The Big Yellow Goes Green

Words and photos 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 discussed at the UCI Electric Bus Workshop on June 22, 2016. UCI hosted this workshop to support the UC system-wide Carbon Neutrality Initiative, which commits all of UC to emitting zero greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025. The campus sought to explore low-carbon (and potentially zero emission) bus technologies and various incentives that might be available to other institutions should they wish to pursue this option for their own fleets. While the workshop brought people from across the UC system, it also had benefits for participants from the k-12 sector.

Overall, this workshop explored low- and zero- emission school bus and shuttle technologies, the former specifically geared to K-12 riders. Attendees from throughout the UC system and various school districts heard from the 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, according to some of the speakers: 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 (this is, early evening). Also, buses are only active during certain hours of the day. Therefore, their batteries typically can be charged 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, electric school buses can generate revenue by allowing institutions to manage their electricity usage and by allowing them to participate 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.

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

100 percent electric

100 percent electric
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This technology is already up and running. It is being used at the University of Delaware. Also, school buses have been converted at three different school buses in California. These include: Torrance Unified, Nappy Valley Unified, and Edison School Districts.