- The Delaware Transit Corporation (DTC), which operates Delaware Authority for Regional Transit (DART), recently received a $2.5 million Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant that it will use to install a solar array at its operations and administration facility in Dover. A $620,000 state match also will fund the approximately 60,000-square-foot solar array that will be installed on a canopy covering the bus fleet parking area, which has 102 spots.
- The solar energy produced will assist with powering the operations facility and DART's six electric buses in Kent County. Fourteen electric buses operate throughout the state, with two more expected to be added this year and four more next year. Harnessing clean energy lowers operating costs and saves energy overall, a DART spokesperson said.
- Preliminary design for the project should begin next year. DART is also looking into other locations where solar panel canopies could be added to bus parking.
"I don't know of anyone else doing it exactly the way they are — this clever idea of a canopy with the solar array on top, and using that to power their existing facility and electric buses," Art Guzzetti, vice president of policy at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), said. "It seems like a unique and original plan."
The plan is part of the agency's ongoing Clean Energy and Energy Savings Initiative, which has involved installing solar-powered, real-time bus signs; solar-powered lights at bus stops and in shelters; solar panels at three DTC facilities; and propane-powered paratransit buses. Eighty-eight percent of the paratransit buses now run on propane, with every bus expected to run on propane by the end of next year.
Emissions reductions, clean energy and sustainability commitments are increasing among transit agencies. About 60% of transit bus fleets in the U.S. run on non-diesel fuels, such as natural gas or electric batteries, Guzzetti said.
Many transit sustainability actions center on transitioning diesel buses to cleaner fuel, such as Boston's electric bus fleet expansion and the FTA's continued funding for low- or no-emissions buses. The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority recently deployed its first articulated all-electric bus as part of a plan to make the entire fleet zero emissions by 2040. And nearly three years ago, leaders from 12 major global cities signed a pact encouraging the procurement of only zero-emissions buses beginning in 2025.
The new actions are on top of the well-known public transit emissions-reducing benefit of getting numerous personal vehicles off the road by transporting many people in one transit vehicle.
"Sustainability is one of the virtues of public transportation... And we try to practice what we preach and try to be sustainable in our own right with the buildings, vehicles and fuels," Guzzetti said. "[DART's solar canopy] is a good example. They should be applauded."
Solar is just starting to gain traction as a method for transit sustainability. Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has some new buses with rooftop solar panels to help the engines start and to operate on-board electronics, but the buses themselves are not powered by solar energy. Last month, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in Washington, DC announced it would lease space for solar canopy installations at four customer parking lots near rail stations to a solar energy operator. New York's MTA has a similar parking lot solar leasing program.
However, few transit agencies have yet taken the step to power their buses, even partially, with solar energy.
"[Transit agencies] across the country are embracing solar," Guzzetti said. "But in Delaware, they're actually going to be powering the electric buses themselves with solar. It's really a clever idea."