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HomeGreen BusElectric School Buses, Microgrids Support Community Resilience

Electric School Buses, Microgrids Support Community Resilience

Incorporating microgrids can be effective for school bus electrification because it introduces grid resiliency for both a school district and the wider community, a Thursday webinar discussed.

Dr. Jorge Elizondo, president and co-founder of microgrid developer and webinar sponsor Heila Technologies, said that the growing push to electrify hundreds of thousands of school buses that transport schoolchildren every day began in earnest in 2022 with the $5 billion EPA Clean School Bus Program.

While over 12,000 electric school buses (ESBs) are dedicated to U.S. school districts, he noted that less than one-third of those have been delivered or are otherwise currently operating. Securing and installing ESBs and charging infrastructure can be time-consuming and complex, requiring dedicated resources and expertise.

He explained that school districts are contending with high and volatile energy prices, health risks from fossil fuels, power outages caused by fires, and other grid challenges. He said ESBs can achieve operational savings of up to $6000 per year compared to a diesel bus, reduce student exposure to harmful diesel pollution, reduce tons of CO2, and create resiliency hubs to enhance community emergency preparedness.

Vagelis Vossos, an energy policy researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California that is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and administered by the University of California system, reviewed a project Heila is managing with Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, California. The district has 16 schools and 26 buses that each run 50 miles daily on average. The project, funded by the California Energy Commission, is integrating a DC fast charging system, solar canopies with battery energy storage, and a resilience hub close to the bus depot. There is no trenching required for electric and vehicle-to-building (V2B) load discharges are also planned.


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Related: Districts, Contractors Discuss School Bus Electrification Journey at ACT EXPO
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Elizondo noted how school buses are unique use cases for grid resiliency since their primary use case is to transport students, but their large mobile batteries can be used to build microgrid resilience hubs and assist with community preparedness.

To scale such projects so that within 25 years, most U.S. schools are using ESBs, he recommended pairing V2G chargers with intelligent controllers​ for increased savings and resilience. However, a three-year study in White Plains, New York “showed that using the batteries for both transportation and grid support causes the batteries to degrade just like driving would.”

The three parts of a successful fleet electrification plan, he shared, include ESB charging with optimized energy usage and intelligent controllers, a solar array for on-site electricity generation, and energy storage for enhanced grid resilience and cost savings through off-peak charging.

Elizondo explained the importance of an integrated system and a resilience hub is to function as a reliable “islanded” energy source during power failures or other emergencies. Flexibility and scalability are also important when districts consider electrification plans, he added.

Now is the time for school electrification, Elizondo said, due to increased funding and financial incentives, favorable regulatory changes, falling costs of renewable energy sources, various financing and ownership models, and advances in energy storage technology.

He reviewed funding sources, including grants and rebates from the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program, Clean Heavy Duty Vehicle Program grants, 2024 Bus and Bus Facility grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Renew America’s Schools funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, and the IRA Commercial Clean Vehicle Tax credit.

Both speakers underscored that answers to many attendee questions on pricing, utility bills, and other details are specific to each school district, its location and specific needs.

Watch the webinar on-demand.

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