New report outlines how electric school buses could speed transition to clean electric grid

Media Contacts
Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Taran Volckhausen

Former Communications Associate, The Public Interest Network

Cutting-edge technology could enable electric school buses to store energy and return it to the grid, creating flexibility and stability for a renewable-powered future

Environment America Research & Policy Center

BOSTON — As early as next month, billions of new federal dollars will start to become available for school districts across the country to transition to clean, electric school buses. Today, most of the nation’s nearly half a million school buses run on diesel fuel, producing harmful emissions that children are forced to breathe. With the support of the World Resources Institute’s Electric School Bus Initiative, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group are releasing a new report examining how the transition to electric school buses, in addition to keeping diesel exhaust out of developing lungs, could help speed up the expansion of clean energy by providing a critical source of reliable battery storage. 

“Getting to school shouldn’t include a daily dose of toxic pollution,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s environment campaigns director and report co-author Matt Casale. “Transitioning to all-electric buses would first and foremost ensure our children have a clean and healthy ride to school. But beyond that, it also provides an excellent opportunity to make dramatic improvements to our nation’s electric grid, providing significant new benefits for communities. Kids get to school, air pollution is reduced, and we store up some energy for when we need it: electric buses are a win-win-win proposition.” 

“Students in every community deserve the health and air quality benefits of electric school buses. With record funding on the way, now is the time to make it happen,” said Sue Gander, director of the Electric School Bus Initiative at WRI. “But the benefits don’t stop there. We are excited about this report, which shows that, with the right policies and investments, electric school buses can play a crucial role in promoting grid reliability and transitioning to renewable energy.”

The report, entitled Electric School Buses and the Grid: Unlocking the power of school transportation to build resilience and a clean energy future, finds that if every yellow school bus currently in operation across the United States were replaced with an electric bus equipped with the right vehicle-to-grid technology, this would add over 60 GWh to the country’s capacity to store electricity, enough to power more than 200,000 average American homes for a week. Equipped with the right technology, the nation’s school bus fleet would also have the ability to provide 6.28 GW of instantaneous power, providing power output equivalent to over 1.2 million typical residential solar roof installations or 16 average coal power generators. 

This additional storage could speed the transition to a renewable energy grid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both the transportation and power generation sectors. As electric school buses are mostly only in use during short, specific periods, buses could absorb renewable energy when it is available in abundance and release it during periods when it isn’t, such as at night. The extra storage could also allow electric school buses to provide additional power during unexpected demand spikes or emergency power during outages. Electrical utilities and system operators could compensate school districts for the grid services their buses provide, allowing school districts to save significant money over time. 

“The renewable, resilient electricity system of the future will rely on batteries to store clean electricity,” said James Horrox, lead author of the report. “Electric school buses with vehicle-to-grid technology can play an important part in building that system, even as they clean the air our children breathe today.”

The report gives recommendations for lawmakers, utility companies and schools, including: 

  • Lawmakers should provide funding for electric school buses, vehicle-to-grid and energy storage pilot programs and support research to develop and standardize technology, regulations and practices regarding the use of electric vehicles to store and return energy to the grid. Lawmakers should prioritize funding for underserved communities.

  • Utility companies and regulators should establish partnerships with school districts and public officials, help finance electric buses, restructure electricity rates to accommodate electric vehicle technology, and clarify regulations regarding the use of electric vehicles to store and return energy to the grid. 

  • School districts should commit to a full transition to electric buses on a specific timeline and invest in as large a fleet as possible as soon as possible. They should also establish solid collaborative partnerships with utilities from an early stage.

“Kids need a clean ride to school and a future powered by reliable, renewable energy,” said Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Morgan Folger. “By fully embracing the power of electric school bus technology, we can invest in cleaner, more efficient transportation and energy systems all at the same time.”