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Benefits of Electric School Buses Could Extend Beyond a Cleaner Ride

(Photo by Adam E. Moreira)

Two of California’s perennial problems — lack of battery storage for renewable energy and particulate pollution from heavy-duty vehicles — could have a joint solution: the yellow school bus.

That appears to be the thinking of state’s utility regulator, which last week approved a $2.2 million Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) proposal to study using electrified school buses as large batteries that can send energy back to the grid, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. School districts around the state could eventually be paid by utilities like PG&E to use their buses for energy storage, according to the paper.

Unlike electric city buses, EV coaches (like the ones already in use by a number of Sacramento school districts) generally only run twice a day and spend most of their time idle. Range anxiety could still be a problem in some lower-density areas, but it’s far less of an obstacle than it would be if the buses ran all day. From the chronicle:

California officials, who view electric vehicles as weapons against global warming, are starting to funnel money to school districts willing to give buses a try. The Legislature last year approved spending $180 million of the proceeds from the state’s climate change cap-and-trade system on vouchers for hybrid or zero-emission trucks and buses. Another $100 million will go to a program that, among other things, pays to replace old school buses.

As Next City has covered, public subsidies do still appear to be necessary for large-scale electric bus adoption, because the vehicles tend to have much higher up-front costs (though those costs level out over time, with lower maintenance and fuel bills). The city of Shenzhen, China, just finished converting its entire fleet of 16,000 coaches to electric, spurred by local and national incentives. In the U.S., by comparison, only about 300 buses out of about 65,000 total are completely electric. Stateside, municipalities often only purchase the coaches when they have grant money.

But electric school buses, with their limited operating hours, will likely be an easier sell than their all-day counterparts. And if utilities could pay the districts to use that idle time for energy storage — drawing electricity back to the grid when needed — the big, yellow EVs would become an even better deal.