We are thrilled to have Paola Massoli and the ESchool Bus (ESB) Working Group as one of our project partners at DMCC! Paola is a clean transportation expert with a research background in air quality and a passion for clean energy. She has recently earned a Masters in Sustainability & Environmental Management and she is dedicated to help eliminate vehicle emissions through policy and community empowerment. Paola sat down with us to discuss the ESB Working Group and what they are hoping to accomplish. Keep reading to learn about why the ESB Working Group was started, what their goals are and why school buses are such important vehicles to electrify.
Project: ESchool Bus Working Group
Location: Denver, CO
How and why was the ESchool Bus Working Group started?
The Colorado Electric School Bus Working Group started with the intent to provide an educational opportunity to all school districts in Colorado that are interested in learning more about electric school buses. The working group is one of the many initiatives and programs that Denver Metro Clean Cities is implementing to advance sustainable mobility in Colorado. Our first meeting was in September 2020, and over the next few months we plan to have a series of online workshops that will cover the technical, logistical, and financial details of school bus electrification. We have a cohort of 8 participating school districts, and we are excited by their positive response – it really shows that there is a growing desire to learn more about electric vehicles and implement sustainable mobility solutions in the communities they serve.
Why do you think school buses are such an important vehicle to transition to electric?
There are many reasons why the U.S. school bus fleet is the perfect target for electrification, and why school buses are an exciting application for electric vehicles. Technically speaking, school buses are perfectly suited for electrification because their average daily mileage is relatively low and typically broken into two segments (the morning and afternoon school runs), leaving time to recharge the batteries in between, if needed. To me, the most exciting aspect about school bus electrification is the opportunity to significantly slash emissions nationwide. The Yellow Bus system is the largest form of mass transit in the United States, comprising 480,000 buses that mostly run on diesel fuel. Eliminating the emissions of almost half a million vehicles would be an enormous step forward for both air quality and climate. In the last two decades, there have been investments and efforts to deploy cleaner forms of transportation for school children. Diesel engine retrofits have significantly reduced air pollutant emissions from school buses, and alternative fuels such as propane cut some emissions like nitrogen oxides even further. However, none of these technologies and fuel options eliminates toxic pollutants such as benzene and greenhouse gases (GHG). Electric school buses offer the perfect solution by completely getting rid of tailpipe emissions in areas of public health concern such as residential neighborhoods and school parking lots where buses tend to idle. Electric school buses also provide a cleaner and quieter environment for the workforce, improving the working conditions for bus drivers and mechanics. Finally, all deployments so far indicate significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs for the school districts. The other exciting aspect about electric school buses is the possibility to use the bus batteries as energy storage units when the vehicles are not in use. This application – which goes under the name vehicle to grid, V2G – opens opportunities for intelligent energy management strategies that can further reduce charging costs and grid emissions. Electric school buses can truly be a multiple win strategy for everyone.
What are the ESchool Bus Working Group’s long-term goals? How are you planning on achieving these?
The primary goal of this working group is to empower the participants with knowledge and practical tools that can help them successfully incorporate electric school buses in their fleets, if they wish to do so. We seek to provide a chance to familiarize with electric school bus deployments, use cases, and lesson learned from experts in the field and other fleet managers in school districts that have already started such transition. But we also want to provide a friendly forum for open discussion, and hopefully create a cohesive group of peers that can continue interact and work together to identify opportunities and overcome the challenges of school bus electrification across Colorado. There are roughly 3,000 school buses in Colorado, and in the long-term, their electrification is an incredible opportunity for the state to achieve its climate targets and improve the wellbeing of many communities.
In your opinion, what would be the biggest success story to come out of the ESchool Bus Working Group?
We obviously would love to see the participating school districts start planning for ways and strategies to incorporate electric school buses into their fleets. This is a process that requires cooperation among the relevant stakeholders (school superintendents, fleet manager and maintenance workers, utilities, and the communities at large), and, most importantly, time. It takes time to gather funding, plan electrical upgrades, properly size and build charging infrastructure, and so on, before purchasing any vehicle. So, even during these times of economic uncertainty and school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a lot of preparatory work that can be done. Luckily, the state of Colorado is developing strategies to support adoption of zero emission vehicles including school buses. The state has set ambitious goals to convert light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to 100% zero-emissions before 2050, and the state agencies are serious about this transition and eager to make things happen, with targeted programs and funding opportunities available.
How have the ESchool Bus Working Group and DMCC been collaborating so far? Are there any specific projects or events that you are looking forward to partnering on in the future?
We look forward to building a strong collaborative relationship with the working group participants and the school districts they represent, and while DMCC is mostly acting as a facilitator, it will remain a resource of information and support after the working group ends. DMCC has fleet expertise, knowledge about grants and funding opportunities at the federal, state and local level, and it is connected with key players in the zero-emission vehicle industry, and with the state agencies. As far as a specific event, we look forward to the possibility to participate in (as a working group or as individual school districts) to the Zero Emission Bus (ZEB) Conference organized by the Center for Transportation and Environment, that is planned to be held in Denver in September 2021. We are excited about this opportunity to gather in person, right in Denver, and to share what we have learned together, and hopefully exciting plans for school bus electrification in Colorado.