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Green Bus Summit Panel: How to accelerate deployment and maximize impact of EV school buses in your community

This week the Zum team was at the STN Expo, a marquee conference that explores the future trends and technology in student transportation, the largest mass transit system in the U.S.

Our co-founder and COO Vivek Garg moderated the Expo’s Green Bus Summit panel, a lively conversation about how school districts can deploy and maximize the potential of electric buses and the charging infrastructure in their communities.

Left to right: Rudi Halbright, Sue Gander, Vivek Garg, Ernest Epley

Panelists included Sue Gander, Director of Electric School Bus Initiative at the World Resources Institute; Rudi Halbright, Expert Product Manager, Vehicle-Grid Integration (VGI) at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E); and Ernest Epley, Director of School Transportation at Fremont Unified School District.

The panelists brought holistic and practical insights from EV school bus transition at national, regional and local school district level.

Key takeaways from the discussion were:

  • The time for electric school bus transition is now. Panelists discussed subsidies/grants that are available for buses and charging infrastructure and how grants can be stacked to make projects economical. It came out clearly that if a district is not actively applying for grants, then they will be left out and not benefit from this unique opportunity. Sue Gander from the World Resources Institute (WRI) Electric School Bus Initiative educated the district leaders in attendance about how her team at WRI can help them in strategizing, writing and navigating grant applications.
  • Be aggressive in EV transition. Ernest Epley, Director of School Transportation at Fremont Unified School District spoke about how he and his team is going full steam ahead with EV plans targeting 80% of the district fleet to be electric in the next two years. The message was very clear, as district leaders, don’t be the one who is “not changing or not building” for misplaced reasons like battery range of EV school buses is less. One can still convert at least 80% of the fleet conveniently with 130 – 200 miles battery range on EV school buses today when grants are available. Panelists brought alive how the landscape is changing and the nation is currently in building mode, deploying fast, public charging infrastructure, policies getting changed and batteries becoming better/longer-range, etc.
  • Involve your local utility early from ideation stage. Panelists discussed examples of how availability of power at a yard could be an accelerator or a roadblock in EV transition. More and more utilities now have dedicated EV programs and teams. They should be involved right from the ideation stage to plan for the infrastructure you will need. The location you select for your bus yard can have a huge impact on how soon the required energy can be delivered so discussing with your utility before a location is selected is ideal.
  • EV buses will play an unprecedented role in communities, so plan accordingly. It came out clearly that while the primary task of the EV school bus will continue to be transporting students safely and reliably, these buses will also be the largest batteries on wheels in communities. EV buses will thus play a larger role in their community like helping stabilize utility grids (V2G) to avoid outages to powering resiliency centers and emergency shelters. This should drive infrastructure planning and purchasing decisions like bidirectional chargers, etc.
  • EV vehicles will be required to give energy back. Rudi Halbright from the utility company PG&E explained how the utilities nationally are counting on EVs to overcome their grid storage demands and how the School Bus is unique and best suited for these programs because of fewer miles driven and availability in the peak grid hours (5-9 pm and during summer break). The key takeaway was that utilities have a stake in EV school bus transition and will support school districts’ endeavors when positioned as a symbiotic relationship.

The Electric School Bus transition is a massive yet important undertaking. We can only achieve a sustainable future by working together, sharing and learning from each other. We are grateful to Tony Corpin and the incredible STN team for organizing the Green Bus Summit where industry leaders can share thoughts on this important topic of sustainable school transportation. There were many great interactions throughout the summit and we keenly look forward to the next one!

You can get access to slides used during this panel discussion here.

Photo Caption: Left: An artist created a live illustration of the panel conversation. Right: Zum’s BYD Electric school buses and Zum team at STN Reno.