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San Diego Electric School Buses to Gird Grid During Peak Times

A pilot project between a regional utility and the Cajon Valley Union School District is turning eight electric school buses into battery storage devices to supplement the electric grid during peak demand periods.

An electric school bus parked outside a building.
New electric buses used by the Cajon Valley Union School District will put energy back into the grid during high demand times.
Image courtesy of San Diego Gas and Electric (via Twitter)
School buses in Southern California are being used for more than just transporting students. On hot summer days when electricity is in high demand, eight electric school buses are feeding power back into the grid.

The project is a pilot effort on behalf of San Diego Gas & Electric and the Cajon Valley Union School District. It’s part of a national move by the U.S. Department of Energy to explore vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology. Utility and other officials believe this technology, which turns electric vehicles into a form of crowdsourced battery storage network, will be essential to manage electric demand in an age of EVs.

Electric vehicles will be “the biggest thing to hit the grid since air conditioning,” said Mark Pastrone, chief operating officer for SemaConnect, a maker of EV chargers.

“And so, we’re really going to want to smooth the impact on the grid,” he added in comments on a panel July 27 at the Veloz Summit, centered on “Navigating the EV Ecosystem.”

The electric school bus project in the San Diego metro area is a collaboration among technology makers, the electric utility, as well as state, local and county departments to advance multi-directional charging.

“In my personal opinion, uni-directional vehicles and uni-directional chargers are going to become obsolete, just because of customer and the grid needs, and the optimization is going to require that flexibility,” said Angelina Galiteva, chair of the California Independent Systems Operator Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s transmission grid.

School buses, with their predicable use, can be counted on to supplement the electric grid right about when demand starts to peak in the late afternoon and early evening, said Galiteva, in some of her comments at the Veloz summit.

“There are so many benefits with V2G in terms of grid operations, and optimizing that use,” she added. “And I think we are working in that direction.”

Recent reports show unquestioned growth and interest in electric vehicles by U.S. consumers. Last year, roughly 5 percent of new car sales were EVs. And in California, nearly 16 percent of new car sales were electrified, said Caroline Choi, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Southern California Edison (SDE), and chair of the Veloz board of directors. By the end of May more than 1.1 million EVs were registered in California, with 372,000 of these EVs in the SDE service area.

“With the cost of gas recently, electric vehicles are certainly beginning to look more and more like a viable option,” said Choi, who pointed to a growth in the number of models available and other incentives to push drivers toward electric cars.

Which is why utility and energy officials are beginning to explore more creative approaches at grid management: efforts to smooth out peaks and valleys in electric demand. This can take the form of rate design — making it more expensive to charge during certain parts of the day — and tapping into the electric storage of vehicles when they’re not in use.

“School buses are a great prototype to test these things, because their usage is very predictable,” said Miguel Romero, vice president of energy innovation at San Diego Gas and Electric.

“For us, it’s not just about building that pilot, and then going home. Now the fun starts; the most difficult part starts, which is studying it, understanding it, and how can we build upon it,” he added. “More structure needs to be done so that we can properly incentivize the fleet providers to discharge.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.