Half-million school buses could be an EV powerhouse feeding the grid

2024 CNBC Disruptor 50: #31 Zum CEO on electrifying American school buses

The nightlife of school buses is about to get more interesting.

Zum, which provides student transportation including EV buses to 4,000 schools across the country, is partnering with the Oakland Unified School District to start selling power stored in EV batteries back to the California utility grid.

Oakland is the first school district in the U.S. to go fully electric with its buses, 74 in all, and will now be the first to test the concept of V2G (vehicle to grid) bidirectional charging. In effect, instead of the one-way charge into the vehicle, the school buses will be able to send their battery power back to the grid through Zum charging infrastructure.

Zum estimates that 2.1 gigawatt hours of energy can be sent from batteries back to the California grid annually. The company’s goal is to add 10,000 bidirectional EV school buses across the U.S. with 300 gigawatt hours of energy available to power grids each year. San Francisco Unified and Los Angeles Unified, much larger districts than Oakland, are expected to follow, Zum said. It also works with school districts in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Utah, and Virginia.

Zum ranked No. 31 on the 2024 CNBC Disruptor 50 list

More coverage of the 2024 CNBC Disruptor 50

There have been pilots across the country to test school bus V2G business models, but Zum says the time has come to move beyond the test phase.

“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,” said Ritu Narayan, founder and CEO of Zum, in a release.

In a CNBC interview later on Wednesday, Narayan referred to the school bus as “the largest battery on wheels,” with four to six times the battery of a Tesla.

According to Zum, the 27 million students moved across the country to and from schools twice daily is the largest mass transit system in the country. The roughly 500,000 school buses are mostly diesel, contributing to emissions. Zum has the goal of being a net-zero transport provider.

Pacific Gas and Electric, which is based in Oakland, has partnered with Zum to enable its bidirectional charging station for EV buses in Oakland.

Zum EV school buses at a charging station.


The concept is considered a strong one given the fact that school buses are not in use during peak energy demand hours, for example, between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. This allows the buses, and their owners, to execute an energy arbitrage trade: charging up for their core daily task of moving students when energy prices are lower, and feeding battery storage back onto the grid when utilities will pay more for it per kilowatt/hour. As owner of the buses in use in Oakland, Zum will be the one to receive revenue from the grid deal, but in other cases where school districts own the…

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