P.E.I. to use electric buses to power warming centres during emergencies

The North Rustico Lions Club can now be powered by electric school buses in the event of a power outage, thanks to a new pilot project.  (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
The North Rustico Lions Club can now be powered by electric school buses in the event of a power outage, thanks to a new pilot project. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

After post-tropical storm Fiona hit P.E.I. last fall, warming centres opened across the province to help Islanders without power, with many of those facilities relying on diesel-fuelled generators.

A new provincial pilot project is set to change that. 

The provincial government is working with Lion Electric to use the company's electric school buses to power emergency warming shelters, with the North Rustico Lions Club serving as the pilot site.

The vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology available on Lion electric buses will let V2G-enabled chargers draw power from the buses' batteries to power an emergency heating centre if that building is not able to get power from Maritime Electric's grid.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

People involved in the project think this will be the first time in Canada that electric buses are used to respond to disaster-related power outages.

"It is really amazing that a little town [like] North Rustico could do something like this," said Mayor Heather McKenna.

P.E.I. 'the perfect test bed'

After Fiona swept over the Island on Sept. 23 and 24, the North Rustico Lions Club had days when it was serving up to 300 people, providing hot meals as well as a place where people could charge their phones to keep in touch with the world, McKenna said.

The building was able to do that because of a generator using diesel, she said. Having it powered by an electric bus in a future emergency will mean cleaner air in the vicinity as well as lower emissions.

All electric buses on P.E.I. can be upgraded to use the V2G technology for this purpose, said Steven Myers, the province's minister of environment, energy and climate action.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Myers said Lion Electric offered to kickstart this project on P.E.I. because the province already owns a large number of electric school buses. The company will simply have to make upgrades required for the V2G technology.

"We're the perfect test bed here in Prince Edward Island," Myers said.

Company to cover most costs

The town and the North Rustico Lions Club won't have to pay the project's costs; Lion Electric will take of those.

The province will pay for any unexpected expenses during the install, such as adding extra public EV chargers, the province told CBC News in an email.

So far, testing suggests shows two charged-up buses can supply the Lions Club building with about three days' worth of electricity, said Benoît Morin, the Canadian vice-president of bus sales at Lion Electric.

"This is what the first calculation just demonstrated and we're pretty sure that it will do exactly what it's supposed to do," Morin said.

Myers said how long power could be supplied by the buses would vary for each building hosting a warming centre, so the company is having to work on building profiles.

By the end of May, P.E.I. is expected to have a total of 82 Lion electric school buses in its fleet, with 125 more coming over the next five years, according to a news release about the project.