Across much of the U.S. this summer, as temperatures soared nearly every afternoon, air conditioners clicked on again and again, sending electricity demand through the roof. Just north of Boston, the normally temperate coastal city of Beverly was no exception. Since the Fourth of July, the city has experienced nearly 20 days when temperatures crested 90 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees above the average high.
When electricity demand surged, the city’s small fleet of electric school buses sprang to life, sending electricity stored in their massive batteries back into the grid to prevent brownouts and blackouts. So far, the buses have contributed 10 MWh of electricity on 30 separate occasions to National Grid, the regional utility, according to Highland Electric Fleets, which supplies and manages the buses.
The test, while small, hints at the massive potential for school buses to stabilize a grid that’s being increasingly threatened by extreme weather wrought by climate change. There are nearly half a million school buses in the U.S., and many of them sit idle for more than 18 hours per day, a number that’s even higher in the summer.
“These electric buses can do a lot more” than diesel buses, said Sean Leach, director of platform management at Highland. “They can move the students however many times a day they need to, and then in other times of the day, they can become resiliency assets to support the community.”
Today, there are only a few thousand electric school buses in the U.S. But that’s about to change. States like Maryland and Maine have laws mandating their adoption, and others like Colorado and New Jersey have been running pilot programs. In addition to being cheaper to operate over time, the buses don’t pump out pounds of diesel pollution next to vulnerable children’s lungs.