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Maryland Transit System Gets Solar + Storage Microgrid For Charging Its Electric Buses

One of the big objections to electric vehicles, and even more to clean energy, is that the power grid isn’t always up. Severe storms? You can’t charge your EV. Sun not shining? You can’t use solar power! Who thought any of this was a good idea?? How much government cheese is going into this crap?!

While that argument might sound like it works on the surface, people familiar with clean technologies know there’s a lot more to it than that. The “will that thing work in a hurricane?” argument doesn’t hold water when you consider that gas pumps also work on electricity. And solar power? Even if it couldn’t be stored, we still need electricity when the sun shines, and can get it from other sources when it doesn’t.

The naysayers will have more to say, and the worst of them wouldn’t listen anyway. But, a recent press release from The Mobility House shows that it isn’t only possible to depend on EVs for critical things, but that it can be a better solution than gas-powered vehicles when paired with the right infrastructure.

The Mobility House is proud to announce the completion of Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot in Maryland, done in collaboration with esteemed partners such as AlphaStruxure and Schneider Electric. With a 6.5 MW microgrid and electric bus charging infrastructure, this project uses on-site solar panels, natural gas generators, battery storage units, microgrid controls — all culminated to support 70 electric buses! Not only that, but this entire solution can function without being reliant on the local utility company.

So, as we’ve pointed out over and over and over here at CleanTechnica, EVs really can run on anything, because just about any kind of energy can be used to create electricity. Brookville’s buses can now run on solar, natural gas, or whatever the grid provides. Diesel buses can only run on diesel.

ChargePilot, The Mobility House’s smart charging and energy management system, optimizes the buses’ charging schedules based on route blocks and energy demands. This way, ChargePilot coordinates the charging with the microgrid — ultimately ensuring vehicle readiness.

“Montgomery County has been committed to sustainability leadership and improving resilience after experiencing extreme weather events and recent extended power outages. Brookville Smart Energy Depot aligns with the County’s priorities to reduce emissions from public transportation while strengthening the community and infrastructure assets,” said Michael Yambrach, Interim Chief, Office of Energy and Sustainability, Department of General Services for Montgomery County.

The 6.5 megawatt (MW) microgrid features 1.6 MW of solar photovoltaic panels (PV), three 633 kilowatt (kW) generators, and 3 MW of battery storage to support up to 70 electric buses — 50% of the Brookville bus fleet. Charging from its onsite power supply gives the County freedom to “island” or disconnect from the grid, which not only ensures continuous operation for their fleet in case of a grid failure but also sidesteps blackouts caused by coordinating bus charging schedules around utility time-of-use rates that can limit power availability.

“The transportation infrastructure of tomorrow is up and running today in Montgomery County,” said Juan Macias, CEO of AlphaStruxure.

“We are thrilled to partner with Montgomery County on this holistic solution that delivers improved, cleaner services to County constituents. This benchmark project serves as a national model for municipalities and private fleet owners across the county to efficiently deploy the charging infrastructure and distributed energy resources that the energy transition requires, accelerating the electrification of medium and heavy-duty vehicle fleets. Thanks to a turnkey Energy as a Service approach, we’ve delivered an integrated bus fleet solution with a resilient energy supply and without upfront costs or financial risks for the County. The Mobility House plays an instrumental role as the interface between the microgrid and vehicles, while reducing operating costs to help make this Energy as a Service model a success for the County. At AlphaStruxure we’re grateful for our partnership with Mobility House to successfully deliver this innovative project.”

The ChargePilot system by The Mobility House is responsible for ensuring all buses at the Brookville bus depot are fully charged to meet tomorrow’s routes. With a 4.14 MW charging capacity, it’s able to coordinate with the microgrid so that there is always enough power onsite throughout the day and night. Plus, EV charging also responds to load balancing and peak shaving commands from the microgrid controller as needed.

How This Works

At the end of the press release, The Mobility House invited journalists (and presumably readers) to look at its website and learn more. You can do that here, but I wanted to share some cool things I found there. It probably seems obvious, but they do this sort of thing for fleets all the time. They’ve done this not only for transit fleets, but also for school buses, short-range airport fleets, and two-way building/fleet charging.

At the center of the whole thing is its software, called ChargePilot. Because fleet power needs might spike and either exceed grid capacity altogether, or make charging so expensive that the operator can’t afford it, it takes some smarts to move the power demand away from the grid. There’s also the challenge of achieving environmental goals, like maximizing the utility of on-site solar, or keeping the fleet running during grid outages. For many people, it would take careful manual control, but the software takes care of all this.

The other cool thing is that they’ve made it easy to afford. As you could probably imagine, installing solar, backup gensets, battery storage, and automated controls could run up a huge bill compared to a home solar array. But, they offer Charging As a Service, so fleets don’t have to finance the whole thing or pay up front.

This may sound like an advertisement for the company (that’s basically where the information came from), but from an emergency preparedness and national security perspective, this is all pretty exciting. Instead of relying on one source for power (the grid, diesel pumps, etc), having transportation systems that are more “omnivorous” makes for a much more resilient grid.

Featured image provided by The Mobility House.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things:


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