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Driving into a Clean Energy Future with Electric Buses

July 30, 2019
Carlos Ciudad-Real
Environmental Systems Engineering

The energy landscape is changing rapidly and one of the reasons for this change is the economics of emerging, low-carbon technologies. Low-carbon technologies are often energy efficient and are associated with cost savings because of this. Unfortunately, they also often have high upfront costs which changes how people view them. All of this is true of one low-carbon technology in particular – the electric bus.

The cost structure of an electric bus has motivated the Energy Business Innovations group, with whom I am working, to look into calculating a new metric to evaluate its economic efficiency. That metric is the levelized cost of a passenger mile and it is essentially the cost for a bus to travel a mile per passenger when accounting for the time value of money. This metric is similar to the levelized cost of energy which shows that clean resources like wind and solar are some of the cheapest forms of energy in spite of their high capital costs. My group is hoping to show the same is true in the case of the electric bus. To this end, I have been reading papers to figure out which parameters are most important in calculating this metric as we begin to collect data on battery prices and real, operational data from Stanford’s Marguerite system which mainly uses electric buses.

On a more personal note, this summer has been a great way for me to apply what I have learned through my studies as an undergrad. Most of the papers I have read assume a background in optimization and engineering economics which are two classes that I took this year and am very passionate about. This summer has also given me hope for the future. Conventional buses typically run on diesel and contribute to urban air pollution and climate change. But as electric buses continue to become more economical with decreases in battery prices and federal funding for capital expenses for municipalities, we will most likely see this contribution decrease. My hope is that this research project accelerates this transition into a clean energy future.