Public Transportation uses Renewable Energy

Public Transportation uses Renewable Energy

2MW Solar Roofs at LA Metro

2MW Solar Roofs at LA Metro

By John Addison (updated 10/26/11; original 9/29/09).

More Americans ride on public transit than any time in the past 50 years as more live in cities and most watch their transportation costs. Remarkably, transit operators are moving more people, yet reducing our dependency on oil and generating less carbon emissions. Increased use of solar, other renewables, vehicle electrification, and low-carbon fuels are all part of solution.

New Jersey Transit is preparing for a future where parked cars can be charged with sunlight while people use public transportation. New Jersey Transit is installing 402 kW solar canopies on the rooftops of two large parking garages at the Trenton Amtrak Transit center.

These parking structures are also equipped with charging stations for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Participating in the opening ceremony was the Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Cars (MAGIC) consortium, which includes the University of Delaware, Pepco Holdings, PJM Interconnect, Comverge, AC Propulsion, and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, created to further develop, test, and demonstrate vehicle-to-grid technology.

A few years ago, Los Angeles Metro invested $5 million to install 2MW of solar power as part of a three-year plan to install solar panels on every Metro Bus and Rail facility within its Los Angeles County service area. For example, the solar panels installed on Metro Bus Division 18’s maintenance building rooftop and shading parking structures consist of about 1,600 solar panels that generate 417 kilowatts of electricity, enough power pay for itself in 10 to 11 years.

Now LA Metro will receive $4,466,000 to make its rail system more energy efficient.  Red Line Westlake Rail Wayside Energy Storage System:  Install wayside energy storage substation (WESS) at Westlake passenger station is at-grade level on the high-speed heavy rail subway Red Line. The nearby traction power substation will be switched off when the WESS is operating.  The WESS flywheel technology captures regenerative braking energy when trains slow or stop and transfer back to same train or another train when it starts or accelerates, reducing energy demand and peak power requirements.

This month, the federal administration announced $100 million in Economic Recovery Act funding for 43 transit agencies that are pursuing cutting-edge renewable energy and efficiency technologies to help reduce global warming, lessen America’s dependence on oil, and create green jobs. The 43 winning proposals were submitted by transit agencies from across the country as part of a nationwide competition for $100 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds. Selection criteria included a project’s ability to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and also to provide a return on the investment.  The Federal Transit Administration reviewed more than $2 billion in applications for these funds.

AC Transit in Oakland, California, is awarded $6,400,000 to increase photovoltaic capacity to 600kW.

VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio, Texas, was awarded $5,000,000 to replace conventional diesel transit buses with 35-ft composite body electric transit buses. The project includes quick-charging stations at this terminal layover in route to recharge bus batteries. Grid sourced electrical energy used to recharge the bus batteries will be augmented with solar energy collected with panels procured and installed under this project.

The nation is becoming less dependent on oil as record numbers escape solo driving in gridlock and increasingly use public transit. Electrification of light-rail and buses coupled with renewable energy makes this transportation greener.

Public Transit Renewable Energy ERA Awards

California:  City of Santa Clarita, $4,620,000.  Photovoltaic Modules on Transit Maintenance Facility:  Add photovoltaic (PV) modules to the Transit Maintenance Facility (TMF) to generate electricity to offset the electric power consumed at the TMF site. The PV modules will be placed on top of canopies that will generate electricity while providing shade for full-size inter-city and commuter buses.

California:  North County Transit District (North San Diego, headquarters in Oceanside), $2,000,000.  PV Solar Implementation at facilities:  Install PV solar in a variety of facilities.

Colorado:  Denver Regional Transportation District (Aurora, headquarters in Denver), $770,000.  Heating upgrades at East Metro bus maintenance facility:  To improve the heating system at its East Metro bus maintenance facility located in Aurora, CO.  This project will replace the three existing boilers with three new 15-psi, 20-ppm NOx boilers with Advanced Hawk Integrated Control Systems.  The advanced control system will operate the boilers based on load demand as opposed to outside temperature.

Connecticut:  Connecticut Department of Transportation (statewide) $7,000,000.  Stationary Fuel Cells and Hybrid Transit Buses Incremental Costs:  The purchase of diesel-electric hybrid transit buses and stationary fuel cells for use in the statewide bus system in Connecticut. This grant would allow ConnDOT to upgrade the upcoming purchases of buses and would fund the incremental cost of a hybrid bus compared to a conventional bus.  It would also fund stationary fuel cells to provide primary and emergency back-up power for the bus maintenance and storage facilities.

Delaware:  Delaware Transit Corporation (statewide), $1,500,000.  Solar Panel Installations at DTC facilities:  Retrofits Delaware Transit Corporation facilities with solar panels, which will generate cost savings through fossil fuel energy reductions.

Georgia:  Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, $10,800,000.  Shade structures with integrated, grid tied photovoltaic cells will be erected on a bus storage lot, generating renewable electricity while reducing heat islands.  This will be the largest PV installation in Georgia.

Illinois:  Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago), $1,500,000.  North Park Electrification – Electric Power Delivery System for Outdoor Bus Parking:  Construct electrified stalls that will deliver electrical power for up to 80 vehicles and provide services such as heating and air-conditioning to vehicles that would otherwise be left idling during overnight cleaning and prior to morning pullout.

Illinois:  Rock Island Metro (Rock Island), $600,000.  Solar Thermal System:  A solar thermal system on the building roof will provide hot water for the operations building and the maintenance building.  This is a solar thermal project not based on PV-based solar.

Illinois:  Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District – CUMTD (Champaign-Urbana), $450,000.   Facility upgrade with Geothermal Heat Pump System:  CUMTD will replace the existing conventional HVAC system with an efficient geothermal HVAC system.

Indiana:  Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation (Lafayette), $2,180,000.  GLPTC will reduce its electrical energy usage by installing wind power at its facility for use by its garage and maintenance facilities.

Massachusetts:  Lowell Regional Transit Authority (Lowell), $1,500,000.  Hale Street Solar Photovoltaic system:  The installation of a photovoltaic panel array on the roof of the Hale Street garage facility owned by the LRTA. The facility is used by the LRTA to store, fuel, maintain, and repair transportation vehicles (buses, vans, tow trucks etc.) as well as administrative and dispatch services. The facility is a 70,000 square foot building located in an industrial zone in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Massachusetts:  Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (Boston), $2,500,000.  Renewable Wind Energy:  MBTA will design and construct wind energy generation turbines in eastern Massachusetts (from among Kingston, Newburyport, and Bridgewater).

Minnesota:  Productive Alternatives/Transit Alternatives (Fergus Falls), $845,000.  Energy Reduction Consolidated Projects:  A variety of building energy-efficiency upgrades, hybrid vehicle upgrades, wind generator power systems, and the equipment needed to convert cooking oil to a blend with vehicle fuel to operate some of their buses.

Oregon:  Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Portland), Pennsylvania:  Red Rose Transit Authority – RRTA (Lancaster), $2,450,000 is awarded for energy efficiency and geothermal for heating and air conditioning. A green roof on the new office addition, and two waste oil burners to heat the vehicle storage building using waste oil generated by RRTA from the vehicle fleet.

Washington:  Link Transit (Chelan-Wenatchee), $2,925,000.  Battery Powered Zero Emission Circulator Buses:  Innovative Quick Opportunity Charge, Lithium-Ion “Titanate” Battery Powered Community Bus program. This project replaces five diesel powered buses operating on high frequency circulator routes and will also create a “quick charge” automated opportunity charge station with two charging podiums at Link Transit’s Intermodal Transportation Center. An additional manual charging station would be installed at Operations Base.

Washington:  Clark County Public Transportation Benefit Area (Vancouver), $1,500,000.  Facility Improvement Project:  Improve various systems and install solar panels at several Clark County facilities.  System improvements include high performance fluorescent lighting, LED exit signs, retrofitting existing pole lights; and installing occupancy sensors for private offices, conference rooms and bathrooms.  HVAC upgrades include DDC control system covering all buildings, expanded control system with advanced control strategies. Solar PV system installations range from 5kW to 20kW.

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

LA METRO passengersFaced with record gas prices, American fuel use is at a five-year low. Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles since November than during the same period a year earlier.

Americans joined their employers’ flexwork and commute programs. Families and friends linked trips together and rarely drove solo. Everyday heroes kept their gas guzzler parked most of the time and put miles on their other car which gets forty miles per gallon.

Now that my wife and I have moved from suburbia to the city, we have discovered what urban dwellers have long known, public transportation works. Our cars stay parked much of the time, as we travel on buses, subway, and good old-fashioned walking.

Although public transportation is effective in a compact city, it is a challenge in suburban sprawl such as Southern California, home to nearly 24 million people stretched from Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego to San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

When I grew up in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles that is famous for its Rose Parade, my father had one choice to reach his L.A. job; he crawled the stop-and-go freeways to work and came home exhausted from the stressful traffic. While attending recent conferences in Los Angeles, I was able to take a more pleasant journey from Pasadena. Each morning, I walked two blocks, waited an average of five minutes, and then boarded the Metro Rail Gold Line, a modern light-rail that took me to Union Station in the heart of L.A. From there, I took L.A.’s modern and efficient subway to the conference hotel, a half-block walk. All for $1.50 (and system-wide day passes are just $5.00).

Later in the week, I added one transfer to the Blue Line, and then walked two blocks to the L.A. Convention Center. Although a car trip would have been somewhat faster at 5 a.m., I got door to door faster than cars in rush hour gridlock. L.A.’s light-rail and subway form the backbone for effective intermodal travel.

The L.A. Union Station is also the connecting point to train service from all over the U.S., servicing Amtrak and efficient local trains such as Metrolink. L.A. Union Station also offers express bus service to L.A. Airport. In the past, I have used Metrolink to travel from Irvine and from Claremont. Metrolink is seeing a 15% increase in ridership this year. “It’s absolutely the sticker shock and awe at the gas prices,” said Denise Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Metrolink. “This is the time of year that we normally have lower ridership, but it’s only going up.”

In a few years, L.A. Union Station may also be the hub for the type of high-speed rail now enjoyed in Europe and Japan. Southern California travel time will be cut in half. Travel from L.A. to San Francisco will be two hours and forty minutes. High-Speed Rail Report

1.7 million times per day, people travel on Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro). Although light-rail is at the heart of the system, 90% of the rides are on buses, not light-rail. Much of the bus riding is similar to light-rail, using pleasant stations, pre-paid tickets for fast boarding, electronic signs that announce when the next bus will arrive, buses that seat 84 to 100 people, and some dedicated busways. Metro is using bus rapid transit that once only succeeded in South America. The Secrets of Curitiba

Although Southern California is highly dependent on foreign oil, Metro is not. Its fleet of over 2,550 buses represent the largest alt-fuel public transit fleet in the nation. Over 2,500 buses run on CNG. The natural gas is pipeline delivered to 10 Metro locations.

Last year, when I met with Metro’s General Manager Richard Hunt, and he discussed ways that more people would be served with clean transportation. He shared how Metro will move more riders at 4-minute intervals at the busiest stations. Like other major operators, Metro is under a California ARB mandate to start making 15% of its replacement fleet zero emission buses (ZEB). Metro has evaluated all of these potentially zero-emission alternatives:

• Battery electric
• Underground-electrified trolley
• Hydrogen fuel cell
• Hydrogen-blended with CNG

Currently, the most promising path to meet the ZEB requirement will be battery-electric buses. Under consideration are lithium-ion batteries operating with an electric drive train. The configuration could be similar to the six 40-foot New Flyer ISE gasoline hybrids currently on order. Metro is working with CalStart, a non-profit leader in clean transportation, and a consortium of Southern California transit operators.

Diesel and CNG buses normally need a range of at least 300 miles to cover routes for 16-plus hours daily; battery electric buses would be better suited for six to 8 hours of daily use during peak service periods (morning and evening rush hours). Ranges of 100 to 150 miles daily would be appropriate for peak battery electric use. Theoretically, with a bigger investment in batteries, advanced drive system maker ISE could actually build electric buses that meet a full 300 mile range by putting a remarkable 600kW of lithium batteries on the roof of each bus.

Critics of electric vehicles claim that oil is merely being replaced with dirty coal power plants. This is not true. There is excess grid-electricity at night. Metro already uses several MW of solar roofing with plans to expand. Coal is less than 30% of California’s electric grid mix, with megawatts of wind and concentrated solar power being added to the grid. Vehicles with electric motors and regenerative braking have reported fuel economy figures that are 300% more efficient than diesel and CNG internal combustion engine alternatives.

Yes, even in the sprawling 1,400 square mile region that Metro must service, transit is growing in use while total emissions are declining. Riders are freed from their oil dependent cars, save money riding transit, and can now enjoy the ride and breathe the air. A dollar spent on public transportation is going farther than spending ten bucks on more oil.

Conventional wisdom has been that American’s demand for petroleum is inelastic in relation to price. We are told that we are addicted to oil. We are lectured that the only solution is to find more oil at any price or turn coal into oil at any environmental price. The U.S. Congress is criticized for not turning California’s pristine coastline and the Artic National Refuge into oil patches. It now looks like the best solution is Economics 101. Price goes up and demand goes down. In fact, Americans are eager for fuel efficient vehicles, corporate commute programs, and effective public transportation. Now that we are economically stretched, demand for gasoline is suddenly elastic.

Copyright © 2008 John Addison. Some of this content may appear in John’s upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet.