In October 2020, Electrek reported that the state of Alaska got its very first electric school bus. Here’s how the first and only electric school bus in The Last Frontier is running just over a year later.

Alaska’s electric school bus in the extreme cold

The electric school bus, which was built by Thomas Built Buses in North Carolina, is picking up and dropping off kids in the town of Tok in the Tanana Valley, in eastern Alaska. The $400,000 bus cost $50,000 because an Alaska Energy Authority program covered the rest of the cost.

Tok Transportation bought the bus with an Alaskan Energy Authority grant, and it replaced one of seven diesel school buses in the town.

The electric school bus is kept in a bus barn and charged by solar panels on the bus barn that were purchased with grant money, and also with power from the local utility company.

State regulations require the bus’s interior to be kept at a minimum of 45F. (Hey, it’s Alaska, the kids know how to dress warmly.)

Photo: Gerald Blackard

Tok Transportation co-owner Gerald Blackard explained (via Alaska Public Media) how the electric school bus is performing in extreme cold temperatures:

It has not missed a single day of school.

What we found out is the bus heated well. It kept the interior at normal temperature.

Even with a little bit of insulation on the batteries and kind of covering up the engine compartment, to try to hold in as much heat as we could, we were still using more energy to heat the bus than we were to drive the bus.

On January 27, we had 38 below.

The bus’ efficiency that day was 3.46 kilowatts per mile. So this fall, in August-September, we were running between 1.4 and 1.7 kilowatts per mile.

Blackard shares the data he collects with all of the bus’ stakeholders, including the Alaska Energy Authority, the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, heavy-duty vehicle battery manufacturer Proterra, and Thomas Built Buses.

Electrek’s Take

It’s great to hear how robust the electric school bus is in extreme cold. It makes sense that heating the interior uses more energy than actually driving the bus. That’s a lot of interior space to warm up.

And of course, it’s good to warm up the battery before you drive the vehicle.

We’re interested to see if the electric bus companies like Thomas Built Buses and the Lion Electric Company, which is based in Canada, can come up with a more efficient way to warm the buses without burning up the power.

Would heated seats help, rather than blasting around all that hot air? That’s what one does in one’s electric car to conserve power. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Read more: 6 ways to get the best range from your electric car in winter


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About the Author

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at michelle@9to5mac.com. Check out her personal blog.