By Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg

For all the talk about electric cars taking over the roads, electric buses still make up less than 0.1 percent of America’s public transportation fleet. Proterra Inc. thinks it’s found a way to change that — by taking a page from rooftop solar.

The electric-bus maker is partnering with Japanese trading house Mistui & Co Ltd to lease batteries to public transportation agencies through a $200 million, first-of-its-kind credit facility that will support the delivery of 1,000 electric buses. They’re betting that by lowering the upfront costs of zero-emission buses to compete with diesel ones they can help bring electric buses to the mainstream.

It worked for rooftop solar. A decade ago, solar installers including Sunrun Inc. began offering panels for no-money down and monthly payments. That leasing model ignited a solar boom, with annual U.S. home installations surging from 623 megawatts in 2012 to almost 2,250 megawatts last year.

Ryan Popple, Proterra’s chief executive officer, is hoping for a similar boom for electric buses. “We’re removing the last remaining objection for why cities can’t move faster” toward electrification, he said in an interview.

That’s a challenge the industry has faced even in progressive, environmentally conscious California, where the entire bus fleet is required to go emissions-free by 2040, and yet just 1 percent meets that criteria now.

Another, more bureaucratic reason a leasing strategy might work for electric buses: Some public transportation agencies have separate budgets for buying vehicles and maintaining them. Proterra’s program would allow them to tap their maintenance budgets for a battery lease, just as they would for diesel fuel.

For its part, Mitsui was already a Proterra investor, so the leasing venture builds on that. The company described the program in a statement as “a unique opportunity” to provide capital for an “imminent transition to 100 percent battery-electric bus fleets.”

Proterra’s battery leasing program was a winner of the Lab’s 2017 Fire Awards. See their Fire Awards pitch here.

Read the original article on Bloomberg here.