Electric Buses Coming to UGA and Renewable Energy Process

Interview with Mr. Jason Perry – Conducted by Chandler Stutzman

Mr. Perry is a mechanical engineer and Certified Energy Manager with expertise in facility energy and water conservation, green building, and renewable energy. For seven years prior to joining the Office of Sustainability in 2014, Jason conducted energy and water audits and research studies on campus buildings as well as for clients in the commercial, industrial, agricultural, governmental, and utility sectors. He has volunteered as a shop manager at the BikeAthens Bike Recycling Program since 2008. Jason has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and an MSc in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies from the University of East London.

The electric buses coming to campus will be charged by a power grid, what resources are used to fuel that grid?

So, we buy electricity from Georgia Power and Southern Company is a larger company of which Georgia power is a part and Southern Power is the division of Southern Company that runs the generation equipment for the company. So when we talk about the “grid” and what we call the fuel mix for the grid were talking about Georgia Power’s generation fleet, so there’s natural gas, coal, nuclear, some hydro-electric, a very small amount of fuel oil I’m not sure if we’re using it all right now if they do they use it at a peak plant for a peak summer afternoon, a small amount of solar, and lastly they classify a category called biomass or landfill gas where they collect methane slowly generated by anaerobic digestion by the landfill and burn it to generate electricity.

Do you know what percentage of each resource is used?

Primarily natural gas and coal, but the coal component is decreasing and natural gas is rising. I saw a presentation yesterday about 2021 projections saying natural gas was taking over from coal and seeing an expansion in solar as well.

Do you have any information about the fuels used to mine the metals necessary for producing electric vehicles? Or our electric buses specifically?

There was a story on NPR this morning about aluminum, there will be some steel, some aluminum, and making aluminum is very energy intensive from the pit to actual end use. They mine bauxite and smelt the aluminum out of it and make different alloys which is fairly energy intensive. The new F 150 truck has an aluminum body that cuts off 800 lbs so there’s some reduction in co2 emissions from that but you have to look at the big picture because of the mining process for aluminum. The whole thing about electric buses is for the most part aside of some nuances for reducing weight it’s basically the same as a diesel bus it’s just a different power plant, so what’s different? There’s no diesel engine in it, but there is an electric motor with a lot of copper in it which is horrible to mine as well. But copper is very much recycled so it’s a valuable metal that is collected.

A nice thing about electric vehicles I read about in an article talking about the death of the internal combustion engine, is that there are a lot of pluses such as a longer break lifetime due to regenerative breaking. In this type of breaking the breaks don’t engage as much because you’re using the engine in reverse as a generator to charge the batteries for the most part. Especially with a bus that starts and stops a lot that’s where a lot of the efficiency comes from versus a combustion engine where you lose all the energy generated to move forward when breaking.

Where could someone find information about the company that manufactures the buses?

I don’t know which company has been selected or if a company has been selected, but you could contact transportation and parking services…… My original expectation was that we would have them by the end of the calendar year, but it takes a long time to build them from the day we write the check and say “go” to the day they’re on the ground running, and 20 buses was a big order. New Flyer was one company which makes a lot of the buses we already have, and then O’Ryan is another company that might build them. As far as material and embodied carbon in the buses one of the designs had a lot of plastic in the outer body involved to reduce weight but make it safe as well as having longevity.

The sustainability blog about the buses say that the buses will allow us to use 171,000 gallons less diesel per year, will the sustainability office be doing research to compare the emissions that will result from charging the buses each year or is there any research that has been done?

That number comes from the spreadsheet we made in support of the grant application we won and used to buy the buses. We used data from the computers of representative buses from the fleet, which gave us the total miles traveled in a year, and fuel consumption for each bus. We were able to make a mathematical model about how we would use the new buses the same as the old ones by making an assumption about fuel efficiency based on kilowatt hours per mile for electricity based on specs from manufacturers tempered with info from existing fleets we came up with the estimate for if you operate the new ones the same way that is how much electricity it would take. So, you have gallons of diesel versus kilowatt hours of electricity and the emissions for both of those. And the savings of 171,000 diesel is what we save when taking those 20 off the road but it doesn’t mean there’s zero emissions it means there’s less emissions. So there’s still a reduction in greenhouse gases, it may not be 100% but it’s still pretty good. One benefit not everyone takes into account is the buses that will be replaced are the oldest ones in the fleet which are pre 2007. Since 2007, new buses have had to have an emissions control system that reduces diesel particulate exhaust which is carcinogenic……

What progress are we making as a university to use more renewable resources?

Wind is tough one. In order to economically generate electricity, you have to have a lot of wind. As turbine technology improves and the minimum threshold comes down a little more it gets easier, but in Athens we don’t have a consistent wind resource to make it economically viable to build turbines. Here in Georgia they’re studying the Blue Ridge mountains as far as a resource. So, when you do site assessment for wind you put up a tower to the height you would put a turbine with an anemometer to measure how much wind there is over the course of the year. It takes a lot of research. If you look at a map of wind in US in GA the Blue Ridge is the only spot other than a little bit on the coast. If we did it here at UGA it would strictly represent a demonstration project. It wouldn’t represent any real electricity output. Solar is difficult to do because we pay a ridiculously low price for electricity. Meaning we can’t economically justify putting money in solar for generating electricity ever. If we pay retail to put in solar and expect a financial return it’s not going to happen. That’s just the nature of being a non-profit institution where we don’t pay taxes or get tax breaks. But were paying around 4 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity on average. Solar is competing against that. Now, we do have the one mega watt demonstration project on South Milledge that feeds the grid which we get the renewable energy credits for. Georgia Power pays us rent for the land and the operation and we have access for research purposes.

Kind of a real estate issue right?

Yeah, I’ve done calculations about what it would take to get to ten percent renewable energy use for on campus consumption. There was a proposal to make 10% of our energy on site renewable energy in 2010, but there was no analysis associated with the proposal. Say we just use rooftops, it would require covering 70% of rooftops in a solar panel apparatus to get to that 10%. But we don’t have enough viable roof space to cover 70% of our roofs in solar panels. There’s just not enough space given how much energy we burn as an institution. We’ve been looking at options, but it’s tricky.

Of all the benefits to be reaped from the electric buses, which do you value the most?

There will be a good research and education opportunity, but there will be an immediate tangible benefit to not having those diesel emissions. Electric vehicles aren’t new, we’re just buying a new product. But we’re using them in a new environment so there’s always a benefit to doing that. The buses will make the campus transit system more cost effective. The fuel will be far less expensive and there will be a lot less diesel particulate coming out of the bus system as a whole. The county transit system got money on a different application for hybrid electric buses as well.


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