The Big Yellow Goes Green

By Caitlin Looby

The bell rings: it is 3 p.m. The parking lot is filled with yellow school buses and happy kids. The bell and the pool of yellow are two symbols that signify the end of another school day.

Yellow school buses are exciting symbols—it’s the end of the school day! But, diesel buses also create a lot of pollution. Speakers at the UC Irvine Electric Bus Workshop addressed this problem and presented solutions to get kids off diesel buses and onto electric.

Yellow school buses are exciting symbols—they show that it’s the end of the school day. But, diesel buses also create a lot of pollution. Speakers at the UC Irvine Electric Bus Workshop addressed this problem and presented solutions to get kids off diesel buses and onto electric.

Stop right there. At 3 p.m. the most polluted areas in cities are around schools.

There have been actions to make school lunches healthier. However, little has been done to reduce the invisible, yet toxic effects of diesel fumes.

This problem was presented at the UC Irvine Electric Bus Workshop on June 22, 2016. The goal was to present solutions to get kids off school buses—diesel ones—and get them aboard electric. UC Irvine hosted this workshop to support the UC system-wide Carbon Neutrality Initiative. With this initiative, the UC system will no longer be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. This includes its vehicle fleet.

Overall, this workshop explored low-carbon and low-emission bus technologies. Attendees from throughout the UC system heard from Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Vehicle-to-Grid School Bus Team, the California Air Resources Board, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and the CALSTART. Attendees also watched demonstrations from manufacturers and were able to get a closer look at the latest in electric bus technologies.

The big question is how much is it going to cost to make the switch? Converting an entire fleet of buses costs billions of dollars, but school districts often have little money to spare.

The good news: the cost of maintaining electric buses is less expensive than conventional diesel buses. And, converting to electric will eventually pay for itself over time. Nevertheless, billions of dollars is a big hurdle.

Stephen Crolius, CGI Project Co-Director, suggests using EV-V2G (electric vehicle-vehicle to grid) to overcome this hurdle. EV-V2G involves using these buses as a place to store energy; buses become a resource and can contribute their stored energy to the grid. Buses can discharge their batteries onto the grid at peak hours (i.e. early evening). Also, buses are only active during certain hours of the day. Therefore, they can charge their batteries in the middle of the day when solar power is the strongest. Charging can also happen slowly overnight when the grid is used less frequently.

Overall, buses can generate revenue by managing their electric bill usage and by participating in the wholesale market. This reduces the time to break even by ten years, and eliminates any shortfall.

Finally, schools can bridge this financial gap by getting their buses “batteries not included.” Schools can lease their batteries with a monthly payment that is the same amount they are saving with fuel and maintenance costs.

Not ready to make the switch? Niki de Leon, Distributed Generation Project Manager, from NRG EVgo suggested looking for opportunities to build infrastructure in the future. For instance, charging stations could be built close to school buildings with space for large buses.

This is not science fiction. EV-V2G technology is now being used at the University of Delaware. Currently, CGI is in the initial phases of demonstrating that EV-V2G is the way to bridge this financial hurdle. There are EV-V2G buses in three different California School Districts. These include: Torrance Unified, Nappy Valley Unified, and Edison School Districts.

Going green is not always the most economic approach. However, this workshop gave specific ways to make electric buses financially plausible solution. With this technology, 3 p.m. can now be an exciting and less polluted time. Furthermore, in the UC system, where buses are running more frequently, it can be an important shift in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information, including speaker presentations, visit: Exploring Electric School and Shuttle Buses.