Transit Blog Series



Exploring Solar-Plus-Storage for Battery Electric Buses

As transit systems add battery electric buses (BEB) to the fleet mix, managing the costs to power them can be a challenge. A major factor for grantees to consider is higher electricity costs due to time of use or demand charges incurred when charging profiles create spikes in demand from the utility grid. Excess pricing structures effectively exist to serve a single purpose: de-incentivize customers from overtaxing the grid with excessive energy demand during high energy usage periods. Building out new power infrastructure and electrical equipment to support charging can add significantly to the cost of deploying large numbers of BEBs.

At Wendel, we have been working with clients to update their facilities to accommodate BEBs. For example, with Greater Bridgeport Transit (GBT), Connecticut DOT (CTDOT) and operator CT Transit, John Havrilla, Director of Alternate Fuels for Wendel, has seen first-hand the reality that transit facilities were not originally designed to handle the additional electrical load. With upgrades, there are many factors to consider and every transit system will have differing scenarios to navigate. Effectively managing (smart charging) the overall demand (kW) cost of BEB charging is one of the biggest obstacles faced in the BEB electrification journey. This is where Wendel has provided expert technical assistance for BEB Projects.

Even with small numbers of BEBs, transit agencies can be faced with increased costs on current utility tariff pricing; despite typically lower electrical rates for overnight charging. Thinking long term, assessing new power generation in current and new facility design should be explored as a part of the charging mix; and operators of BEBs can look to one of their natural allies in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: solar energy. With solar-powered charging setups, transit fleets may be able to reduce their dependence on the grid, cut energy costs, and in some cases mitigate portions of the expensive upgrades to utility infrastructure. What’s more, fueling BEBs with a renewable energy source like solar further reduces emissions compared to diesel and even CNG. Agencies with large indoor storage have facilities that may be conducive to solar arrays on the roof. For transit agencies not interested in owning and operating solar facilities, third party companies are available that will build, own, operate and maintain these systems at little or no up-front costs to the transit system.

Solar-plus-storage systems are more economical where heavy costs are being projected under higher time of use or demand charge rates. Solar panels only generate energy when the sun is shining, that’s why the ability to store solar energy for later use is so important. This too can be challenging if space for large battery pack storage on a transit site is a limiting factor. To charge 5 buses, a 4 hour, 739.5 kW battery pack is roughly 24 ft wide by 5 ft deep by 8 ft high.

From 2008 to 2017, the United States was the leader in lithium-ion battery storage with about 92% of it, or about 844 megawatt hours (MWh) of the 1,000 MWh of storage in the world. You can learn more of the basics here: Energy.Gov Solar-plus-Storage Systems. With BEBs continuing to claim a larger share of the U.S. transit fleet, examining the possibility of a solar-plus-storage microgrid is worthy of consideration as one more potential strategy in managing overall BEB charging costs.

Written by:
Tony Kellen


Integrating TOD into your Intermodal Design

As transit agencies look to promote transit use – communities are embracing the vision of intermodal connectivity – inclusive, walkable, affordable, environmentally sustainable urban designs.

Central Midlands Council of Governments (CMCOG) Study

On Wendel’s intermodal projects; planning for transit-oriented development (TOD) is increasingly becoming an essential component of successful transit centers. A good TOD example is the Central Midlands Council of Governments (CMCOG) study to determine the feasibility of constructing a regional intermodal center in downtown Columbia, SC for the COMET – Central Midlands Transit. Where most consider the “D” in “TOD” to mean “Development,” in reality it is more about “Density.” Embracing TOD is critical in extending the land use and transportation nexus.

Last month my blog highlighted the fact that social distancing to slow down this pandemic runs counter to the mission of public transportation. In the thick of this disruption, with teleworking and social distancing in fashion, it is convenient to argue urban density as a cause for more disease and tragedy.

At the same time, this on-going COVID-19 crisis is amplifying our nation’s view towards the purpose of transit. As ridership has plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic, the goal of transit has shifted to an essential service focus. Despite reduced services and lower passenger counts, all over America transit’s workers have been saluted for keeping other essential workers moving and highlighting the fact that transit is, at the core, a critical part of the equation that allows our economy to thrive.

When this crisis passes, renewal of urban centers will likely continue the trend where proximity and adjacency to transit centers in the urban core become even more meaningful to the future of thriving cities. Consider the following about Millennials; “Their adroitness at using technology and their predisposition for living in urban neighborhoods and taking a train or bus to get around is already influencing trends in the transportation field. SOURCE: APTA/TCRP Report Understanding the Millennial Mindset. The truth is the next generations are going to be increasingly multimodal, choosing the best transportation mode (driving, transit, bike, or walk) based on the trip they are planning to take.

As I wrote last month – the crisis will encourage leaders and developers to build more healthy, self-sufficient, and compact urban environments. Humanity thrives on social interaction and relationships. For many, the isolation and loneliness brought about by the current lockdown highlights the need for mixed-use, connected, and “livable” neighborhoods where people can easily walk, cycle, and move about and easily access the spaces, goods, and services that meet daily needs.

So, while Urban Planners, Architects and Engineers will certainly take a fresh look at how we address our nation’s transit facilities, I foresee continued growth and urban development in the next few decades, focusing downtowns as anchors for cultural and social activity and commercial investment. The need for TOD’s will continue to grow. Officials won’t likely abandon visions for walkable, bikeable, thriving communities with more public transportation, and vibrant parks and public spaces. In the future it is my hope that we will look back on these uncertain times and see that the benefits of urban density still far outweigh any unintended consequences.

Written by:
Tony Kellen

Coronavirus – The New Disruption

2013 Nobel Prize Winner and Yale economics professor Robert Shiller says: “disruptions like the Great Depression can often be traced to a pessimistic idea, like the fear that the economy’s best days are behind us. The spread of Coronavirus is different because it’s real—it is causing people to stay home and avoid going out, which is causing the gears of commerce to stop turning. The Coronavirus’s effect on the US economy is something we haven’t quite seen before.”

Much has been written about disruption. Disruptive technologies have been a catalyst for change – most of which have been viewed by the masses as positive disruption – changing our lives for the better. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new disruption, unfamiliar to Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, or Generation Z. What will we learn – and for the future what can those of us involved with Public Transportation do to find positives in the chaos?

With the onset of COVID-19, public transit has entered a new era. Public transit is all about providing excellent service to customers who often deal with time wasted in traffic congestion. For public transit – density, smart use of space and vehicles filled with customers is key to efficient and effective service delivery. With COVID-19 we have exactly the opposite – empty platforms and sparsely populated vehicles. Everything required to slow this pandemic – social distancing – less density – runs counter to the mission of public transportation. For many riders, transit means more than just a daily commute; it’s a lifeline. For them it’s not just social distancing – it’s social isolation.

What does all of this have to do with an Architectural, Engineering, Energy Efficiency and Construction Management firm with nearly 50 years of experience designing transit facilities? It may not immediately resonate with our thinking – but could we as architects and engineers take a fresh look at how we address our nation’s transit facilities? What haven’t we thought about? In light of this pandemic can we rethink access and accommodations for intermodal stations, platforms, operations and maintenance or other facilities to make them healthier public spaces and places to work? To not have that discussion would be a missed opportunity.

Is there more we can do during this critical time of modernizing our infrastructure for public transportation? What extra steps can we take to help transit agencies make sure projects can continue to move forward in the procurement process? If a transit agency is challenged working remotely – could we offer to lend a communication system we use to successfully deliver projects to our clients? Could we offer to host a pre-proposal video meeting or webinar?

These are just some of the questions – and it’s our job to find ways to answer the questions that will likely lead to even more questions. When we get to the other side of this pandemic, and we will, my hope is that we will find many positives from all this chaos. For public transportation, I believe many more will see the positive role that transit plays in the US economy and in the daily lives of so many as we look forward to the day when we can all resume our normal lives.

Written by:
Tony Kellen