In the June 2017 issue of School Bus Fleet, I wrote a story on the growing availability of grant opportunities for alternative-fuel school buses and on updates on their use, both in pilots and where they are in operation across the U.S.
In addition to the focus on grants and bus projects, some other interesting topics came up, such as how the scope of the Volkswagen (VW) settlement funds even eclipsed the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, which were substantial, and how batteries for electric buses are becoming more efficient and affordable.
Significant funding opportunity
The billions in VW funding opportunities greatly surpass even the ARRA funds, which, as previously reported, provided $300 million for clean diesel projects and funded 25 related projects through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities coalitions. Those funds helped many school districts test the efficiency of alternative-fuel buses despite operating on tight budgets.
A few examples: Kentucky received $13 million for about 213 diesel-electric hybrid school buses, Kansas City (Kan.) Public Schools was awarded $4 million in stimulus funds to help buy 47 CNG buses and the necessary fueling infrastructure, and New York was able to obtain two wheelchair-accessible hybrid school buses with matching funds from ARRA.
If ARRA, being a fraction of the size of the VW funds, can have that kind of impact, then the pupil transportation industry can hopefully anticipate exponentially greater opportunities to introduce alternative-fuel and clean diesel buses into their fleets and grow the alternative-fuel portion of fleets that already have these buses.
“Regardless of the manufacturer or fuel type, I don’t think many school districts will see another opportunity like this in the next decade to access funding to take older diesel buses off the road and to put newer, alternative-fuel buses on the road,” said Todd Mouw, vice president of sales and marketing at Roush CleanTech, which supplies the fueling system to Blue Bird propane buses. “We’ve heard some folks say ‘The funding process is really tough.’ I wouldn’t let that opportunity go by. Ask Blue Bird to help in that process, because I think it’s a windfall that can’t be ignored.”
Electric bus battery progress offering greater payoff
More specifically concerning electric school buses, battery prices are decreasing 10% to 20% year over year, said Brendan Riley, president of electric bus manufacturer GreenPower.
James Tillman, director of business development, EV services and battery storage at MaxGen Energy Services, agreed. With less space and packing more power, batteries are also able to charge at much faster rates and offer significant price reductions.
The company has helped install a few vehicle-to-grid systems for TransPower for electric buses for the Torrance School District, Napa School District, and Bakersfield City School District.
The vehicle-to-building, vehicle-to-grid opportunities inherent within school buses can also help make them more affordable. For instance, school buses are busy during the morning and afternoon, but when they are not in service, the batteries could be used to offset the demand of a school or other facility, lowering the electric bill significantly, Tillman said.
“I’m a believer that [electric] buses are going to happen pretty quickly. [With] the drop in battery prices, it just makes sense.”
Does your district or company plan to apply for VW settlement funding from your state? Tell us in the comments below.