Electric Buses Doubling as Power Packs
School Administrator, October 2022

In addition to moving students, electric school buses provide rolling batteries that can support the electric grid and store emergency backup power for school districts.

Electric buses have the capacity to provide additional resiliency to school districts, says Brittany Barrett, a senior manager for the nonprofit World Resources Institute’s Electric School Bus Initiative. “They could supply power for refrigerators so school food doesn’t spoil during a power outage.”

Three California school districts demonstrated in pilot projects they could generate more than $6,000 a year by selling stored electricity from their buses to the grid during high-demand periods, according to WRI.

Energy Grids

Electric school buses typically charge overnight when electricity demand is low and often remain parked during the middle of the day and evening, when demand is highest. Many also are parked all summer. New vehicle-to-grid technology enables buses to send their stored energy back into the grid. They also can use their batteries to power schools, businesses, homes, cell phones and equipment when electricity fails.

Dominion Energy is financing a plan to replace 1,000 diesel school buses in Virginia with electric buses by 2025. That would provide enough battery energy to power thousands of homes, the utility reports.

The rural 450-student Knox County R-1 School District in Missouri and its local utility explored ways during the summer to use power stored in its three electric school buses, Super-intendent Andy Turgeon says. In addition to supporting the power grid, the buses might offer backup power to the school or the nursing home across the street during power outages.

Community Benefits

At least 15 utility companies across 14 states are studying ways to use electric buses for power storage, Barrett says.

National Grid, a Northeast utility, successfully delivered power from one electric school bus back to the grid in Beverly, Mass., during 50 hours of high demand in the summer of 2021, the WRI reports.

In a three-year project in White Plains, N.Y., three electric buses were retrofitted with converters that allowed them to send stored power back to the Con Edison utility grid. The project included bus manufacturer Lion Electric Company and school bus operator National Express. It showed electric school buses could be used on a large scale to discharge power into the grid when customers need it most, a Con Edison official reported.

The potential for vehicle-to-grid serves as the “holy grail” of the electric school bus movement, says Michael Martin, strategic adviser for the National Association for Pupil Transportation.

“You can have this fleet to transport students back and forth,” he says, “and then provide additional energy benefits not only for the school system, but for the community as well.”