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Lace up for the great climate triathlon: A race we must win

Sponsored: Learn how digitization, electrification and decarbonization can accelerate the transition toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Buses parked at a bus depot

Brookville Bus Depot in Montgomery County. The electrification of the county’s bus fleet will significantly reduce emissions. Image courtesy of Schneider Electric.

This article is sponsored by Schneider Electric.

When it comes to transportation-related carbon emissions worldwide, the United States has carbon-puffed its way the top podium spot: No. 1 based on contributing about 25.2 percent of the global total, compared to China at 15.6 percent.

We all can agree on one thing — this is not the winner’s circle we want to be in as a nation. Indeed, topping this leaderboard makes us the biggest loser.

Fortunately, organizations that can make a measurable difference not only are starting to notice these deplorable statistics, but they’re also taking action to reverse them. One such game-changer is Montgomery Country, Maryland. It is the first county in the U.S. to design and roll out an electric public bus fleet using an Energy as a Service (EaaS) business model as it strives to achieve zero-emissions by 2035. The county has contracted with AlphaStruxure to finance, design, build and operate the Brookville Smart Energy bus depot microgrid that will power 70 electric transit buses.

Total US Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector in 2023 Chart

Image courtesy of U.S. EPA.

Now that we know the model works to provide resilient and sustainable electric fleets, it can pave the way and inspire others to follow. We need a climate-change torchbearer such as Montgomery County, as transportation accounts for the largest percentage of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of any sector: 27 percent, per the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What is so special about Montgomery County’s efforts? It has ambitious plans to transition 100 percent of its diesel bus fleet to electric by 2035. Its more than 70 electric buses, powered by the Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot microgrid, will reduce lifetime emissions by more than 155,000 tons while delivering resilience during climate events and power outages. As an integrated system consisting of solar, on-site generation and battery energy storage, the microgrid can charge the county’s fleet of electric vehicles even in the event of a grid outage, while participating in the energy transition for the greater good of the planet — at least the county’s speck of it.

This win-win scenario will ensure the availability and uptime of electricity, in turn improving energy resilience. In light of skyrocketing weather-related grid outages, which increased nationwide by about 78 percent between 2011 to 2021 (no doubt because of climate change), Montgomery Country wants to ensure it can keep on busing should the power go out.

It was Superstorm Sandy — which left about 6.2 million people along the Eastern Seaboard without power in 2012 — that triggered Montgomery County to prioritize grid resilience. More recent weather calamities, such as Hurricane Ian in 2022, should prompt all communities to ensure that resilience goes hand in hand with sustainability efforts.

The great climate triathlon: digitize, electrify, decarbonize

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In this case, the "way" of a 2-degree Celsius course for the planet, in line with the Paris Agreement, is what we’re considering a "triathlon" comprising three events: Digitize. Electrify. Decarbonize. Let’s take a closer look at how Montgomery County is meeting all the milestones.

1. Digitize: The power of the prosumer

Schneider Electric CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire explained: "If you’re lost on a one-way energy street, it’s time for a new map." Digital innovation has changed the global energy map, giving "prosumers" precise and dynamic control of their energy destiny as they speed toward a cleaner, more energy-efficient and sustainable future, he said. The source of this transformation is the digitization of energy, which enables localized renewables to integrate into the energy mix and, moreover, a two-way command of where, when and how energy is consumed. What has emerged is a new type of energy user defined as the prosumer, one who can produce and consume energy at the same time.

Microgrids are the foundational element of Montgomery County’s newfound prosumer role. They make electricity easy to source locally through distributed energy resources, and they put the prosumer in charge of production. The tangible reward is reliable, efficient, resilient and sustainable electricity on the county’s terms. As a prosumer, Montgomery County is making wise choices to improve its energy needs and performance by using energy that is smartly acquired, locally produced and efficiently consumed. By changing the energy model, digitization is speeding up the race toward a climate-friendly future.

New Modal Diagram

Microgrids enable the New Energy Landscape and deliver integrated outcomes. Image courtesy of Schneider Electric.

Montgomery Country is also jumping over perhaps the biggest hurdle of fleet electrification: capital costs. How? By enabling the county to set up an Energy as a Service model based on data-driven insights on energy use and performance — with the goal of paying for upfront costs via energy savings. An EaaS model — along with huge boosts from both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act ($5.6 billion) and the Inflation Reduction Act (which will inject $369 billion into the energy transition) — will advance the county’s local energy transition by leaps and bounds.

2. Electrify: The fastest course to clean energy

If we think of the values a microgrid brings, the first are the core strengths of resilience and reliability. Another is the ability to leverage energy infrastructure electrification — the easiest way to offset carbon and accelerate efficiency gains.

Consider this: About 79 percent of the nation’s energy demand across sectors is met by fossil fuels, and most energy distribution is done through outdated systems that are passive and disconnected, meaning the waste and the opportunity to remove it are invisible. The average age of large transformers, for example, is 40 years, not to mention that 70 percent of all transmission lines are in the second half of their 50-year lifespan. Collectively, about 60 percent of all generated energy is wasted each year. Electrification is the way forward, especially for high-emissions sectors such as buildings and industry; it’s one apparatus needed to do better and win the climate race.

Electricity is also the most efficient form of energy for EVs, which can convert more than "77 percent of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels," according to the US Department of Energy, compared to conventional gas-powered vehicles, which "only convert about 12 to 30 percent of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels." Accordingly, electrification is also the best vector for decarbonization, the third major effort in our climate triathlon.

3. Decarbonize: The final leg of the great carbon race

By 2035, half of the world’s electricity could come from renewables; in the U.S. only 20 percent of electricity is today. It’s safe to say that microgrids present a golden opportunity. Built with digitization and electrification embedded, they will transform energy infrastructure, paving the way for a decarbonized, net-zero future.

But these goals will go only as far as our infrastructure takes them. An EV fleet’s infrastructure, therefore, cannot be an afterthought. What good is a charging station at the mall, for instance, if it’s powered by a diesel generator? Likewise, what about traditional grid infrastructure powered by fossil fuels?

The right infrastructure, such as the microgrid at the Brookville Bus Depot, will support a strong, sustainable economy; the wrong infrastructure will inhibit one. 

Thanks to the Brookville Bus Depot microgrid, energy usage is continuously monitored to ensure it is optimized and that it’s generated with net-zero emissions. The results from this electric, digital solution are inspiring:

  • A 62 percent reduction in lifetime emissions from day one
  • A savings of 155,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Estimated 99.99 percent reliability (and energy infrastructure sized to handle peak demand)

Conclusion: Winning the climate race

Simply put, today’s challenges will not be solved with yesterday’s solutions. But any great feat takes commitment, consistency and perseverance. We can do it. This climate triathlon — Digitize. Electrify. Decarbonize — is well worth the effort. Without question, with its Brookville Bus Depot, Montgomery County is a true winner.

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