Electric School Buses Could Be “Mobile Batteries” During Blackouts

The Biden administration is awarding grants to school districts across the country under a new federal program. The grants will go to more than 400 school districts in all 50 states and Washington, DC, along with several US tribes and territories.

School districts are expected to receive about a total of $1 billion in grants to purchase about 2,500 electric school buses. Administrator Biden notes that this is an important step to reduce emissions and pollution, but more than that, vehicles can also provide much-needed grid security and resiliency to communities that are underserved against natural disasters.

Two experts in their fields from Cornell University presented their thoughts on the use of electric school buses in the school system and as mobile batteries during power outages or natural disasters. Here’s what they had to say:

Eilian Bitarwho is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University who also researches how to sustainably integrate renewable energy sources into the grid, says, “electric school buses can be a ‘mobile battery grid’ that makes the grid cleaner and more reliable.”

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According to Bitar, “In addition to reducing the exposure of student drivers to harmful emissions, electric school buses have the potential to improve the energy resilience of historically underserved communities to power disruptions and long-term power outages.

“For example, when Texas’ winter freeze left millions without power in 2021, households in majority-minority neighborhoods were among the first to lose power. When equipped with bi-directional charging technologies, the massive batteries in electric school buses can provide backup power when communities are threatened with power outages. School buses are particularly well suited to providing these services as they are only in use for about five hours a day during school days and are not normally used during weekends and school holidays.

“There is an opportunity to significantly reduce the total cost of ownership of electric school bus fleets by leveraging the combined energy storage capacity of their batteries to provide power and reliability services to the wholesale electricity market – without impacting their use for transportation services.

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“The ability to match the flexible charging patterns of electric school buses with intermittent patterns of electricity supply from wind and solar sources also has the potential to remove more than 8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually from the transportation sector.

“As we continue to electrify our public transport sector, we need to think of our electrified fleets as more than just a form of transport, but as a network of mobile batteries that can support a cleaner and more reliable grid.”

Arthur Wheaton is a transportation industry expert and director of labor studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Wheaton says the upfront costs for electric school buses can be daunting, but it’s a smart investment for kids and the environment — with a high return on investment.

Wheaton said, “Electric buses are a great idea for school systems. They usually have a designated overnight parking space for recharging. The current fleet is very dirty, mostly diesel vehicles that emit foul fumes and particles when parked directly in front of schools. The upfront cost of purchasing an electric vehicle can be daunting, although the return on investment is recouped over many years with no expensive diesel fuel and less maintenance. It’s good for schools, good for kids, good for the environment and a smart investment to meet some of our climate goals.

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“Unfortunately, it will take many years to build 2,500 electric school buses, but every one they replace is a good start.”

Featured image courtesy of Lion Electric.


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