Vehicle to Grid: The Least You Need to Know

We’ve all seen new technologies get hyped up that later turned out to be duds. Irrelevant. If we’d ignored those things all along, we then felt smart: we didn’t waste our time on that nonsense. On the other hand, cell phones turned out to be a Superthing. They’ve gone from being nothing to us, to being everything to us. Ignoring them would leave many of us jobless.

Is Vehicle to Grid (V2G) becoming a thing? Is it viable for electric school buses (ESBs) to discharge energy from their massive battery packs into the grid to help stabilize it, and be paid for that service? 14 states have V2G pilot projects (WRI), but as I mentioned last month, only 2.4% of U.S. school districts are operating or have yet ordered their first electric school bus (ESB Newsletter). Would busy school bus fleets and school boards and superintendents be wasting their time, this early on, by learning about V2G?

I suggest V2G is worth six minutes of everyone’s time — i.e., the time it takes to read this newsletter. I think you’ll see why I think that.

This issue includes:

  • EPA Clean School Bus Program update
  • ABCs of Vehicle to Grid (the least you need to know)
  • Key conferences coming up

I’m Alison Wiley here in Oregon, an ESB (electric school bus), equity, and inclusion geek. I’ve worked in low-carbon transportation since 2006, focusing on electric buses since 2016. My newsletters (housed here) make the complex topic of ESBs more accessible and understandable to a wide variety of readers. This newsletter is a member of the nationwide, equity-focused Alliance For Electric School Buses.

Tysen Brodwolf, Transportation Director of Cajon Valley School District (CVSD) outside of San Diego, with one of her seven Lion electric school buses as it discharges energy into the grid operated by San Diego Gas and Electric. Nuvve, a private company, is the third partner in this V2G pilot. 14 states nationwide have V2G pilots.

New Funding Round This Spring

This spring the EPA’s five billion dollar Clean School Bus Program (CSBP) is expected to announce its second funding round. Last year the CSBP awarded almost one billion to 389 districts nationwide, 95% of it for ESBs, all of it to fleets it prioritized. While that was a lottery-based rebate program, the new round will be a grant competition with a lengthier, more in-depth application. Another key change: contractors (for example, First Student) will now have direct access to the funds (STN). Equity-wise, an ongoing problem is that air quality appears nowhere in the prioritization process. Disadvantaged children have long breathed the worst air, and should be first in line to ride ESBs. That’s not necessarily how the CSBP is playing out. I hope that can change. ESB advocacy groups are working on it.

V2G, Broken Down to ABC’s

All energy grids in the U.S. are aging, and being hit with increasingly extreme weather events they were never designed to withstand. These strains cause increasing power outages (CNN) that cause billions of dollars in damages, and sometimes death, especially to vulnerable populations. V2G is one of several strategies that can prevent and mitigate outages.

Bidirectional: describes buses and chargers that can discharge — push energy out — as well as pull it in. Plenty of them can. Bidirectional means those are V2G capable, but it takes additional equipment and engineering to make V2G then happen.

Clean energy: V2G, if and when it happens in a given location, feeds clean energy into the grid, with no new emissions. Our nation’s energy mix in general is getting cleaner as coal and natural gas are being slowly phased out, and renewable energy is growing (see Intermittent below). Here’s a breakdown of every state’s electricity sources, also known as energy mix.

Discharging: sending energy from ESB batteries to the grid (V2G), or a building (V2B), or “everything” (V2X). It’s a huge engineering feat, I am told by an engineer, to run electricity in the direction opposite to the usual one.

ESB: electric school bus, uniquely suited for V2G. The broader term electric bus includes electric public transit buses, which aren’t suited to V2G due to operating up to 365 days/year. School buses, in contrast, sit idle up to 91% of the time (Bus To Grid Initiative), some of which time they could discharge their clean energy into the grid. See schedule diagram below.

An example of what a V2G schedule of route operations, charging and discharging could look like for an ESB fleet. Source.

Electricity: increasingly used as a transportation fuel. Electric motors are three times more efficient at converting energy to motion than gasoline.

Frontline communities: historically pushed into polluted and flood-vulnerable areas of cities due to economic forces like redlining, these people experience more power outages, and the first and worst consequences of climate change.

Highland: fleet financing company, with much energy expertise, that helps bus fleets to electrify. A partner in the successful V2G pilot described under Megawatt, below.

Intermittent: the nature of clean, renewable energy, i.e., the wind blows about one-third of the time, and the sun shines (producing solar energy) much less than that. V2G can smooth out this intermittency. ESB batteries can store renewable energy when it’s abundant, and feed it back into the grid (V2G) when it’s not. If renewables aren’t available, V2G is at least carbon-neutral. See Virtual Power Plant below.

Just keep reading, despite how nerdy this stuff is. I don’t love technology, even though I write about it. I tend to resist it, actually. But the more I learn about technology, of any type, the less dismissive and avoidant I become, and then I get better at making choices about it.

kWh = kilowatt hour: a measure of the available fuel in your ESB, as expressed by SOC/state of charge (see below). All of us pay our electric bills based on our kWh usage.

Level 2: the type of chargers most often used for ESBs. They cost about one-tenth of DCFC chargers, and unlike DCFC, cannot support V2G, yet. However, Jeff Venegas, Vice President of Operations at Nuvve, reports that Level 2 charging can in future support V2G when the SAE J3072 standard is released.

Local control: My colleague Tim Farquer and I hold a vision of V2G being under local control. See Frontline Communities above, and Resilience below. Towards the goal of local control, “I’m a firm believer in open protocols,” Tim states.

Megawatt hour (mWh): unit of energy. Over the summer of 2021 a V2G pilot in Beverly Massachusetts discharged almost three mWh of energy into the grid, with just one ESB. (For context, one mWh powers a typical American home for 1.2 months.)

Nuvve: the only company currently offering V2G services with electric school buses, Jeff Venegas states (they own the IP).

Outage of power (accidental). Increasingly common due to decades-old grid infrastructure not built for current weather events. V2G is intended to mitigate and prevent outages. More below.

PSPS: Public Safety Power Shutoffs are deliberate power outages. Utilities in the tinder-dry West sometimes shut off power in rural areas in efforts to prevent the sparks that can trigger catastrophic wildfires. V2G may mitigate such shutoffs.

Q: I can’t think of a Q word related to V2G. If you can, let me know.

Resilience: a key goal of V2G technology, i.e. energy resilience in the face of increasing power outages nationwide. Low income communities in particular need energy resilience. They tend to have more and lengthier outages than affluent communities, and the least resources for things like replacing a refrigerator’s worth of spoiled food. See Local Control above.

Revenue: V2G services of an ESB fleet may, if they become a reliable energy resource to a utility, generate revenue for the school district. I’ve heard $6,000/year per ESB quoted as one potential example, but that sounds high to me. Much depends on the state’s price of electricity; see state by state listing here. Here’s the overview: electricity is most costly in Hawaii, Alaska, California and the New England states, and cheapest in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Oklahoma.

SOC: state of charge of the ESB batteries, i.e. 31% or 92%. Similar to a gas gauge, but more nuanced because it’s impacted minute to minute by hills, use of heater and air conditioner, and driver’s skill in using regenerative braking. SOC is closely monitored in doing V2G.

Texas: the only state with its own independent electricity grid, which failed in 2021 for tens of millions of people during extreme weather events. V2G could probably have helped maintain service. Also home to more school buses than any other state, and home to more wind energy than any other state.To my knowledge, the only state with a nonprofit founded solely to advocate for ESBs: Texas Electric School Bus Project: go, Jessica Keithan and Laura Hester!

VPP = virtual power plant. Utility term for such energy resources as a fleet of ESBs supplying V2G. Similar to ESBs being called “batteries on wheels”. These terms make me a bit uneasy, because while utilities will say that the kids’ transportation comes first, utilities are generally richer and more powerful than school districts. They also write the V2G contracts. The more knowledge districts have, the better.

WASBE: Women Accelerating School Bus Electrification. Cofounders are Susan Mudd, Malinda Sandhu and myself. We’re working on an updated list of women ESB speakers. No manels (all male panels). Let me know if you or someone you know should be on the list.
X: extra credit if you hit reply and tell me what you found helpful here, or what you needed instead to make sense of V2G.

ZEB: zero emissions bus (only electric has no emissions).

Is V2G a thing? Early days, but it’s becoming one. Its implications for school bus fleets are huge. Getting our heads around it now is a good idea.

Remember to check out the ESB Education Center by the U.S. Department of Energy and the ESB Resource Library by the Electric School Bus Initiative.

Financial support for this newsletter is provided in part by the World Resources Institute. While the World Resources Institute may engage as a partner on content, it does not control, nor does it necessarily endorse, the contents of this newsletter.

By Alison Wiley (she/her/hers)

Electric School Bus Newsletter
(541) 295-0255 |

I am on the ancestral lands of the Multnomah, Chinook and Cowlitz peoples.

Whose land are you on?


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