AutoGrid, the global market leader in AI-powered flexibility management software for the energy industry, has partnered with Zūm, which is into student transportation, to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in a nearly century-old school transportation business that has previously relied on emission-intensive diesel yellow buses.
The strategic partnership will leverage AutoGrid’s Virtual Power Plant technology (VPP) platform to deploy 10,000 electric school buses managed by Zūm 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. When fully deployed, this is expected to be one of the largest VPPs in the world.
Rahul Kar, General Manager of New Energy at AutoGrid, said, “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. 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 EV fleet owners to reduce the total cost of ownership as they strive to meet their sustainability goals.”
The potential for a clean future may be further accelerated through the Biden Administration’s proposed $25 billion investment in the electrification of school buses as part of the infrastructure bill. Student transportation — 500,000 yellow school buses transporting over 27 million students every day — is the largest mass transportation system in the United States. The transition to EVs for the school transportation sector will play a critical role in helping communities improve air quality and environmental health for student passengers and area residents. Every EV bus saves 11 tons of carbon emissions per year, which will help school districts make progress on their carbon footprint goals.
The student transportation market has been stagnant in terms of technology adoption and conversion to sustainable practices. Zūm has reimagined student transportation by developing end-to-end technology and services to provide greater sustainability, flexibility, and efficiency for districts and working parents. Zūm currently works with more than 4,000 schools and school districts, such as the Oakland Unified School District, to offer optimised transportation routes and best-sized vehicles, including buses, cars and vans, to help reduce costs, maximise route coverage and address vehicle underutilisation. This 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 just 3%, and traditional diesel-based buses, which cause congestion and environmental challenges, spending less time on streets.
Vivek Garg, President and Chief Operating Officer at Zūm, said, “We’re committed to making it easy for districts to evolve their fleets to 100% electric through a powerful combination of technology and innovation. 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 optimising the electric grid. By partnering with AutoGrid, we are creatively and efficiently making this a reality.”
With over 5,000 megawatts of assets under contract, and experience managing distributed energy resources in 12 countries, AutoGrid is the leading provider of energy flexibility management solutions globally. Utilising the sizable batteries of school EV fleets for distributed energy storage and grid services has the potential to make a further significant contribution to cleaning up the electricity grid in North America. In California alone, there are approximately 17 gigawatts of fossil fuel-burning ‘peaker’ power plants, which are used for less than 15% of the total hours available during the year. Many of these plants serve load pockets in dense urban areas in California, including more than 20 facilities which have more than 100,000 people living within a three-mile radius of the plant. Furthermore, half of the state’s peaker plants are located in disadvantaged communities and disproportionately burden socioeconomically vulnerable census tracts.
The grid services revenues available through VPP programs not only help lower the cost of energy for school districts, but 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. This benefits all electric consumers, including those who are not directly participating in these programs, and significantly reduces the usage of fossil fuel power plants.