Two software companies, AutoGrid and Zūm, have formed a partnership that aims to help electrify the nation’s fleet of school buses.
The partners plan to use AutoGrid’s virtual power plant (VPP) platform to deploy 10,000 electric school buses managed by Zūm in the next four years to create over 1 gigawatt (GW) of flexible capacity when the electricity grid is overloaded. When fully deployed, it would be one of the largest virtual power plants in the world, the companies said.
The nation’s fleet of nearly 500,000 yellow school buses is the country’s largest mass transportation system, transporting more than 27 million students every day, according to the companies.
AutoGrid provides artificial intelligence-powered flexibility management software to the energy industry. In 2018, Colorado Springs Utilities began using AutoGrid’s demand management program for its business customers. The program was designed to allow the public power utility to consolidate management of its demand response resources into a unified system. It also provided the utility the ability to automatically and remotely shift or reduce electricity use of customers participating in the program and to measure and verify energy savings.
In 2016, National Grid began using AutoGrid to unify management of its demand response and distributed energy resource programs in its service North American service territory. At the time, the utility said it expected to enroll more than 400 megawatts (MW) of demand response and distributed energy resources over three years.
Public power utilities are among the leaders in the electrification of public buses. For instance, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), with funding from state agencies such as the California Air Resources Board and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, has been working with school districts in its territory. At the end of 2020, SMUD had 79 electric school buses in service in its territory with a goal of having 100 buses in service by year-end 2021.
“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,” Rahul Kar, general manager of new energy at AutoGrid, said in a statement. “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.”
Ride share company Zūm offers software that can optimize the routes and vehicles used by school districts.
Earlier this year, the Oakland Unified School District in California signed a 10-year, $100 million contract with Zūm. The contract has resulted in the number of students in the district spending one hour or more on buses getting to and from school to drop from 70% to 3% and, as a result, diesel buses spending less time on streets, Zūm said.
Zūm says it currently works with more than 4,000 schools and school districts, helping them optimize transportation routes and to determine the optimal size of vehicles to help reduce costs, maximize route coverage, and address vehicle underutilization.
Both Zūm and AutoGrid noted that the electrification of school buses could be aided by the infrastructure legislation proposed by the administration of President Joseph Biden that includes plans to electrify at least 20 percent of the nation’s yellow school bus fleet through a new Clean Buses for Kids Program at the Environmental Protection Agency.