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Huge Solar Canopy For Electric Buses Coming To Austin, Texas

It looks like Austin, Texas, is going to get a bit cleaner thanks to its CapMetro regional public transportation provider, which is making progress toward a zero-emissions future for Austin. In cooperation with BP Pulse, HOLT Renewables announced that it will design and build a pioneering solar-powered charging infrastructure solution for CapMetro. A big one.

In 2021, the CapMetro board decided to purchase approximately 200 zero-emissions buses, which are being manufactured by Proterra and New Flyer. This is one of the largest procurements of battery electric transit buses in the US, or anywhere outside of China.

Part of the agreement of CapMetro’s electric bus fleet was that the project required a creative use of solar canopies to provide charging for the buses. The solar canopy solution is supposed to double as a mounting structure to enable hands-free overhead charging. The locally funded project will cost roughly $34 million.

“This project will be a gamechanger for our agency. We’ll be able to get more of our zero-emissions buses out on the road to provide a quieter and more comfortable ride for our customers,” said Dottie Watkins, President and CEO of CapMetro. “We look forward to this partnership with HOLT Renewables as we continue to expand our sustainability efforts across the Central Texas region.”

A photovoltaic (PV) canopy system will be designed and built by HOLT Renewables to span 12 acres. It will have more than 7,000 solar panels and the ability to power more than 200 electric buses. The project will make use of pantograph depot chargers — overhead chargers that attach to the battery of the vehicle.

BP Pulse, the electric vehicle charging division of the company BP, will supervise the installation of PIDE, a mounting system that combines pantograph charging and solar canopies. BP has a patent pending on this solar EV charging solution. The PIDE canopy mount is made specifically to be fastened to a slanted solar canopy, enabling the deployment of EV charging tech on surfaces that are uneven, removing a common roadblock to the widespread adoption of combined solar and EV charging.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this project with CapMetro and HOLT Renewables to design and deploy a charging solution that will support the energy needs of the battery electric fleet while maximizing onsite renewable energy generation with solar canopies,” said Vic Shao, President of bp pulse fleet. “This project is yet another example of the innovative solutions bp pulse is bringing to the market to accelerate electrification in transportation.”

By 2035, CapMetro intends to have its whole fleet of buses become completely emission-free. On its website, it says that it has 358 buses, so CapMetro will be over halfway there once it receives all 200 of these electric buses. The new infrastructure will be housed at the North Operations bus yard (“North Ops”), which is located at 9315 McNeil Rd. They plan to start construction in October 2023.

“As an agency, we are very excited to be building out this infrastructure for our zero-emissions buses,” said David Carr, Director of Zero-Emissions Vehicles for CapMetro. “This revolutionary project represents one of the largest deployments of pantograph bus chargers in North America, and it will give our agency the ability to continue expanding our zero-emissions bus fleet for a healthier Austin.”

“The unique request from CapMetro for solar design and the integration of overhead charging was a challenging conceptual endeavor that our engineering and construction teams are eager to bring to life,” said Aaron Arriaga, commercial project developer at HOLT Renewables. “Through innovative design and the use of onsite solar canopies, we will deliver a solution that will not only provide the energy needed to power an electric fleet but will also reduce the carbon footprint and contribute to a cleaner, greener future for Austin.”

A few years ago, Martha’s Vineyard added a solar canopy system to charge 12 electric buses, and it has been performing very well. Although it is nothing compared to the scale of this project, it does show that this is a great way to go completely zero-emission free with public transportation.

I guess more details will be provided later on the solar setup — like how much electricity the solar canopy is going to produce and whether are they going to use some type of battery storage for the excess electricity that the solar panels produce.

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