New report: Electric school buses could protect PA kids from air pollution, store power for our electrical grid

Cutting-edge technology could enable electric school buses to store energy and return it to the grid, creating flexibility and stability for a renewable-powered future
For Immediate Release

PHILADELPHIA -- As early as next month, billions of new federal dollars will start to become available for school districts across Pennsylvania and the nation to transition to clean, electric school buses. Today, most of the country’s nearly half a million school buses run on diesel fuel, producing harmful emissions that children are forced to breathe. With the support of the World Resources Institute’s Electric School Bus Initiative, PennPIRG Education Fund, PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group are releasing a new report examining how the transition to electric school buses, in addition to keeping diesel exhaust out of developing lungs, could help speed up the expansion of clean energy by providing a critical source of reliable battery storage.

The report, entitled Electric School Buses and the Grid: Unlocking the power of school transportation to build resilience and a clean energy future, finds that if all existing school buses in Pennsylvania were replaced with electric buses, they could altogether generate and store enough energy to power about  71,124 Pennsylvania homes for an entire day.

“Getting to school shouldn’t include a daily dose of toxic pollution,” said PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center advocate Olivia Ross Perfetti. “Transitioning to all-electric buses would first and foremost ensure our children have a clean and healthy ride to school. But beyond that, it also provides an excellent opportunity to make dramatic improvements to our nation’s electric grid, providing significant new benefits for communities.” 

"Electric buses are the wave of the future whose time has come now," said Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis.  "Students, teachers, staff and our school communities at large need transportation solutions that save money over time -- while reducing harmful toxins and emissions that negatively impact student health along bus routes and within diesel buses."

“Every day more than 1.5 million Pennsylvania children hop onto school buses that run on dirty diesel engines,” said Vanessa Lynch, Field Organizer with the Pennsylvania Chapter of Mom’s Clean Air Force. “The pollution from diesel school buses can be several times higher inside the bus than outside – which means children are exposed to an outsized dose of diesel exhaust, a known human carcinogen. 

As electric school buses are mostly in use during short, specific periods, buses equipped with  vehicle-to-grid technology could absorb sunlight when it is available in abundance and release it during periods when it isn’t, such as at night. The extra storage could also allow electric school buses to provide additional power during unexpected demand spikes or emergency power during outages. Electrical utilities and system operators could compensate school districts for the grid services their buses provide, allowing school districts to save significant money over time. 

"The integration of these electrically-powered mobile facilities into our fleet is just another foundational building block in our commitment to be brilliant in the basic function of transporting our students," said Teresa Fleming, Executive Director of the Office of Transportation Services with the School District of Philadelphia. “This ensures safety, efficiency and an emphasis on protecting our environment, while distinguishing our Transportation Services Department as "Best in Class.’”

The report gives recommendations for lawmakers, utility companies and schools, including: 

  • Lawmakers should provide funding for electric school buses, vehicle-to-grid and energy storage pilot programs and support research to develop and standardize technology, regulations and practices regarding the use of electric vehicles to store and return energy to the grid. Elected officials should prioritize funding for underserved communities.

  • Utility companies and regulators should establish partnerships with school districts and public officials, help finance electric buses, restructure electricity rates to accommodate electric vehicle technology, and clarify regulations regarding the use of electric vehicles to store and return energy to the grid. 

  • School districts should commit to a full transition to electric buses on a specific timeline and invest in as large a fleet as possible as soon as possible. They should also establish solid collaborative partnerships with utilities from an early stage.

“Kids need a clean ride to school and a future powered by reliable, renewable energy,” said PennPirg Education Fund Advocate Emma Horst-Martz. “By fully embracing the power of electric school bus technology, we can invest in healthier, more efficient transportation and energy systems all at the same time.” 

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The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironmentCenter.org. 

PennPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing. To learn more, visit our website at www.pennpirgedfund.org.

Frontier Group is a nonpartisan research and policy development center, providing information and ideas to help build a cleaner, healthier and more democratic America.