Electric school buses offer class support to grid

Batteries of electric school buses can provide a powerful resource for any grid, says Duncan McIntyre, Chief Executive of Highland Electric Fleets

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Electric school buses can offer much-wanted support to the grid to cope with times of high demand.

In an interview with future Net Zero, Duncan McIntyre, Chief Executive of the US company Highland Electric Fleets explained how the batteries of school buses could help global energy systems avoid the risk of blackouts and potential shortages.

Mr McIntyre said: “Most school bus fleets sit idle all summer and during school breaks and typically deliver students for about four hours a day through the school year. When fully charged overnight, these fleets of mobile batteries provide a powerful resource for any grid.

“The months during which weather conditions tend to reach extremes often coincide with the months when school isn’t in session. This makes school buses the perfect resource for reducing load capacity by charging at night and creating flexibility through on-demand V2G services that send power to the grid when demand spikes during the day.”

It is estimated that currently, there are more than half a million school buses in the US and these fleets can be used to support grids “en masse”.

Mr McIntyre added: “The total power output on a local or national level could be significant in times of peak energy demand. The mass fleet capability and high percentage of time spent idle are where school buses can provide greater impact and grid resiliency than other V2G situations.

“These batteries have a multitude of uses beyond pupil transport. Buses can help power critical resources during emergencies and power outages – similar to a backup generator but without harmful emissions or noise.

“Highland automates charging when demand is low (overnight), helping stabilise the grid. With V2G technology, buses can send energy back to the grid and help keep the electric grid stable during the hottest/coldest days – without impacting bus routes.

“They could also act as heating or cooling centres for those severely impacted by extreme weather who have no access to climate controls.”

He explained that school managers could see 40-60% energy savings with Highland’s automated and managed charging.

Asked about the impact of soaring energy prices on the rollout of V2G technology, Duncan McIntyre said: “Energy prices are rising in the US but not necessarily at the levels seen in the UK and across Europe.

“The cost per kWh is still lower compared to diesel gasoline. Maintenance, parts and vehicle longevity also factor into the overall cost savings.

“Highland’s electrification-as-a-service plan allows school districts to fully upgrade to electric now and pay a small annual fee for the buses, infrastructure, bidirectional chargers, and vehicle management systems.

“If anything, we’re seeing soaring fossil fuel-based energy prices drive more interest in electrification as school transportation departments are forced to ask their school boards for emergency funding for diesel fuel.”