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The draft  "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?

Originally posted to A Siegel on Thu Jan 15, 2009 at 08:52 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  interesting (0+ / 0-)

    and could be worth it, but the question remains is opportunity cost. Would we be getting more energy savings from building these buses or doing something else with it, like using it to build a major wind farm or 10. (No idea what the buses would cost, relative to regular buses - nor what wind turbines cost).

    •  Issue ... (8+ / 0-)

      Is whether there is an either / or, or both situation.

      Buses (including school buses) are a better transport option than individual vehicles. (How many more parents drive kids to school today than 30 years ago across the country?)

      And, eventually, existing buses will be replaced. Much better to push them forward toward more energy efficient, less damaging to health, useful for emergency situations (think what might have happened post Katrina if there had been 10,000 mobile 50 kilowatt hour generators (bus engines) within 1000 miles able to carry supplies with them and provide power generation for hospitals, grocery stores, etc ...).

      •  and don't forget the health issue. (7+ / 0-)

        Diesel fumes are becoming a big deal for school kids, and this will bring a huge cohort of parents and grandparents on board.

        Big bang for the buck, it sounds like to me.  Good to give this a vigorous airing.  Thanks.

        I assume they have regenerative braking on these things, right?

        "Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you can succeed." -Nancy Pelosi, 6/29/07.

        by nailbender on Thu Jan 15, 2009 at 09:13:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  A not to be ignored issue ... (7+ / 0-)

          Consider the school buses.

          In the United States more than 23 million schoolchildren board school buses each day.  Of the country's half million or so school buses, most are aging diesel-powered vehicles. We are all familiar with the black plumes of smoke billowing from the tailpipes of diesel trucks and buses, and just as we would not hand our child a cigarette, we would hardly allow our children to stand behind a smoke-belching school bus.

          Yet ... yet ... yet ...

          The truth is that tailpipe exhaust often seeps inside the bus, sometimes in concentrations far higher than the amount outside the bus, and diesel exhaust is linked to a host of public health hazards.

          • Diesel fumes are known to cause cancer, especially lung cancer.

          • Particulates/other elements in diesel exhaust cause respiratory illnesses and contribute to premature deaths

          According to a study carried out in the Los Angeles area, the levels of diesel exhaust on a bus can be four times as high as those found in passenger cars driving just ahead of the bus. And the concentration of diesel fumes found inside the buses were more than eight times that of the average amount found in California's outdoor air.

          Let's put this into even stronger context, what about the idling, that burning of diesel that basically is eliminated with PHEBs.

          idling buses often spew out higher concentrations of particles and carbon than moving buses, although buses may emit more when climbing hills or moving in heavy traffic.

          Children are spending hour after hour exposed to diesel fumes, waiting for their school bus next to other idling school buses at the end of a long day at school. To give a feel for that impact,

          children on diesel buses breathe in more soot than everyone else in the surrounding metropolitan area combined, and up to 70 percent more soot than the average commuter. ... Kids not only face this increased risk from exposure; they are also more vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that young children’s lungs will get two and half times the dose of soot particles as an adult’s lungs.

        •  waste from diesel combustion=21,000 deaths/ year (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A Siegel

          Electric buses for schoolchildren are a must.  Thanks, Adam!

          And while we're at it, let's electrify all buses, trucks, and rail.

          Why diesel is deadly.

          This report summarizes the findings of the Abt Associates study. It then reviews the degree to which diesel vehicles increase the level of fine particle pollution in the air we breathe, and recommends reduction measures that will save thousands of lives each year. Key findings include:

             * Reducing diesel fine particle emissions 50 percent by 2010, 75 percent by 2015, and 85 percent by 2020 would save nearly 100,000 lives between now and 2030. These are additional lives saved above and beyond the projected impact of EPA's new engine regulations.
             * Fine particle pollution from diesels shortens the lives of nearly 21,000 people each year. This includes almost 3,000 early deaths from lung cancer.
             * Tens of thousands of Americans suffer each year from asthma attacks (over 400,000), heart attacks (27,000), and respiratory problems associated with fine particles from diesel vehicles. These illnesses result in thousands of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and lost work days. Together with the toll of premature deaths, the health damages from diesel fine particles will total $139 billion in 2010.
             * Nationally, diesel exhaust poses a cancer risk that is 7.5 times higher than the combined total cancer risk from all other air toxics.
             * In the U.S., the average lifetime nationwide cancer risk due to diesel exhaust is over 350 times greater than the level U.S. EPA considers to be "acceptable" (i.e., one cancer per million persons over 70 years).
             * Residents from more than two-thirds of all U.S. counties face a cancer risk from diesel exhaust greater than 100 deaths per million population. People living in eleven urban counties face diesel cancer risks greater than 1,000 in a million – one thousand times the level EPA says is acceptable.
             * People who live in metropolitan areas with a high concentration of diesel vehicles and traffic feel their impacts most acutely. The risk of lung cancer from diesel exhaust for people living in urban areas is three times that for those living in rural areas.

          The vast majority of the deaths due to dirty diesels could be avoided by an aggressive program over the next 15 years to require cleanup of the nation's existing diesel fleet. Practical, affordable solutions are available that can achieve substantial reductions in diesel risk. The only thing that stands between us and dramatically healthier air is the political will to require these reductions and the funding to make it a reality.

          The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

          by Plan9 on Fri Jan 16, 2009 at 10:34:26 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  of course it's only an either/or situation (0+ / 0-)

        It's opportunity cost. Money we spend somewhere is money that can't be spent elsewhere. That's a very basic principle.

        My only concern with your thoughts is that it may potentially not be the best use of that money we could spend. I'm not saying it isn't the best use, just that it may not be. For all I know, it's the best possible way to spend that money. I just think it's something that deserves a little compare-and-contrast studying.

        So, I agree with everything that you say, with the exception that this is absolutely, positively the best way to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

        •  How to assess (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, MCinNH

          as "absolutely, positively the best way ..."

          * Energy is a multifaceted problem, we need to be pursuing a multifaceted solution path.

          * This is a 'wise' use of money ... There are many sparking efforts and multi-faceted benefits. For example:

          1.  Helps reduce oil dependence.
          1.  Will directly reduce a major health risk to children.
          1.  Strengthens social equity, especially if some money is focused on getting these into 'poorer' school districts/areas.
          1.  Fosters energy system resiliency, with 'emergency' and 'mobile' generators proliferating around the country.
          1.  Provides a good path for distributed power storage via V2G. Consider a bus lot with 20 PHESBs that each have (lets say) 150 kwh of battery storage. At peak, that is 3 mWh of power storage -- at just one site.
          1. It creates a very visible example of greater energy efficiency in transportation.
          1. This is an industry that will be losing jobs.
          1. Etc ...
          * By the way, have you noticed that there is an

        •  Sigh ... finishing ... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, BruceMcF, MCinNH

          "Have you noticed that there is an $800+ billion stimulus package being discussed? Without question, this is a far wiser use of public resources than many of the items in there."

    •  You are confusing consumption and investment. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      This is government investment in something with a real economic benefit that more than covers the cost.

      So it is not "using up" resources ... it is not consumption. Instead, doing it frees more resources to do other things.

      The idea, in other words, that the government has to decide which useful investments to make is part of the Great Reagan Conspiracy to subvert our political dialog. Start a program of replacing all public transport buses with pluggable hybrid electrics, and subsidize the electrification of layover bays, and we have more resources for education and public transport.

      Its not either/or with expansion of our domestic sustainable power generation capacity. They are both investments, they are both investments we have the capability to make. Its not a case of having to choose between one or the other, and therefore one is not an opportunity cost of the other.

  •  I'm guessing I missed (5+ / 0-)

    a key component but why is the technology "plug-in" hybrid as opposed to the Prius style hybrid -- i.e. using the braking system to charge the battery?  School buses stop more frequently than passenger cars.  Is it that the technology is not feasible?  

    While I like the idea of an all-electric vehicle, it is still dependent upon mostly coal burning plants.

    Thanks for the very interesting diary.

  •  retrofit (7+ / 0-)

    It is not necessary to buy all-new buses.  Most buses, like most large trucks and other commercial vehicles, are designed for easy replacement of the propulsion package, and those propulsion packages are largly standardized.  Fleet maintenance shops keep a couple spares around, and when rebuild time rolls around pop in a spare and rebuild the old one at leisure.  See the opportunity to "swap in" a new hybrid propulsion package?

    Granted it doesn't produce new jobs at the coachworks (beyond usual coach replacement) but it keeps the engine shops going, and the fuel saving comes more quickly and at a much lower cost.

    It's the kind of thing that kids used to do in auto shop (and in their own driveways) . . . in living memory.  289 Ford in a Healy chassis anyone?

    •  Retrofit economics would be worth looking into. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, A Siegel

      There are already conversion shops that will electrify your car, and some specializein a model or just a few models. Trucks, school buses, and UPS trucks could theoretically be converted to hybrid, and even BEV as many of them have a very short range twice a day. My UPS truck drives 35-40 miles per day.
       Fleet vehicles like mail trucks are another GOVT owned fleet, under their control, ready to lead, ready to drive costs down, ready to save money, ready to reduce pollution now.

       Have you seen any progress in the LA container facility and others, but LA/Long Beach had an experimental BEV tractor that pulls the containers around to local warehouses.
           Much pollution from these diesel trucks, they idle all day and rip around, low mileage, high pollution in the LA basin.

  •  Great idea... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, A Siegel

    and an excellent place to focus and see immediate results.

    But a couple of questions -

    1.  In cities like mine (Portland, OR; amongst many others) where a majority of students use the city bus system to get to and from school, do we also consider that and put some of the money towards upgrading municipal buses?
    1.  A lot of smaller suburban districts (especially in states with screwed-up "Home Rule" systems, like NJ) contract with private-owned school bus companies to provide student transportation services in their districts.  Would (and should) these companies be able to take advantage of government incentives to purchase hybrid vehicles?  Or would our efforts in those situations be better focused on consolidating the unnecessary far-flung, underused and redundant school systems themselves; before subsidizing transportation upgrades in their systems?
    •  Couple things ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Hardhat Democrat, MCinNH

      These are great questions ... which have already considered and don't have "definitive" answers.

      1.  Definitely should be promoting, at a minimum, hybrid city buses (which are an increasing share of market space).  Not sure if PHESBs fit into this space. Note, there are some fully electric city buses that might fit for some cities (Portland?).
      1.  Not sure how to handle the 'outsourcing'.  Would need to figure out some form of public-private partnership on this (let's say, to ensure that the private company wouldn't take the subsidy and then flip the vehicles in a profitable sale).

      And, well, not every program / not every item fits with every Congressional district ... even if this one fits with many.

      •  Yes, PHEV's fit the space ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Hardhat Democrat, A Siegel

        ... bear in mind the normal operating pattern of a "normal" city bus in a mid-sized city system ... its parked in the terminal overnight, it leaves for its first run in the morning, more are added at the shoulder of the peak, the maximum number of buses are on the road over the peak, then the frequency / route coverage drops down to the daytime schedule and some are parked, then they are put back on the road at the shoulder of the return commute peak, then after the trailing shoulder of the peak the schedule drops down to the evening frequency, then the late buses come into park.

        And in operation, each bus has at least one layover built into its schedule, depending on the length of the route maybe more, or else it will get progressively off schedule with each spot congestion delay.

        In outer suburban systems, add in the smaller circulator buses that run the dial-up door to door commuter bus for areas outside the regular route network and run daytime circulator routes during the day.

        Progressively convert buses to PHEV's, and first they will be used for an early morning run through to the end of the first peak, get sent back to the terminal, then start up a route at the shoulder to run into the evening. And as the fleet expands, progressively electrify the layover bays at the main layover points.

        Over time we should be directly electrifying the trunk bus routes with trolleybuses, but then that extends the need for complementary city buses into new territory, so its not like a trolleybus route ought to be taking any PHEV city bus out of service.

        Eventually we could get to "hidden third rail" systems that are installed in the street at a bus stop, and only receive power when the bus is stopped there, to have the bus getting regular sips of new power all along its route.

      •  Note that politically, just adding ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Hardhat Democrat, A Siegel

        ... the right to transfer the capital grant to a public bus system that is providing schoolchild transport would give a range of beneficiaries across rural to suburban to urban districts.

    •  We should have a two-tier system ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hardhat Democrat, A Siegel

      ... a general low-cost publicly financed loan that can be paid by the savings in fuel and operating costs ... this should be available to anybody ... its good for the country to have the conversion made even if its a short haul truck or a tourist coach.

      And a capital grant to schools.

      School systems that outsource to a private company or to cover the fares of schoolchildren riding city buses should have the right to transfer that capital grant ... with the capital grant based on the number of children that the system buses and the average distance they ride, there is no need to discriminate between district-owned bus fleets, school bus service provided by city bus systems, or school bus services outsourced to a private operator.

  •  A the risk of repeating myself, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    I'd like to point again to this fascinating article at Washington Monthly by Phillip Longman detailing how investing in our freight railroads would have a huge impact.

    Back on Tracks
    A nineteenth-century technology could be the solution to our twenty-first-century problems.

    Among other ideas in the article, Longman proposes (as have others) using wind turbines to power electrified railways. More efficient transportation, less fossil fuel use, cleaner air, sustainable jobs building and maintaining - it's all good.

    If I have one quibble with the title, it's consigning railroads to the nineteenth century; only in America is rail transport considered an anachronism.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Jan 16, 2009 at 03:10:30 PM PST

  •  A better idea (0+ / 0-)

    LNG hybrid buses. Plug-in hybrids burn coal. Use natural gas, it's domestically available and produces less than half the CO2. Would also work with the Picken's Plan.

    •  Couple things (0+ / 0-)
      1.  Pickens Plan would be a disaster for the nation and the globe. Let us be quite clear about that. One of the striking things about "the Pickens' Plan": look at the graphic about 'power movements':  coal doesn't shift at all. It stays at 50% of electricity production.  To be clear, that kills the planet.
      1.  And, diesels can be bio-diesels.
      1.  In any event, I am intrigued by this very option.  Why not PHENGSBs, other than the acronym is so long?
  •  We could gradually replace (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    old worn out buses with the new type and retrofit the newer ones now.  Some school districts have more money than others to do things like that, so grants would help.  Using solar in some areas would work, too.

    I read a post where a guy said you could paste aluminum foil to a piece of plywood and reflect the southern sun to the north side of your home to help warm your home.  There may be a way to use something similar to reflect sunlight to buses that are in garages.

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