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Energize America: W5 Solution: PHESBs

January 15th, 2009 · 4 Comments

The draft Energize America “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” went out today. Let’s be upfront: it has some GREAT elements and some, well, pretty not great aspects. We are in a very serious situation, but the serious challenge is not just economic, but an intersecting set of challenges and crises in the very deep hole that George the W and cronies created for us (the US and all of us).

As we strive to stop digging deeper and climb our way out, we should seek for W5 solutions that have wins across multiple arenas: near-term jobs; long-term economic growth; strengthen civil society; promote energy independence; and fight the climate crisis.

Concepts to provide multi-faceted solutions have been core to
Energize America from its earliest moments. Here is a second “W5 Solution”: Plug-In Hybrid-Electric School Buses (PHESBs).

W5 Solutions

President Obama and Congress must act to stimulate the US economy with a package of win-win-win-win (W5) elements that will:

  • Create and protect jobs throughout the nation
  • Foster economic activity that will help, through tax revenue, pay for the stimulus
  • Strengthen the nation’s economic prospects for the long-term, and
  • Enhance energy security, and
  • Create progress on reducing emissions and otherwise turn the tide against Global Warming rising seas.

Good news: such W4 options exist in abundance.

Not so good news: W4 elements are not dominating the discussions nor the money in the draft stimulus package.

Throughout our efforts, Energize America has sought to find W4 options. To figure out ways to ‘make the right choice, the easy and preferred choice’. We have, collectively, a moment to make real solutions core to US government policy. Let us, collectively, agree: Carpe Diem! Seize the Day for W5 solutions.

Yesterday, the discussion focussed on a $200 billion effort to Insulate America Against Economic and Climate Devastation. (Vote for Stimulate the Economy through Energy Efficient Buildings is in the “Citizen’s Briefing Book” at Change.GOV.) Today’s discussion turns to a ‘niche’ transportation item, America’s school buses.

Plug-In Hybrid-Electric School Buses (PHESBs)

Hybrids are too often thought of simply in terms of personal vehicles. Think Prius. Heard of the Chevy Volt? Well, some of the fastest and highest leverage opportunities come in a more mundane environment: the vehicles moving America’s K-12 students around the country to and from school.

PHESBs are seven years into a test program that are proving out quite positively:

  • Near doubling of gas mileage (from 6.5 to 11+mpg)
  • Significant (70%) reduction in youth exposure to diesel fumes


School buses account for about 11 million barrels of oil use per year. Migrate the school bus fleet to PHESBs and it would cut oil demand by 5+ million barrels/year. Doesn’t solve global warming or end America’s oil imports, but a nice chunk of change in any event. (Think of it this way, at current (low) price of oil, that would cut oil imports by $200+ million/year.)

And, diesel fumes are a significant health threat to America’s youth — cut that exposure by 70+% …

Hold it, let’s honest, these benefits don’t come for free. Amid the test program, the PHESBs cost about twice as much as regular diesels. It would take mass production, orders of 1000 or more, to bring the cost differential into the range where the buses would ‘pay for themselves’ just through fuel savings in a few years. But, in the face of the economic crisis, few communities can afford new school buses, let alone the upfront costs for going with that long-term better solution. A 1000 PHESB order isn’t something that is likely to emerge as governments struggle to balance their books.

Making the Enegy Smart Choice the Right Choice, the Easy Choice …

The benefits of PHESBs, across a range of interlocking arenas, are compelling. If this is so self-evident, why isn’t it happening? Well, there is that sticker shock (worsened in bad budget times) and the reality that we live and work in a stove-piped world. Right now, there are communities striving to work together to build a purchase order of 300 buses and, therefore, to start driving down that purchase price sticker shock and begin the move to make these a nation-wide option. This, however, is a slow path toward mass penetration of the bus market. Amid a $1 trillion (or so) stimulus package, can we energize Energize America to find a path to get PHESBs into communities across the country on a faster path.

Here is a draft W5 stimulus option …

The Federal Government should, as part of the coming stimulus package, commit to provide $100 million / year to spark the PHESB industry and to make PHESBs the standard for school systems.

For the first year, $70 million for paying up to 70% of cost of PHESB for acquiring school district (60% year 2, 50% year 3, 40% year 4, 30% year 5); $20 million for paying up to 90% of PHESB cost for disadvantaged school districts (maintain this level); $5 million for PHESBs for military bases (for two years; after that for buying PHESBs for prison system and other requirements); and $5 million for V2G (vehicle-to-grid) research and deployment assistance specifically focused on school buses.

Now, to make this nation-wide, no state to receive more than 20% of the funding per year; minimum of 20 states per year in funding. All 50 states to have PHESBs supported for purchase by year 5. By the end of the fifth year, if the average assistance is $50k, this program would foster introduction of over 4000 PHESBs and make PHESBs competitive with traditional diesel school buses for purchase decisions.

Okay, PHESBs are, right now, $200k with regular diesel buses $85k. With the Feds paying 70%, even without dealing with economies of scale, that would immediately make PHESBs half-the-price, without even counting all the other benefits. But, again, the economy of scale would drive the price down rapidly. Thus, the 70% is perhaps too large a figure. How about “up to 70%, with the local/state government to pay a minimum of $50k for any new bus with the exception of communities qualifying for assistance”?

A couple things to thing about:

  • Capacity: According to discussions with the manufacturer and several people involved in the test program, unlike plug-in cars, there are not major bottlenecks to a rapid ramp up of the program. It is a modification of existing bus designs/systems, and there is much spare space for putting in batteries with the added controls (relatively) straightforward to put into the system. Manufacturing should (according to what I’ve been told) be able to handle a serious shift to PHESBs from regular diesel buses.
  • Investment cost: Okay, sticker price. Is this really where we want to spend $100 million? Let’s think about this for a moment. For $100 million per year, even over a decade, this would lead to a reduction by 2020 of about 5 million barrels/year of US oil demand. Even without discussing Peak Oil, this represents easily $200+ million dollars per year of reduced oil imports. And, this means even more than that in terms of reduced costs to local school systems across the country. For perhaps $1 billion, for a decade-long program (and which is likely a high figure for what is required), PHESBs could be the standard and save school systems, directly, $100s of millions per year in reduced fuel costs. And, of course, this is not even counting those minor little benefits like reduced diesel pollution, electrical services options (think school bus powering a school fair, without the engine running), and emergency services capabilities (how might post-Katrina have gone if there had been 3000 PHESBs within easy driving range, ready to provide power services to hospitals, shelters, grocery stores, etc …). Thus, there is an upfront investment cost for real and sustained long term value across many domains.
  • Jobs: School bus orders are nose-diving and the workers (Americans) will likely see pink slips in growing numbers if something isn’t reverse. The PHESBs cost more, in part, because there is more labor to build them than traditional buses. Thus, we would be trading payments for polluting oil for good salaried wages.
  • Opening the door to other options: We are not just talking school buses. What about shuttle buses (community, hotel, airport) and other light-duty vehicles?

A Plug-In Hybried Electric School Bus Acceleration Program represent a real W5 solution.

And …

Plug-In Hybrid Electric School Buses are a Change that the nation’s youth deserve.

We can all
help make
Energy Smart.

Ask yourself:

Are you doing
your part to


  • There is another, quite serious, element to this need to consider the costs more broadly. Other than school children, who is riding buses? The wealthiest, the powerful? No, in general, public buses are used by those lower on the economic spectrum. There is a social equity question here. Who are we, as a society, exposing to these fumes? What communities are most struck by additional diesel fumes that could be avoided?
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Tags: Energize America · Energy · energy cool · PHEV

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 T. Boone: Why not get inventive? // Feb 22, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    […] Plug-In Hybrid Electric School Buses simply make sense on multiple levels: reduce oil addiction, reduce health risks to America’s school children, and providing wide-spread mobile emergency generators. But perhaps adding “NG” makes sense to make this an even better solution for America’s school transport. […]

  • 2 The Military Imperative to Think About Climate and Energy in a Systems-of-Systems Manner // Mar 13, 2011 at 7:36 am

    […] might really make a substantial difference. Replacing standard diesel-powered school buses with plug-in hybrid electric school buses (PHESBs) would cut fuel use in half. The manufacturers, last time I checked, stated that an order of 100 or […]

  • 3 Energy Efficiency, Net Zero, Plug-Ins & More Win-Win Opportunities - CleanTechies // Mar 24, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    […] Rail electrification is occuring throughout the globe with the notable exception of the United States. More cargo can be moved with less energy and less pollution as a rail system is moved to electricity from diesel. […]

  • 4 Energy Efficiency, Net Zero, Plug-Ins & More Win-Win Opportunities - CleanTechies // Mar 19, 2016 at 8:03 am

    […] Rail electrification is occuring throughout the globe with the notable exception of the United States. More cargo can be moved with less energy and less pollution as a rail system is moved to electricity from diesel. […]