Electric School Buses

Replacing diesel buses with clean electric school buses improves air quality for our children, saves school districts money, improves the resilience of our electrical grid, and reduces the carbon emissions that drive climate change.

The opportunities for school bus fleet managers to replace conventional, highly polluting diesel vehicles with clean electric models are rapidly increasing. Federal funding for school bus electrification is greater than ever, there is a growing awareness in communities of the urgent need to reduce vehicle emissions, and manufacturers are offering an increasing variety of electric models. The time to electrify our nation’s school bus fleets is now.

Find out how you can transition your school bus fleet to electric buses using our DRVE tool.

The Case for Electric School Buses

One-third of children in the United States – more than 20 million American students – take a bus to school every single day. Of the nearly 500,000 school buses operating in the United States today, approximately 95% run on diesel fuel.

Tailpipe emissions from diesel vehicles cause a variety of health problems in children, such as asthma, respiratory infections, cognitive impairment, and premature death. Exposure to air pollutants from diesel vehicles is especially problematic for children, whose rapidly developing bodies and high respiratory rates make them more susceptible than adults to poor air quality.

A little boy steps off an electric bus.
The LionC electric school bus from Lion Electric.

Children from communities of color rely more heavily on buses for transportation to school and are thus exposed to higher levels of diesel emissions, making school bus pollution a serious equity issue. Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions, improving the air quality for all children. Our children deserve clean air, and electric school buses are a critical part of the solution.

Electric school buses’ lower operating and maintenance costs can save money for school districts, according to a report by U.S. PIRG. And with their unique drive cycles and high-capacity batteries, they can even improve the reliability of our electrical grids. Vehicle-to-grid technology enables electric school buses to serve as mobile power plants, providing stored energy back to the grid when demand is high or during a power outage. When school buses provide electricity back to the grid, they can generate revenue for the school district.

The Process: Electrifying
a School Bus Fleet

Electrification of a school bus fleet requires planning and collaboration with many stakeholders. However, a wide variety of resources are available to simplify, streamline, and support the process for school districts. School district leadership and fleet managers should consider the steps below for a successful transition to electric buses.

1. Engage stakeholders
Bring all relevant stakeholders to the table. School district administrators, superintendents, city council members, utility representatives, school bus fleet managers, bus drivers, maintenance staff, school facility managers, parents, and students will need to inform different parts of the process.

A girl getting off an electric school bus.
Photo from Sonny Merryman

2. Identify partners

Utilities are essential partners. They can provide estimates of charging costs and identify necessary electrical infrastructure to support charging equipment. They must also be included in conversations related to vehicle-to-grid capabilities. Some utilities offer financing programs for the purchase of electric school buses, especially if the batteries will be an asset to the grid.

States and municipalities can also serve as partners, as many have sustainability goals and emissions reduction targets that electric school buses will support. By identifying potential partners early in the planning process, school districts will be aware of all the options and opportunities to take advantage of.

Nonprofit organizations dedicated to transportation electrification may be able to provide resources or assistance. World Resource Institute’s Electric School Bus Initiative offers technical assistance to school districts pursuing school bus electrification. The Electrification Coalition provides a wide array of resources to organizations seeking to go electric. Your local Clean Cities coalition may be able to connect you with partners, vendors, funding, or technical support.

3. Set goals

Work with stakeholders and partners to set concrete goals for school bus electrification, including the desired date for full fleet electrification and interim targets. Some school districts contract the fleet operations to a third party. The terms of the contract may influence the pace of fleet electrification.

4. Plan routes and charging schedules

Determine where and when the electric buses will charge and the routes they will serve. Multiple buses may be able to take advantage of a single charger.

Two children running toward a school bus.
Photo from Highland Fleets

5. Identify pathways to funding

There a variety of strategies available to reduce the costs of vehicle procurement and charging infrastructure development. Many of them can be used in combination.

Public-private partnerships: Montgomery County, Md., is financing the procurement of 326 electric school buses – the single largest procurement to date in North America – through a partnership with Highland Electric. The company procures buses, develops charging infrastructure, and manages charging and maintenance, all as a subscription service, freeing the district from upfront transition costs. Other vendors offer similar services. The Montgomery County project was also supported by grant from the Maryland Energy Association.

Utility partnerships: Virginia school districts were able to fund the rollout out of 50 electric buses by partnering with Dominion Energy. The utility covers the cost difference between a diesel bus and an electric school bus, including electrical infrastructure and charging equipment. In return, the school buses can be used as a distributed energy resource, to which Dominion Energy holds the rights.

Federal and state funding: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center provides a database of state and federal funding programs. U.S. EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) Program funds grants and rebates that protect human health and improve air quality by reducing harmful emissions from diesel engines. New Jersey public school districts were able to secure more than 25 electric school buses using a mix of Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Funds and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative credits.

Pay-as-you-save programs: In the Pay-As-You-Save (PAYS) model of school bus procurement, a utility covers the upfront costs of electrification, including charging infrastructure. Once the school bus is deployed, a small charge is added to the school’s electrical bill to recover the utility’s initial investment. The additional charge is calculated to fall within the cost savings achieved by switching from diesel fuel to electricity. Once the initial investment cost has been repaid, the monthly charge is terminated.

6. Procure electric buses and charging equipment

Electric school buses are available from many vehicle manufacturers, including Bluebird, Collins, Lion Electric, Starcraft, Thomas Built Buses, and Transtech. It’s important to keep in mind that vehicle procurement can take up to 18 months.

Identify the appropriate type of EV charging stations, determine their locations, and explore charging software that can help achieve electricity cost savings. There are three main types of charging stations for EVs: Level 1 (120V), Level 2 (240V), and direct current fast charging (DCFC). Electric school buses typically use Level 2 or DCFC stations. Vehicle manufacturers will help determine the electric buses’ charging equipment needs.

Engagement with the local utility is critical at this point in the process. The utility will assist with the connection process for EV charging equipment and help determine whether any infrastructure upgrades are needed. The school district must also work with the utility to determine charging rates and the best charging times, and software platforms are available to help take advantage of these opportunities.

A man connects a charger to a school bus
Photo from Sonny Merryman

Electric School Bus Roundtable Events

The Electrification Coalition has partnered with World Resources Institute to host several state-specific discussions on opportunities to accelerate deployment of electric school buses.

Colorado Electric School Bus Roundtable

Industry experts, legislative leaders, EV advocates, and school districts joined Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper for a deep dive into Colorado’s opportunities to accelerate the deployment of electric school buses on Jan. 27, 2022. View the video recording, agenda, slides, and other resources from the event.

New Jersey Electric School Bus Roundtable

Partners and stakeholders from across New Jersey joined World Resources Institute and the Electrification Coalition on Oct. 13, 2021, for a roundtable discussion on the wide-ranging benefits of electric school buses and New Jersey’s window of opportunity to accelerate deployment. View the video recording, agenda, slides, and other resources from the event.