Dominion Energy’s recent announcement to make all school buses in Virginia electric by 2030 is most likely the step necessary to cross the chasm from diesel school buses to EV school buses. Crossing this chasm is a big deal considering there is about 550,000 school buses in United States and Canada.

Dominion Energy’s program starts with 50 EV school buses 2020 and continues with 200 more buses per year for the next five years. The program will make Virginia and Dominion Energy the new national leader in EV school buses. However, California, the state that pioneered EV school buses, keeps moving forward. In July this year California Energy Commission awarded nearly $70 million to state schools to replace more than 200 diesel school buses with new EV school buses. It seems like a fair bet that more states and more electric utilities will follow California, Virginia and Dominion Energy’s initiative.

EV school buses makes much sense with major benefits for the school kids, the school districts, the environment and the electric grid. For the school children eliminating dangerous emissions of particulate matters, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile compounds means a lot for their respiratory health.

For the school districts the lower “fuel costs” and the lower maintenance costs translates to an about 60 % less expense to operate an EV school bus compared to a diesel bus.

For the environment on average an EV school bus annually reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by about 55,000 pounds, as well as reduces the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by nearly 550 pounds. According to Dominion Energy, replacing 1050 buses over 5 years with EV buses will reduce emissions by 810 million pounds, the equivalent to taking 78,000 cars off the road.

From a grid perspective 1050 EV school buses means at least 105 MWh of battery storage, a significant amount of battery storage, equal to power roughly 10,000 homes.  Contrary to passenger cars, school buses have defined routes and very predictable time of use. They operate in the morning and in the afternoons. The other 17 hours of the day they can be plugged in, making them very suitable for vehicle to grid (V2G), for example to help provide frequency control and other ancillary services.

The biggest challenge to go for EV school buses has been and is the first cost. An EV school bus costs, depending on the size of the bus, $120,000 – $260,000 more to purchase than a diesel school buses. With $13.5 million for the first step, averaging $270,000 per bus, Dominion Energy takes care of the gap, and, in addition, funds the charging stations. For the next phase of 200 buses per year for the next five years Dominion Energy will need state approval, but even when the program is fully implemented the rate impact is expected to be less than $1 per month.

Next step for Virginia is for Dominion Energy to issue an RFP this week (September 5 to be precise). On their website Dominion Energy says there are four bus makers. Most likely the four companies are Thomas Built Buses (owned by Daimler), Blue Bird Corporation, IC Bus (owned by Navistar International Corporation) and The Lion Electric Co (a public Canadian based company). Longer term, other EV bus companies like Proterra and BYD may be motivated to enter. After all there are 550,000 school buses in USA and Canada!