Electrifying the U.S. School Bus Fleet
School bus electrification represents a unique opportunity to accelerate decarbonization while bringing direct, tangible benefits to every community in the United States. This transition can help make electric mobility the new normal for an entire generation.
WRI’s aim is to create unstoppable momentum over the next five years on a path towards electrifying the entire fleet of U.S. school buses by 2030. Overcoming the cost, infrastructure and policy barriers to mass adoption will require a systemic approach that engages an entire ecosystem of actors and prioritizes inclusive planning with impacted communities.
WRI's Electric School Bus Initiative will achieve this by partnering with key stakeholders to simultaneously aggregate demand, scale manufacturing, change policy incentives, develop new financing models and forge equitable pathways for electrification that can be replicated across the country. This project is generously supported by the Bezos Earth Fund.
The 480,000 school buses in the United States account for 80% of all buses nationwide, yet less than 1% are electrified. A concerted effort to electrify school buses could create a tipping point for decarbonizing the entire transportation sector, which is responsible for almost 30% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying the entire fleet of school buses would reduce 10 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equal to almost 50% of annual emissions for all buses in the country.
Communities nationwide will benefit from safer and quieter streets, cleaner air, reduced operating expenses for school districts, new jobs in green manufacturing and valuable storage for renewable energy via vehicle-to-grid technologies (V2G). These impacts will be particularly important in high-pollution corridors where underserved communities are disproportionately exposed to health risks.
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The transition to electric vehicles is an industry-shifting change. WRI seeks to engage with the broader constellation of e-bus stakeholders to influence and build on growing momentum. Recent milestones for the sector include:
- NextEra, FirstGroup to Electrify 43,000 School Buses, Bloomberg, 1/26/21
- Executive Order on Federal Fleet Electrification and Climate Action, The White House, 1/27/21
- Biggest Electric Bus Deal in U.S. Approved in Maryland, Bloomberg, 2/24/21
Along with partners, WRI's Electric School Bus Initiative will deliver outcomes in five major interconnected areas:
1. Aggregate demand to drive mass procurement of electric buses, bringing the electric bus industry to a tipping point of mass adoption. WRI will build demand from the bottom up by working with school districts and partner organizations to develop local electric school bus transition plans. We will create models based on these transition plans to provide technical assistance to additional school districts with an emphasis on low-income areas.
2. Scale e-bus manufacturing and drive down unit costs. To electrify the entire school bus fleet, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) need to ramp up e-bus manufacturing capabilities by 800- fold from today’s capacity. To achieve this growth, WRI will work with manufacturers to catalyze innovative business models that make electric buses more cost-competitive against diesel models and support OEM expansion plans.
3. Develop innovative utility and private sector financing models and support smart charging infrastructure deployment. Utilities will be key financial and technical partners for accelerating school bus deployment. Electrifying the entire school bus fleet can unlock 72 GW-hours of storage via vehicle-to-grid for utilities, enabling new opportunities to expand businesses and integrate clean energy. The Dominion Virginia electric school bus program, as well as bus programs in Orlando and Los Angeles, offer examples of how this can be done.
4. Influence federal and state policy to unlock public funding and policy support for full electrification of school bus fleets. WRI will build on recent momentum for electrifying diesel vehicles, such as the Zero Emission Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicle Initiative and electric school bus proposals introduced in Congress.
5. Galvanize communities and stakeholders for an equitable and comprehensive shift towards e-buses by 2030. To ensure this long-term commitment, we will focus on centering schools and their communities, raising national awareness, and implementing innovative engagement across all layers of the project. We will prioritize inclusive partnerships that emphasize co-creation with local communities and key stakeholders to increase buy-in and sustain momentum.