Location: Salt Lake City, UT Fleet Type: Electric School Buses & Solar EVSE Canopy
Ken Martinez, the Transportation Manager of Salt Lake City School District (SLCSD), is at the forefront of an innovative endeavor to introduce clean alternative-fueled school buses and pioneering charging infrastructure. In 2021, SLCSD partnered with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to replace eight diesel school buses with four Micro Bird Type A 20-passenger EV buses and four Single Port Juice Box chargers. This transformation was made possible through funding from the Volkswagen Settlement Environmental Mitigation Trust, Utah Clean Diesel Programs, and the Rocky Mountain Blue Sky program. These electric buses were strategically deployed on bus routes within the Rose Park neighborhood, an area susceptible to higher levels of air pollution. In addition to the electrified buses, SLCSD invested in a 500-solar panel, 200 kW solar array atop the bus canopy at their facility. The facility boasts four Level-2 16.8 kW EV charging stations and two Level-3 100 kW EV charging stations, capable of charging a full-size bus within 2.5 hours.
Salt Lake City School District is the first in Utah to integrate electric school buses into its fleet. The district’s commitment extends further, with a plan to achieve 100% clean-renewable electricity by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2040. This vision is fortified by a Sustainability Resolution crafted by students from three district high schools, which gained unanimous approval from the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education.
Utah Clean Cities, a distinct collaborator in advancing alternative fuels for over three decades, has closely collaborated with Utah’s school districts. Given that the state once had some of the oldest and dirtiest diesel buses in the nation, the focus on adopting alternative fuels was monumental for Utah Clean Cities, policy makers, school districts, and the larger Utah community. Their endeavors span a range of alternative fuels, transitioning from propane to renewable natural gas and now all-electric solutions. The collaboration with Martinez has been particularly rewarding. Having seen his fleet through transitions from traditional diesel to natural gas and now to electric, Martinez has emerged as a national leader in electrified busing. His emphasis on providing a positive experience for the students aligns seamlessly with the district’s commitment to cleaner transportation. The electrification initiative has ignited enthusiasm among students, especially those from underserved communities on the West Side of Salt Lake County. This effort sends a powerful message that community leaders and school systems are dedicated to the well-being of their students. As the district aims to convert their entire fleet to electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles within the next decade, Ken Martinez’s proactive approach sets a compelling example of a resilient and sustainable future for school busing.
Outputs and Outcomes
The concerted effort to electrify Salt Lake City School District’s (SLCSD) bus fleet has yielded substantial outputs, including the procurement and deployment of electric buses, electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), and a solar array. Ken Martinez’s exemplary role as a successful model and mentor has further solidified SLCSD as a blueprint for other Utah School Districts to emulate. The most impactful outcome of this electrification endeavor is the reduction of harmful diesel emissions around schools and targeted neighborhoods, significantly improving air quality. According to estimates by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), electrifying all Wasatch Front school buses could lead to a reduction of 41,000 tons of pollutants. By 2022, SLCSD had already achieved an estimated annual reduction of 571 gallons of diesel consumption and 3.6 tons of GHG emissions. The solar array extends the greenhouse gas reduction impact, equivalent to taking 40 passenger vehicles off the road. Another notable outcome is the increased visibility, understanding, and acceptance of electric vehicles among bus drivers, students, parents, and the wider community. While a comprehensive cost-savings assessment is still pending, SLCSD anticipates long-term benefits. EV buses are expected to result in lower maintenance costs due to fewer moving parts and ongoing advancements in EV technology and incentives. These buses, engineered for durability, are projected to serve the SLCSD fleet for a span of eighteen to twenty years.
Best Practices & Lessons Learned
Regular operations have revealed insights that guide best practices in managing the electric bus fleet. The buses utilize the most power during interstate driving, attributed to consistent throttle usage. To address this, SLCSD has implemented training for drivers, helping them comprehend the range differences between city and highway driving based on varying speeds, merging onto highways, and throttle use. This training has effectively reduced range anxiety and empowered drivers to better plan their daily routes.
An obstacle to infrastructure expansion is the lack of streamlined communication among charger vendors. Martinez points out that inconsistent operation of chargers from the initial vendor hindered infrastructure planning. However, a new vendor partnership has brought efficient progress and exemplifies the vital role of reliable partnerships in electrification initiatives.
The expanded adoption of electric school buses hinges on collaborative efforts across Utah school districts to ensure adequate charging infrastructure availability during idle periods. SLCSD permits EV buses for field trips within a 20-mile range, contingent on charging infrastructure availability at the destination. As the fleet’s expertise is shared with other Utah School Districts, infrastructure growth will support broader electric bus integration.