Student transportation company Zum has partnered with AutoGrid, a provider of AI-powered energy software solutions, to use electric school buses as virtual power plant resources.
The partnership will leverage AutoGrid's Virtual Power Plant (VPP) technology platform to deploy 10,000 electric school buses managed by Zum in the next four years to create over one gigawatt of flexible capacity — the equivalent of powering more than one million homes for one to four hours — when the electricity grid is overloaded, according to a news release from Zum. When fully deployed, this is expected to be one of the largest VPPs in the world, according to the company.
"School buses have predictable daily schedules and are typically used only a few hours each day, making them an ideal resource as part of a virtual power plant,” said Rahul Kar, general manager of new energy at AutoGrid. “Virtual power plants play a crucial role in providing stability to a renewable-powered grid and the extra revenues from these grid services enable school districts and electric vehicle fleet owners to reduce the total cost of ownership as they strive to meet their sustainability goals.”
Zum currently works with more than 4,000 schools and school districts to offer optimized transportation routes and best-sized vehicles including buses, cars, and vans to help reduce costs, maximize route coverage, and address vehicle underutilization, according to the company.
"We're committed to making it easy for districts to evolve their fleets to 100% electric through a powerful combination of technology and innovation,” said Vivek Garg, president and chief operating officer at Zum. “Beyond that, we are taking vehicles that have traditionally spent the majority of their lifetime stalled or parked and expanding their use in multiple ways — from leveraging them for trips beyond home-to-school routes to optimizing the electric grid.”
With over 5,000 megawatts of assets under contract, AutoGrid has experience managing distributed energy resources in 12 countries.
According to Zum, utilizing the sizable batteries of electric school buses for distributed energy storage and grid services has the potential to make a significant contribution to cleaning up the electricity grid in North America.
Additionally, the electric grid services revenues available through VPP programs reportedly not only help lower the cost of energy for school districts, they also help lower the overall cost of operating the grid by avoiding and deferring expensive infrastructure upgrades and reducing the need to purchase cost-prohibitive peak power, according to Zum.