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⚡ Transforming the School Bus Industry

EV Chat

Photo by Elijah Ekdahl / Unsplash

Host: Rue Phillips
Guest: Sue Gander | Director, Electric School Bus Initiative | World Resources Institute
Category: ⚡ Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[5:24] “I've been with the World Resources Institute as the director of our electric school bus initiative. This is a new initiative that just started less than six months ago. [We’re] really excited that we have the support of the Bezos Earth Fund to help move this work forward and partner with organizations literally around the country and even some internationally as well to help with this really critical move to transform the entire school bus industry faster than we think it's going to be happening otherwise.”

[6:53] “We're particularly interested in the emissions and related health benefits of electric school buses. […] We know that the most common other form of school bus transportation, diesel buses can have emissions that are up to 12 times higher within the cabin than the outside air. And we really lean in on the opportunity to have tailpipe free emissions buses rolling around across the country, that's better for kids respiratory health, that's better for their cognitive ability and it's better for the drivers and it's better for the community, especially when you think about where the school buses are being refueled in terms of the depots and where they're located. They're often in disadvantaged communities or in areas that already have underlying pollution issues that they're contending with.”

[7:56] “The other piece of the emissions benefits is, of course, the greenhouse gas emissions, where you're going to have a fantastic improvement in terms of electricity compared to any other source, be it diesel or propane or natural gas. And so we're given the urgency and the need to address our climate change concerns, electric school buses are a great win there. And it's both from the perspective of the buses themselves, but it's also the opportunity to transform this entire industry. Buses are just one of the applications across the medium and heavy duty sector. And we know that that's a sector that needs more and more attention. We are making great strides in the light duty sector, we know that, we have a long way to go with that as well. But the medium and heavy duty sector is increasingly of concern, and increasingly an opportunity.”

[9:58] “We're really focused at the World Resources Institute in thinking about how do we focus equity in this transformation. And to us and to me personally as well, that's really about thinking about those kids that are coming from communities of color, that are coming from underserved communities. Those are the kids that are more likely to ride a bus than have another option. […] And it leads to a lot of other benefits as well. We see a great opportunity to develop this market in terms of new green jobs. This is a great industry that has a lot of manufacturing based in the United States and North America more broadly.”

[11:12] “We also see a lot of benefits in terms of the potential to support the transformation of the grid itself. So when you have these big batteries rolling around, transporting kids through an electric school bus, you also have the opportunity to use those batteries and support the grid, both potentially in terms of times of emergency where you might have some vehicle to grid opportunities, but also through the opportunity to help integrate renewable energy into the grid as well. And so it's a great feedback loop in terms of greening the grid alongside greening our transportation system as well.”

[11:59] “There are 480,000 school buses […] we're looking to electrify that entire fleet by the year 2030, which is a hugely ambitious goal. But we think it's doable, and we think it's necessary. And we are at an early stage, we have about 1,200, maybe 1,400 school buses that are either on the road or kind of getting there in terms of the procurement cycle. So we have a long way to go. But they're increasingly of interest. We know that there is at least one electric school bus in 33 states. So we know it's not just happening in particular states. There's a huge portion of those that are in some of the coastal states, California being a leader in that. But we've seen them working and working well in states and school districts across the country.”

[14:16] “[EV Buses] are a higher cost technology. They can be up to three times more expensive, and the delta can be in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. Now, keep in mind, these are vehicles that are going to be on the road, typically for a decade or more. So that sounds like a big price when you compare it to maybe a personal vehicle. But what is encouraging us as we are seeing the prices come down, and that's because the demand is going up, the technology and the scaling of the manufacturing is slowly improving. So we're just looking for those two factors to continue to drive down the cost of the vehicles. And in the meantime, we know that once a bus is purchased, it has much lower operation and maintenance costs. So there's going to be savings. And we're really looking forward to the point where […] that total cost of ownership is going to be a positive.”

[22:49] “We're tremendously excited about the interest that we've seen in the last few years, I'll say, but increasingly, in the last year to six months on the opportunity for Congress to support the transformation for school buses. We've seen how important the investment of the federal government has been in transforming our transit bus fleet, which is a much smaller fleet. But that's well underway. And so we've seen how that can work, and just really trying to remain optimistic that we can work through the current debates in Congress related to a much broader set of infrastructure questions, and you know, really do this for the kids of our country, who are the ones that are going to benefit directly from this.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: "EV Buses with Sue Gander of World Resources Institute")
🕰️ 30 min | 🗓️ 11/01/2021
✅ Time saved: 28 min

Additional Links:
World Resources Institute: Electric School Bus Initiative