In a move to strengthen energy security, support energy independence, reduce transportation emissions, and strengthen the United States’ economic competitiveness, the Department of Energy announced an $18 million investment to accelerate the development of plug-in electric vehicles and use of other alternative fuels in December 2016. In February, the DoE announced that $4.4 million would be going to Blue Bird, a bus manufacturer in Georgia, to develop a zero-emissions, 100 percent vehicle-to-grid (V2G) electric school bus
Blue Bird has extensive experience in alternative-fuel buses, having developed more fuel technology solutions in Type C or traditional school buses than any other manufacturer, explains Dennis Whitaker, vice president of product development for Blue Bird, in an interview with 21st Century State & Local. The company had also developed an electric bus previously, though not a school bus specifically. In the 1990s the company developed an electric-powered bus, some of which were used at Centennial Olympic Park for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
According to Whitaker, at least eight buses will be deployed in pupil transportation in the first half of 2019. The prototypes and test vehicles will be built between this year and next.
The DoE grant specifically zeros in on V2G technology. For background, a V2G electric vehicle communicates with the power grid to understand demand. That way a vehicle can charge during off-peak hours and send its excess rechargeable battery capacity to provide power to the electric grid in response to peak load demands.
“Schools will be able to ‘sell’ the energy that is produced from buses that are plugged in to the grid,” Whitaker explained. “School buses are especially qualified for this application due to the short duration of their routes and during summer months when school is not in session.”
The DoE grant requires that the bus be an affordable, “low-cost” electric bus solution.
“The development of a low-cost electric school bus is an investment that could save state resources in the long term,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
In addition to developing a bus that will be able to take away thousands of pounds of particulate matter from the air, the electric buses also offer the promise of job creation.
“Once these electric buses go into production, there is a huge potential for job growth,” said Michael Simon, president and CEO of TransPower. “Supplying electric drive components for say, 500 buses a year, would have the potential to create up to 250 new jobs in California.”
Though Blue Bird is headquartered in Georgia, the initial eight-bus fleet will be deployed in California. The $4.4 million grant will be combined with matching funding from other public and private entities in California to reach a total project budget of more than $9 million.