Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center
RALEIGH — 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, Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center, NC PIRG Education Fund 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 Krista Early, Advocate with Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center. “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.”
“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 North Carolina were replaced with an electric bus equipped with the right vehicle-to-grid technology, this would add over 1,693 MWh to the state’s capacity to store electricity, enough to power more than 34,727 average American homes for a day.
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. It 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.
In a recent announcement from the NC State Board of Education, New Hanover county, among the four other counties that applied, will receive an electric school bus by way of funding from the settlement between the US Environmental Protection Agency and Volkswagen. “It’s time that the North Carolina government leads by example toward a cleaner future that’s not reliant on fossil fuels,” said Representative Deb Butler of New Hanover county. “I’m proud of New Hanover County for leading on electrified vehicles.”
“Since the U.S. electricity grid was built, the way we produce, distribute and use energy has changed dramatically,” says James Horrox, lead author of the report. “The shift to renewables brings a whole range of new challenges, and battery storage will be crucial in meeting those challenges. Vehicle-to-grid technologies can be a key part of that, and electric school buses are ideally suited to lead the way.”
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 NC PIRG Education Fund’s Director, Katie Craig. “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.”