Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Meet Proterra, the Next Generation of Bus - by Joe Romm

Proterra Catalyst™ Bus (Credit: Proterra) Click to Enlarge.
“Everything that has an urban drive cycle will ultimately be an electric vehicle.”  That’s what Ryan Popple, the president and CEO of Proterra, the leading U.S. electric bus company, explained to me in a recent interview.

The future of transit isn’t cleaner diesel, hybrids, natural gas, or hydrogen fuel-cell buses, argues Popple.  The rapidly dropping price for electric batteries combined with new fast-charging technology appears to render the competition obsolete.  Right now, the biggest question isn’t which technology will win in the bus market — it’s how quickly all-electrics will take over, and whether Proterra can keep ahead of the Chinese competition, like electric vehicle giant BYD.

Popple is focused on electrifying the transit market, which he expects “will be 100 percent electric” in a decade or so. If Popple’s vision for electrifying buses sounds as ambitious as Elon Musk’s is for cars, perhaps that’s because he was an early employee of Tesla and served as Senior Director of Finance at the company. Like Tesla, Proterra is not putting new batteries into an old vehicle design. It has redesigned the bus from the ground up to optimize it for an all-electric drive with fast-charging capabilities.
Proterra’s 40-foot electric buses have fuel efficiency equivalent to 22 miles per gallon, giving them one-fifth to one-fourth of the per-mile fueling cost of regular diesels, hybrids, and natural gas buses.  And they have much lower maintenance costs.  So over the 10- to 12-year lifetime of a typical urban transport bus, the Proterra can save $400,000 in total operational costs compared to a typical diesel.

So with the kind of sharp price drops in batteries we’ve been seeing, it was only a matter of time before the higher first-cost of the electric bus was dwarfed by the fuel and maintenance costs savings. ...

Today, with batteries in the $300/kwh range, Proterra can offer private operators a deal where they buy the bus and lease the battery for the same upfront costs as the diesel alternative, but with guaranteed monthly savings.  That is very similar to the kind of lease deal for solar power that proved game-changing several years ago.  Significantly, because the technology is so well-demonstrated in the marketplace, Proterra can actually get third-party private financing so that it can get paid the full cost of the bus upfront.

With numbers like these it’s no wonder that Proterra has a 1.5-year backlog of orders with a cumulative value of $100 million.  And it’s no wonder Proterra has been winning most of the grants awarded in the Federal Transit Authority’s (FTA) Low and No Emission Vehicle Deployment Program.

Superfast On-Route Charging from Seconds to Minutes Is Another Game Changer for Urban Vehicles
What about the last remaining “Achilles Heel” for electric vehicles — charging time?  As it turns out, when you are driving around in a city on regular routes (as buses are) this problem fades away thanks to the latest superfast charging technology.

Proterra can give its bus an extra two or three hours of drive time in a matter of minutes with its on-route charging system.  A key enabling feature is the ability to recover as much as 92 percent of regenerative breaking energy, which allows each bus to go a lot further on each charge.  Proterra has demonstrated its buses can travel more than 700 miles in 24 hours using such a system.

Read more at Meet Proterra, the Next Generation of Bus

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