another diesel bus,” Walter said.
The campus transit facility has 12 charging stations which are able to handle 48 buses.
Recently, Walter said they had electric buses on the Orbit route and campus tours. The electric buses have worked well and much more quietly than the diesel fleet.
UGA is the first system to test the Proterra Catalyst E2 buses, and Walter said UGA maintenance has helped recommend modifications on the new model.
The bus funding is made up of $10 million Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority grant, a $7.56 million U.S. Transit Administration grant. UGA also matched 30% of this grant funding.
The electric buses offer large cost savings for the university as well as environmental benefits.
Diesel buses cost $100 per day to run because of gas, while the electric buses will be about $5-10 per day to run, Walter said.
The electric grid will power the buses at the Riverbend Road Campus Transit facility. Walter said UGA receives lower electricity rates from Georgia Power because they charge the buses at night when electricity is in less demand.
Because the electricity comes from the grid, the zero-emission buses does not mean they’re powered by renewable energy. In Georgia, natural gas generates about 40% of electricity and coal generates about 25%. Renewable energy generates about 8%, according to Georgia’s 2018 profile in the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“While there is still that connection to the grid, it is a lot more efficient compared to standard diesel coming directly from the buses,” said Blake Ginn, a senior environmental engineering major working on his engineering capstone with transit. “There is still significant greenhouse gas and overall pollutant emissions that are being reduced by the buses.”
As it stands, maintenance costs from diesel to electric are expected to decrease from $22,500 per bus to $7,500 because there are no transmission repairs, exhaust problems, oil changes or brake strain, Walter said.
Walter said almost half the drivers are trained and once they train all 150 of them, they’ll be able to start regularly running all the electric buses they have.
“We want every driver to be completely comfortable when they get on that bus,” Walter said.
UGA students should be seeing more electric buses in the next few months.
The outside is made of a strong composite fiberglass and carbon fiber material and has two motors behind the back wheels. Its 500 horsepower engine is twice that of a diesel bus, and it’s five times more efficient, according to a UGA press release.
“This is the best bus ever built,” Walter said.
The electric fleet will contribute toward meeting UGA’s Campus Sustainability Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020. According to the plan, 14% of emissions come from campus transportation.
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