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Driving a Greener Future: IIJA Funding and the Rise of Electric School Buses

More than 20 million American students ride the bus to school every day and of the nearly 500,000 school buses operating in the United States, approximately 95% run on diesel fuel. In light of the push to achieve net-zero emissions and the billions of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) dollars released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the electrification of transportation, and more specifically – school buses – is top of mind for cities and utilities across the country.  

Itron is excited to continue our blog series focused on bridging the gap between IIJA funding, utilities’ sustainability initiatives and Itron solutions. In the first blog of the series, we provided an overview of IIJA funding sources and eligible Itron solutions. In the second blog of the series, we’re taking a closer look at the movement to electric school buses and the implications of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Rebate Program, which has awarded over $900 million for more than 2,400 electric school buses to 389 school districts to date. Keep reading as we discuss the most recent round of IIJA funding, what this means for utilities and cities moving forward and how Itron solutions can shift school bus electrification from a future-thinking pipe dream into a near-term reality.  

Current IIJA Funding Opportunities 

In April 2023, the EPA announced the latest round of IIJA funding which includes a $400 million grant for school bus electrification programs with applications due Aug. 22, 2023. According to the Clean School Bus Program, this second round of funding will prioritize high-need school districts and low-income areas, with an expanded definition including large public school districts, rural school districts, Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded school districts and school districts that receive basic support payments for children who reside on Indian land. While school bus electrification is a critical step in reaching decarbonization goals, utilities, cities and school districts need to prepare for the increased strain on the grid before they can experience the benefits. 

Preparing for School Bus Electrification 

The process of electrification involves much more than simply replacing fossil-fuel based school buses with electric ones. It can require upgrades to existing electrical infrastructure such as transformers, wiring and other elements needed to accommodate the increased electrical load on the grid. However, these modifications are often time-intensive, as it can take years to receive and install equipment due to supply chain unpredictability and delays. All of these factors can incur significant costs that would likely extend beyond the funding awarded by IIJA. 

In addition, as the number of residential electric vehicles (EVs) and EV fleets on the road increases, the demand for electricity will continue to surge, especially during peak times. Without adequate infrastructure upgrades, this increased load can overload the power grid, leading to voltage fluctuations, power outages, strained distribution systems and more. Careful planning and investments in grid modernization, smart charging solutions and energy storage are essential elements to ensuring a smooth transition that will accommodate the growing energy demands of electric school buses. 

With that in mind, IIJA funding is available now, and buses need to be electrified in the coming months – not the coming years. So, what does this mean for utilities, cities and school districts looking to apply for the EPA’s Clean School Bus Rebate Program? How can they prepare?

Bridging the Gap with Itron Solutions 

At Itron, our solutions are designed to navigate the interim period now while supporting seamless integration of additional infrastructure investments and installments in the future. How? With real-time, local, automated visibility and control via distributed intelligence - also known as managed charging. To support electric vehicle deployments, it is crucial for charging assets to work in harmony across the grid. This will enable school districts to receive the power they need to fuel electric school buses while allowing utilities to protect the grid and deliver reliable service. By leveraging Itron’s managed charging solutions, utilities and cities can prevent electrified school buses from overloading the grid through software tools and services that plan fleet transition, energy management and operations. The powerful combination of analytics, optimization and orchestration enabled by managed charging not only increases operational resiliency and efficiency, but also ensures the total cost of operations is optimized for all project stakeholders.  

Itron’s EV fleet solutions enable utilities, cities and fleet operators alike to utilize a scalable approach to plan and operate EV fleets that are effectively integrated within utility systems. These solutions support EV charging program rollouts for our partners across the major charging segments (fleet, public/semi-public and residential) using software and services to help with infrastructure planning and deployment, and then managing operations to maximize investments. Itron’s Fleet Transition Planning solution, for example, enables utilities and cities to help fleet operators scale and stay engaged as fleets electrify over time, giving appropriate notification about forthcoming demand to inform grid planning.  

At Itron, we know fleet electrification is a process with plans evolving over time. That’s why our EV solutions are flexible and dynamic to accommodate updates and changes. As energy and other costs change, vehicle routes change, grant and financing options present themselves and the fleet itself begins to electrify, fleet operators can adjust the variables – in real time – and refresh their transition plan accordingly. 

A Future with Electric School Buses 

IIJA funding for the electrification of school buses represents a monumental step toward creating a more resourceful world. By transitioning from conventional diesel to electric-powered buses, communities can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and create a healthier environment for our world today and generations to come. As we embrace this transformative shift, Itron looks forward to ensuring school districts, utilities and their surrounding communities are equipped to reap the benefits of this historic investment.  

Sign up for future information and announcements related to IIJA at www.itron.com/iija and stay tuned for the next blog of our IIJA series. For information about IIJA eligibility, application and implementation support, reach out to Dave Stensland, business development director, IIJA.