Electric School Buses Could Be “Mobile Batteries” During Blackouts

The Biden administration under a new federal program is giving grants to school districts all over the country. The grants will reach more than 400 school districts in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., along with several tribes and US territories.

The school districts are slated to receive about a total of $1 billion in grants to purchase about 2,500 electric school buses. The Biden administration notes that this is an important step in reducing emissions and pollution, but even more, the vehicles can also provide much-needed grid security and resilience to underserved communities in the face of natural disasters.

Two experts in their respective fields from Cornell University gave their thoughts on using electric school buses in the school system and as mobile batteries in times of blackouts 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 network’ to make the grid cleaner and more reliable. .”

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According to Bitar: “In addition to reducing student riders’ exposure to harmful emissions, electric school buses have the potential to improve the energy resilience of historically underserved communities to power outages and prolonged blackouts.

“For example, when the Texas winter freeze of 2021 left millions without power, households in majority-minority neighborhoods were among the first to lose power. When equipped with two-way charging technologies, the massive batteries on board the electric school buses can provide backup power when a community is vulnerable to power outages.School buses are particularly well-suited to provide these services because they are only in use for about five hours per day on school days, and typically not in use on weekends and school holidays.

“There is an opportunity to significantly reduce the total cost of ownership for fleets of electric school buses by utilizing the aggregate energy storage capacity in their batteries to provide energy and reliability services to the wholesale electricity market—without affecting their utilization for transportation services.

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“The ability to align the flexible charging patterns of electric school buses with the intermittent power supplies of wind and solar resources also has the potential to remove more than 8 million tons of carbon dioxide from the transportation sector each year.

“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 upfront costs for electric school buses can be daunting, but it’s a smart investment for kids and the environment — with a strong return on investment.

Wheaton had this to say, “Electric buses are a great idea for school systems. They usually have a fixed place to park overnight for recharging. The current fleet is very dirty mostly diesel vehicles that belch foul fumes and particulates while parked right in front of schools. The upfront costs of buying electric vehicles can be scary although the return on investment pays for itself over many years with no expensive diesel fuel and much less maintenance required.It’s good for the schools, good for the kids, good for the environment, and 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 it replaces is a good start.”

Featured image courtesy of Lion Electric.


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