Every school bus fleet should be electric. The harm done to children’s lungs, hearts, and brains by polluting fossil-fueled school buses is enormous, and it’s quite easy to electrify school buses. Nonetheless, the wheels of institutions and large-vehicle fleets move slowly, and we don’t have nearly as many stories of school districts electrifying their school bus fleets as we should. A state leading the charge on school bus electrification, though, is (unsurprisingly) California.
A recent report from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) doesn’t just find that California is doing good enough by doing better than others, though. The report also identifies a $1.8 billion investment path to make even faster progress. So far, the Golden State has spent $1.2 billion on school bus electrification (that’s right, billion, not million). That spending was in the past 20 years (with $255 million spent in the last year alone). Another $1.8 billion is set to be spent in the next 5 years on zero-emissions school buses and associated charging infrastructure, and the report includes guidance on how it should be spent.
California has ordered about 1,800 electric school buses to date, with 560+ such buses on the road thus far. Outside of California, 888 zero-emission school buses had been ordered or deployed by the end of 2021.
“Electric school buses now make up 2% of California’s fleet of 23,800 school buses. More than half of the state’s school bus fleet is diesel powered, and a handful of the state’s buses even pre-date engine emission controls altogether,” CARB writes. “Transitioning to zero-emission technologies not only will help California meet its clean air and climate goals, but clean buses protect children who are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of diesel exhaust, even from newer engines.”
“Older diesel school buses expose children to toxic emissions so it’s essential that we move to cleaner technologies, particularly since children are among the most vulnerable to air pollution impacts,” CARB Chair Liane Randolph notes. “And helping school bus fleets transition to zero-emission vehicles has the added benefit of supporting our climate change and petroleum reduction goals.”
Aside from addressing the critical matters of air pollution, the health of children, and climate change, electric school buses can also be critical tools for energy storage and grid flexibility. The potential for electric school buses to act as grid storage when off schedule is one of the most exciting opportunities in cleantech, especially considering summer months when kids are out of school, air conditioning is in peak use, electricity demand is spiking, and the most solar energy is being generated and in need of storage.
“While helping California meet its clean air and carbon neutrality goals, zero-emission school buses also help us address the climate crisis by advancing zero-emission vehicle adoption and grid resiliency through vehicle-to-grid technology,” California Energy Commissioner Patty Monahan said.
Interestingly, there is no one single source or solution for electric school bus funding. California’s electric school bus leadership comes from finding funding in a variety of ways. “Cleaning up the school bus fleet is a collective local, state and federal effort since there is no single dedicated source of funding for school bus replacement. A variety of CARB incentive programs over the past 20 years have focused on cleaning up school buses, including several recent funding allocations to replace aging school buses with new zero-emission models,” CARB states. Read more about California’s electric school bus leadership at that link.
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