Hybrid or PHE Buses?

At this time,

Dozens of cities and school districts are getting good marks for implementing hybrid buses that run on both diesel and electricity. In doing so, they are helping to commercialize a technology that proponents say will save fuel costs and prevent the release of harmful emissions.

So starts Driving Hybrid Buses, an EnergyBiz Insider looking at hybrid buses.   As per PHEBs:  Plugging in that School Bus for an Energy Smart Future, the real explosive potential might be moving beyond “hybrids” to plug-in hybrid electric buses (PHEBs).

But, let’s look at  the hybrids for a moment.  These buses:

  • Use less fuel (perhaps half as much, 12 mpg rather than 6)
  • Require less maintenance
  • Are quieter
  • Pollute less
  • Cost more up front

Now, General Motors has a parallel hybrid system and

It’s already delivered more than 200 hybrid buses to the city of Seattle. They are said to save 750,000 gallons of fuel per year over the buses they will replace. Over the 12-year life cycle of the vehicles, the total savings is expected to be 8 million gallons of fuel. If America’s nine largest cities replaced their transit fleets — totaling 13,000 buses — with hybrid buses, GM says that the cities would save 40 million gallons of fuel each year.  

Consider this, just 13,000 buses moving to hybrids and we cut US fuel use by 1 million barrels. Seattle has bout 200 hybrid buses which are estimated to save 750,000 gallons of fuel over traditional buses.  In 12 years: 8 million gallons … 200,000 or so barrels … or 1000 barrels per bus.  This isn’t a Silver Bullet solution to Winning the Oil Endgame, but it is a nice piece of change to consider.  And, well, this is just in nine cities. 

And, of course, this goes beyond the direct fuel usage implications.

Madison, Wis.,  is investing in five new GM-manufactured buses as part of a city-wide initiative to improve sustainability and air quality. According to the National Energy Renewable Laboratory, those buses will cut emissions from nitrogen oxides by 39 percent, particulate matter by 97 percent, carbon monoxide by 60 percent and hydrocarbons by 75 percent.

Now, those are some real numbers to consider for any of us who’ve coughed when we’ve gotten a face-full of diesel exhaust from a city bus.

But, what about that upfront cost? Right now, there is a serious upfront ‘penalty’ for going hybrid.  Roughly $225k for a hybrid versus $75k or so for a traditional bus.  But, as volume grows, this is expected to fall to $40k or so. (Return to that 1000 barrels of savings over 12 years: what price do you put on a future barrel of oil/gallons of diesel?)

“These buses are good not just for the environment, but for the city’s bottom line,” says Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. “With the cost of diesel fuel continuing to rise, Metro’s hybrid-electric buses will save taxpayer dollars as well as conserve fuel.”

Sadly, we return to stove-piped consideration of costs and benefits.  Mr Mayor, how do we factor into our decision making reduced numbers of asthma cases and cancer due to reduced exposure to pollution?  This is not an easy issue, without a doubt May Cieslewicz recognizes this value. But how, how to “monetize” this in helping to justify making the right decision about investing in an Energy Smart future?

Now, let us take this to the next level.  Hybrid buses are a tremendous opportunity. But, just like with cars, the real explosive benefit is not with the hybrid but what the hybrid enables:  a PHEV.   Quite simply, PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) are one of the technological options on the table that could most change, in the near term, America’s oil addiction when it comes to personal transportation. This is a path to delivering massive reductions in fossil fuel use even without touching cultural questions and behavioral patterns such as smart growth.  Thus, rather than calling for a move to hybrid buses, we should be working toward a PHEB future.

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