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Exclusive: A mega V2G school bus project to kick off in Oakland

A row of electric school buses plugged into chargers that can send electricity back to the grid in Oakland, Calif.

A row of electric school buses plugged into chargers that can send electricity back to the grid in Oakland, Calif. Photo: Courtesy of Zum

Starting in August, a fleet of 74 electric school buses in Oakland, Calif. will be able to discharge electricity from their batteries back onto the grid, the groups involved in the plan tell Axios.

Why it matters: The project shows how so-called vehicle-to-grid technology is finally moving beyond pilots and into commercial deployments.

Zoom in: The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), working with school bus operator Zum, is transitioning 100% of its fleet to electric buses that will be able to plug into 74 bi-directional chargers on a sprawling lot in an industrial area of west Oakland.

  • The groups say when the system starts operating, it'll be the largest project of its kind in the U.S.

Catch up quick: Vehicle-to-grid tech, or V2G, is the bi-directional charging and discharging of electric vehicles, providing an on-demand electricity source for the utility.

Behind the scenes: The groups showed Axios around the Oakland charging lot last week, demonstrated the charging process and took Axios for a ride in one of OUSD's electric buses.

How it works: Zum CEO and co-founder Ritu Narayan said V2G is uniquely suited for electric school buses because of the buses' large battery packs, the predictable bus routes and the fact that the buses are not being used during the night or the middle of the day.

  • As soon as the buses plug into the chargers in the Oakland lot, Zum's software takes over and uses AI to help make the complex decision of how and when to charge or discharge.

By the numbers: Zum was able to offer OUSD the electric bus service at the same cost as diesel buses by tapping into a series of grants, as well as the compensation from utility PG&E for the V2G service.

  • Zum's co-founder & COO, Vivek Garg, said Zum invested between $28 million to $30 million into the project, making up half of the costs. Grants, like from the EPA and CARB, covered the other half of the project.
  • Collectively the buses will be able to provide 2.1 gigawatt hours of energy back to the grid working with PG&E, which is providing 2.7 megawatts of load for the lot.
  • The electric buses, made by BYD, are quiet and free of diesel emissions and will transport up to 1,300 OUSD special education students between their homes and schools.

Of note: Earlier this year, Zum raised $140 million in a Series E from Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC, as well as Sequoia and SoftBank, giving the company a valuation of over $1.3 billion.

  • The funds will help the Redwood City, Calif.-based company deploy more electric bus fleets with school district customers.

The big picture: V2G could bring major benefits to utilities and EV owners, but the tech has long been stalled at the pilot phase.

What's next: When the project starts operating in August, it will provide some of the first lessons from a commercial V2G school bus program.

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