The Northwest Works to Electrify its Transportation Systems

Electrifying the Transportation Sector in the Northwest

Written by Carol Winkel,, December 3, 2018

At its October meeting, Council members heard from representatives from Link Transit and Chelan PUD on their efforts to electrify transportation in the Northwest.

Although demand for electricity from the transportation sector is currently limited in the region, growing sales of electric cars to consumers and electric buses to municipalities point to a potential new load from this sector. Twenty-eight percent of the energy consumption in the U.S. is for transportation and 92 percent of that is petroleum based. Nationwide, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have reached parity with the power generation sector.

The electrification of mass transit will play an influential role in helping lower emissions. TriMet, the mass transit agency for the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area recently announced plans to phase out its diesel bus fleet and replace it with electric buses over time.

Link Transit, located in the small urban area of Wenatchee, Washington, has been leading the transit industry for the last eight years in developing and deploying heavy-duty electric vehicles and chargers. Through money from stimulus funding under the Obama administration and the Transit Investment for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction, the agency purchased five electric buses in 2009. The electric buses were built by Southern California bus manufacturer and global electric vehicle powerhouse BYD Motors. Early problems of these first generation buses centered on battery and charger issues that affected their reliability and performance under extreme high and low temperatures.

In 2018, Link Transit acquired the world’s first wireless (magnetic) 200-kilowatt vehicle charger and retrofitted one of its coaches with charge receiver equipment. The new temperature managed battery design, combined with the wireless vehicle chargers, is expected to address the performance issues and fully demonstrate the promise of clean, low-cost, zero-emission buses. The agency has since ordered 10 new buses, and these 4th generation vehicles are expected to be delivered in 2020.

While the upfront capital costs are higher, the fuel cost savings of electric buses are significantly higher. The monthly energy costs of an electric bus is $285 and $1,381 for a diesel bus. With the high power charger, it only takes about 80 minutes to fully recharge a bus.

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