There has been an array of "firsts" that pave the way for a bright future with sustainable development in the race to reduce atmospheric emissions and transfer away from fossil fuel usage.
One of these can be found in Alaska, where a local individual has taken the initiative to introduce the first electric school bus in the state.
Not only is this initiative a testament to the impact that individuals can make, but it also provides necessary data for the continued improvement of electric batteries operating in harsh weather.
Withstanding Extreme Temperatures
Reports of Alaska's first electric school bus have shown how far the country has come in the race to mitigate climate change.
The school bus has been running for nearly two years now in the Alaska Gateway School District, a small community located just west of the Canadian border.
Gerald Blackard, co-owner of Tok Transportation, the company that owns the electric bus, purchased the vehicle for roughly $50,000, with the Alaska Energy Authority chipping in the remaining $350,000.
The bus operates mainly throughout the city of Tok, Alaska, and has remained durable and reliable in temperatures reaching lows of -40°.
The vehicle will again face rough testing throughout this winter, where temperatures could reach similar lows and further allow the battery to show its durability.
In an interview with a local news source, Alaska Public Media, Blackard explains how, despite the freezing temperatures outside, the battery is still able to keep the inside of the bus at regulated temperatures.
According to state regulations, the inside of a school bus must not reach temperatures below 45°. Though this still sounds rather breezy, it is a whopping 60° to 80° warmer than outside weather during the winter months.
One of the challenges Blackard has noticed is that the battery drains quicker on colder days than on warmer days, something the driver must consider.
"Even with a little bit of insulation on the batteries and kind of covering up the engine compartment, to try to hold in as much heat as we could, we were still using more energy to heat the bus than we were to drive the bus," he said.
"On January 27th, we had 38 below," he said. "The bus's efficiency that day was 3.46 kilowatts per mile. So this fall, in August-September, we were running between 1.4 and 1.7 kilowatts per mile."
Currently, Blackard can charge up to half the battery using solar panels. He purchases the other half from a utility company. He hopes one day to install a battery on the solar panels to store overflow energy that could be used to power the bus completely.
For now, Blackard is closely monitoring the bus's progress and shares his data intake with various nonprofits, the Energy Authority, the local University, a Silicon Valley-based battery manufacturer, Proterra, and the bus manufacturer, Thomas.
Continued monitoring and data sharing with other organizations will aid in the refinement and growth of electric school buses in colder areas.
The 'Green' Yellow Bus
Since gaining popularity at the turn of the century, electric vehicles are taking over. Today, they're seen as a status symbol thanks to their higher price tag and association with environmental consciousness.
Though electric vehicles have seen impressive sales growth within the past decade, they still face an array of naysayers due to discrepancies like cost, reliability, and durability.
Battery-powered vehicles have advanced significantly since their mainstream implementation. Still, batteries typically only last for around 250 miles without recharging. And because these vehicles are relatively new, refinements and public education are needed.
Not only is this electric bus better for the environment, but it also holds potential for greater accessibility to remote communities with high gas prices.
Overall, the electric school bus is a win and will undoubtedly provide valuable data, inspiration, and hope.