Is an electric bus as sexy as a Tesla’s second generation Roadster? No way. But replacing the diesel engines in heavy vehicles like buses and trucks with batteries and electric motors is far more important when it comes to reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Proterra, based in southern California, is an industry leader in powering commercial vehicles and buses with electrons instead of molecules.
Community Benefits Agreement
We often talk about social justice when it comes to clean technology. For generations, the fossil fuel industry — the most polluting economic activity in history — has saddled underserved communities and communities of color with their detritus. Power plants, refineries, and pipelines tend to wind up in poor communities with limited political power. People with lower economic status are often excluded from access to good paying jobs because they are unable to acquire the skills needed to compete for those positions.
As the result of leadership provided by Jobs to Move America, Proterra and United Steelworkers Local 675 have entered into a historic community benefits agreement that will promote investments in Los Angeles communities to train, support, and hire workers for skilled union jobs. In the agreement, Proterra has committed to source half of its new hires from communities that face significant barriers to employment, including people of color, women, and veterans.
In a statement, Melanie Jamileh Prasad, director of Jobs to Move America for California, said, “To tackle the converging crises of our time — skyrocketing unemployment, systemic racism, and climate change — we need to invest in the communities hardest hit by the pandemic. Our community benefits agreement with Proterra and USW 675 will lay the foundation for a just recovery in Los Angeles by creating pathways into high paying, unionized jobs for working families and communities of color. At a time when the entire country desperately needs a recovery plan, our CBA with Proterra is a model for how community, labor, and private partners can work together to create good jobs and healthy communities.”
Speaking for the company, Kelly Scheib, its vice president of human resources, added, “Electric vehicle production presents an opportunity to strengthen American manufacturing, create good paying, skilled jobs, and build a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Proterra is excited to partner with Jobs to Move America and USW 675 as we grow our manufacturing presence in Los Angeles County and work toward our collective goal of healthy communities driven by zero-emission transportation.”
Working with the company, the union, and community groups, nearby Citrus College has developed a novel Electric Bus Manufacturing technology training program that was designed with input from production and assembly management at Proterra.
Customized High Power Charging
Charging an electric car is easy. Plug in to nearest wall outlet and wait 12 hours. Powering up a fleet of electric vehicles with batteries as large as 675 kWh is a little more complicated. Proterra is deeply involved in designing and building high power charging systems for fleet operators. It largest power control system can provide 1.5 MW of power, enough to charge 20 vehicles at 75 kW each, 10 vehicles at 150kW, or three vehicles at 500kW. With a combination of simultaneous and sequential charging, the 1.5 MW system can power up to 40 vehicles.
Purchasing one integrated system can lower the costs of hardware and installation compared to buying individual charging units. The system is modular, so additional charging modules can be added later as the needs of a fleet operator increase. Proterra also offers customers four other charging systems to supply the needs of smaller fleets up to 10 vehicles with power outputs ranging from 75 kW to 500 kW.
The latest charging systems from Proterra incorporate lesson learned from its previous charging equipment. They are more compact, taking up less room in crowded fleet facilities. With higher power available, they are capable of charging 20% faster than prior equipment could. Because they are configured for DC to DC operation, the charging system can use electricity from solar panels or battery storage directly. It is designed with bi-directional vehicle to grid capability, which could allow fleet operators to derive additional revenue by making the electricity stored in all those batteries available to the local grid. The 1.5 MW fleet charger is also able to tie directly to the grid without the need for a transformer, thanks to its “medium voltage” capability — a Proterra exclusive.
Proterra CEO Jack Allen says, “Cities, states, schools, airports and many more are going all in on zero-emission transportation. Large-scale charging infrastructure will play a vital role in achieving important transportation electrification goals. Proterra is excited to work with Power Electronics to help fuel this transition with our new, next-generation charging systems.”
Next Generation Battery Manufacturing
In addition to manufacturing electric buses, Proterra also builds electric powertrains for other companies such as Thomas Built Buses, Van Hool, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, Bustech, and Optimal-EV. To meet its own needs and those of its customers, the company has opened a new battery manufacturing center within its EV bus manufacturing facility in Los Angeles County. The center will feature the company’s next generation battery cells developed in cooperation with LG Energy Solution. The new battery packs will have greater energy storage capacity — up to 675 kWh — and higher power density for increased range and faster charge times.
Proterra’s newest battery electric transit bus, the Proterra ZX5, can now be equipped with a 675 kWh battery pack, the largest in any 40 foot electric bus available on the market today. Proterra battery packs and electric drive trains are used by a variety of commercial vehicle manufacturers through the company’s Proterra Powered program to power delivery vans, electric school buses, coaches, and low floor cutaway shuttle buses.
Proterra offers a comprehensive suite of services to its customers. With its Proterra Energy fleet solutions, the company takes care of designing and building charging infrastructure, including energy management tools and financing. “Proterra Energy goes beyond just providing a charger,” says Andre Lalljie, vice president in charge of energy at Proterra. “It’s a full suite of products and services in-house from Proterra that makes the transition to electric as easy as possible for our customers.”