Zum Partners with Oakland School District for Groundbreaking EV Bus Fleet

Zum partners with Oakland to turn 500,000 US school buses into EV powerhouses, potentially feeding 300 GWh annually back to the grid.

By Athena Xu

5/15, 15:34 EDT

Key Takeaway

  • Zum partners with Oakland Unified School District to launch the first U.S. full EV school bus fleet with vehicle-to-grid technology, aiming to return 2.1 gigawatt hours annually to the grid.
  • The initiative plans for 10,000 bidirectional EV buses nationwide, contributing 300 gigawatt hours yearly, with San Francisco and Los Angeles districts expected to follow.
  • V2G technology offers economic benefits through energy arbitrage and supports grid stability, despite challenges in establishing utility rate schedules.

Innovative School Bus Energy Solution

Zum, a company that provides student transportation services, including electric vehicle (EV) buses to 4,000 schools across the country, has embarked on a groundbreaking initiative with the Oakland Unified School District. This partnership marks the first instance in the U.S. where a school district has transitioned its bus fleet entirely to electric vehicles and will implement vehicle-to-grid (V2G) bidirectional charging. This technology enables the school buses not only to receive power from the grid but also to supply energy back to it. Zum's charging infrastructure facilitates this exchange, potentially returning 2.1 gigawatt hours of energy to the California grid annually. The company aims to expand this initiative, deploying 10,000 bidirectional EV school buses nationwide to contribute 300 gigawatt hours of energy to power grids each year. Following Oakland, larger districts like San Francisco Unified and Los Angeles Unified are expected to adopt this model.

Scaling Beyond Pilots

Ritu Narayan, founder and CEO of Zum, emphasized the need to transition from pilot projects to full-scale deployment of sustainable solutions. Describing the school bus as "the largest factory on wheels," Narayan highlighted the significant battery capacity of these buses, which is four to six times that of a Tesla. This capacity, combined with the predictable usage patterns of school buses, makes them ideal assets for V2G applications. The initiative aligns with Zum's goal to achieve net-zero transportation, addressing the environmental impact of the predominantly diesel-powered 500,000 school buses nationwide. Pacific Gas and Electric, based in Oakland, supports this initiative by partnering with Zum to enable bidirectional charging for EV buses.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

The V2G model presents an opportunity for energy arbitrage, allowing bus owners to charge the vehicles when energy prices are low and sell excess power back to the grid at peak prices. This not only offers a potential revenue stream for entities like Zum or school districts that own the buses but also contributes to grid stability during high demand periods. Ram Ambatipudi, senior vice president of business development at EV Connect, noted the promising nature of the school bus model for bidirectional energy use. However, he also mentioned the challenges in establishing rate schedules with utilities to facilitate this economic model. The success of V2G relies on the coordination between vehicle charging hardware, software management, and utility compensation mechanisms.

Management Quotes

  • Ritu Narayan, CEO of Zum:

    "We at Zum strongly believe it is time to move beyond pilots and deploy sustainability solutions at scale. Converting the Oakland Unified school bus fleet to 100% electric with VPP [virtual power plant] capability is the right step in that direction."

Street Views

  • Ram Ambatipudi, Senior Vice President of Business Development at EV Connect (Neutral on the school bus V2G model):

    "The low-hanging fruit from what I’ve seen is the school bus model... Buses can be used as essentially arbitrage devices to charge when power is cheap and discharge when needed."