California School Buses Get a V2G Boost

April 18, 2024 by Shannon Cuthrell

A grant-funded project in California will install bidirectional chargers supporting nearly two dozen all-electric school buses.

Canadian automaker Lion Electric and charging providers BorgWarner and Fermata Energy have secured $3 million from the California Energy Commission (CEC) for a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) project to provide two-way charging for all-electric school buses. 

The project will install 21 BorgWarner 125 kW combined charging system-supported bidirectional chargers for at least 20 LionD battery electric buses. Fermata Energy’s vehicle-to-X (V2X) software will optimize charging and discharging sessions to maximize grid benefits, including revenue from selling excess power back to utilities during peak demand. 


The newly released LionD all-electric school bus

The newly released LionD all-electric school bus. Image used courtesy of Lion Electric 


This isn’t the first time the trio has worked together on school bus-related projects. BorgWarner’s V2G charging hardware and Fermata’s software were recently deployed in British Columbia to manage stored energy from parked LionC electric school buses. Also, earlier this year, Fermata and BorgWarner recently integrated the latter’s 60 kW and 125 kW chargers into the former’s V2X services platform. The combination allows the two companies to reach more customers, including school districts seeking V2G bidirectional charging opportunities. 


Three Partners Contribute V2G Tech

The V2G technology will be installed at the Los Angeles County Office of Education and Conejo Valley Unified School District, replacing 20 or more diesel buses with LionD vehicles. The model, released in January, boasts an 83-person seating capacity and a 155-mile range on a single charge. 


Fermata Energy demonstrated its V2G bidirectional charging platform at Climate Week NYC in 2023.

Fermata Energy demonstrated its V2G bidirectional charging platform at Climate Week NYC in 2023. Image used courtesy of Fermata


Fermata brings its AI-powered V2X software, which analyzes thousands of dynamic data points to manage charging/discharging via signals between EVs and charging equipment. Fleets use the platform to plan times and strategies to tap into parked vehicles’ stored energy. EVs linked to bidirectional chargers can lend peak demand services and backup power during emergencies like wildfires and heat waves—common occurrences in California. 

BorgWarner will install bidirectional charging stations at two school bus depots. Construction will require trenching to add high- and low-level cables. The company’s bidirectional systems have been deployed on school bus fleets before. In a case study spanning two summers, its V2G technology discharged nearly 11 MWh to the Massachusetts power grid over 158 hours from an electric school bus depot. Participation generated $23,500 in revenue, demonstrating an attractive opportunity for school districts. 


BorgWarner’s 125 kW bidirectional charging station.

BorgWarner’s 125 kW bidirectional charging station. Image used courtesy of BorgWarner


California’s Electric Fleet Expansion

California leads the nation in EV adoption. The state has seen 1.8 million cumulative EV sales and 105,012 charging installations—dominating the national tally of 4.5 million EVs. 

Dozens of other states are electrifying their school bus fleets. According to the World Resources Institute, 3,867 electric school buses operate across 721 school districts and fleets as of April 2024. Another 4,898 have been ordered or awarded funding. As above, California commands the national statistics, with more than 86,000 students today riding 1,597 electric buses statewide. 

Supported by $75 million in CEC funding, California is steadily replacing its oldest diesel buses with battery-powered alternatives. The program has delivered 202 school buses and 193 charging stations so far. Another 26 buses and 35 chargers are in the works. 

Electric school buses are only a fraction of California’s medium- to heavy-duty EV fleet. Recent CEC data counts 2,186 registered plug-in electric trucks, buses, and delivery vans. With this growth comes increased demand for high-performing fleet charging infrastructure. By 2030, the state will have 155,000 electric trucks and buses needing 114,500 depot and en-route chargers. Those figures are expected to more than double by 2035. The CEC recently approved a $1.9 billion plan to fund EV charging expansions over the next four years. 


Medium- and heavy-duty EV charging infrastructure demand in California through 2035

Medium- and heavy-duty EV charging infrastructure demand in California through 2035. Image used courtesy of the CEC (Page 21, Figure 3)


At the same time, California continues to add wind and solar capacity to meet its 100% clean electricity target by 2045. However, the rapid integration of variable renewable energy resources has strained the state’s power grid, with insufficient energy storage to balance supply and demand when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing. This is where EV batteries can be leveraged for grid stability. V2G technology also opens revenue opportunities for EV owners and fleets to sell power back to the grid. 

The V2G project will tap into these trends, pairing an all-electric school bus fleet with V2G management. The combined technology will employ bus batteries to provide emergency backup power in extreme weather events. For example, during public safety power shutoff ( incidents, parked buses can help utilities avoid rolling blackouts while earning revenue through demand response programs. The state’s three largest utilities reported 14 PSPS events last year.