Curtis Tate Published

First Four Electric School Buses Roll Out Of South Charleston Plant

A small yellow school bus sits in front of an open garage bay with a white banner hanging over it.
GreenPower's NanoBeast at the company's plant in South Charleston.
Curtis Tate / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

GreenPower delivered its first four school buses to West Virginia school districts on Wednesday.

Fraser Atkinson, CEO of GreenPower, notes that the school bus we’re boarding got 170 miles out of a single charge, exceeding its advertised range of 140 miles.

GreenPower will begin building more of these buses, called the BEAST (Battery Electric Automotive School Transportation), in South Charleston in January. 

On Wednesday, the company delivered smaller Nano BEAST buses to Kanawha, Clay, Cabell and Monongalia counties.

Taking a ride, the first thing you notice about the Nano BEAST is how quiet it is. No roaring diesel engine, transmission or exhaust.

The bus is so quiet, company officials say, that the classroom behavior of special needs students has improved because of it.

Instead, the fuel comes from a lithium iron phosphate battery, the same kind now used in Teslas. 

The biggest power consumption other than running the bus? The heater.

“The traction motor, the drive motor is number one, of course, and the heaters are number two,” Atkinson said. “The AC draws very little in the summer.”

What about those mountains in West Virginia? Atkinson explains that with the right kind of driver training, the downhill portion of the trip can actually put power back into the battery.

“The other thing is that you use the brakes a whole lot less than a traditional vehicle,” he said. “And with really good drivers it can be literally a third of the usage of brakes compared to the equivalent.”

Right now, the battery is a big-ticket item. A battery pack for the bus can cost $20,000 and last for about 10 years. Atkinson says the cost will come down.

“So if that trend continues, in five years, the batteries will cost a whole lot less,” he said. “Then in 10 years, they’ll be a fraction of what they are now.”

The charging infrastructure has a way to go. Kanawha County took delivery of its first bus Wednesday, but it doesn’t have a charger yet. It’s been ordered, Superintendent Tom Williams says. 

The Mega BEAST could solve that. GreenPower will begin manufacturing it in South Charleston and California next year. Its battery will be capable of 300 miles on a single charge. The company calls it the longest range on the market. 

With that kind of range, a field trip from say, Wheeling to Charleston might not be that remote.