Vehicle-to-Grid as a Revenue Source?

There are many compelling reasons to electrify your fleet. Potential riches from vehicle-to-grid technology isn’t one of them – yet

It’s generally accepted that emotion plays a significant role in many consumer purchases. We’ve all experienced “new-car fever,” for example, or spent hundreds of unbudgeted dollars to needlessly update to the latest version of our favorite smartphone. It’s exciting and fun, at least for a while.

The decision to electrify a school bus fleet should be free of emotion, however. There is an ever-growing list of compelling reasons – each based on well-documented facts – to transition to electric school Buses (ESBs). It is important, therefore, to shape your electrification strategy around these facts rather than the prospect of exciting new capabilities and potential revenue sources which, at best, are in the distant future.

The V2G Conversation 

I am referring, of course, to vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, through which North America’s growing fleet of electric vehicles, including school buses, could become “virtual power plants” for the purpose of sending energy stored in the vehicle’s batteries back to the grid when demand is high (peak shaving) and recharging the vehicle when demand is low (valley filling). It’s a fascinating premise and there is growing evidence that it could eventually benefit EV fleets if all stakeholders – including regulatory agencies, public utilities, and technology providers – can somehow align their interests. Note, however, that “if” is the operative word in today’s V2G conversation. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hurdles that must be overcome before the premise of V2G becomes the promise of a revenue-producing smart grid.

A few facts about where we stand today in the journey to scalable V2G:

• IC Bus and select other manufacturers have built V2G capability into the latest ESB models. In some cases, these vehicles have been used in limited projects to demonstrate the viability of V2G as a potential long-term, limited revenue source for fleet operators.

• Manufacturers of electric passenger vehicles also are exploring the viability of using V2G technology to benefit their customers. Therefore, if this concept comes to fruition, there are likely to be millions of participants, well beyond the operators of school transport operations. 

• The transportation industry is in the process of establishing safety, communication, operations and other protocols necessary to enable widespread adoption and use of V2G. There is significant legwork yet to be done. 

• The necessary V2G market infrastructure through which energy would be bought and sold (arbitrage) does not exist outside of select test programs. What are the prospects of a workable solution being broadly available before 2035?

• Regulatory agencies and utilities are not yet fully engaged in the exploration and development of a national “smart grid”.

• The current cost of bi-directional charging systems needed for V2G connectivity are more expensive than conventional charging systems. Also, vehicle manufacturers currently require a dedicated V2G compatible charger to ensure the system will function. This added investment alone can exceed the financial benefits of electrification in some cases.

The concept of V2G is unquestionably exciting. If this technology can be deployed at scale, it could become yet another compelling reason for fleet operators to go all-in on ESBs. However, if these as-yet imagined benefits are a primary reason for a fleet’s interest in electrification, it is incumbent on manufacturers and other industry stakeholders to redirect the conversation to the fundamental facts, strategies and benefits that drive return on investment and other important measures of value. We at IC Bus embrace this responsibility.

Beginning Your Journey

If you are exploring the benefits of fleet electrification, our organization is ready to help you chart a journey that will align with your operational, safety, environmental and financial objectives. We will help you ask and answer the questions needed to determine whether electrification makes sense given your fleet’s structure and operational requirements. We will help you select and implement the vehicle charging strategy that can help you maximize uptime at the lowest possible operating cost. We will help you understand the range of technological and other differences represented in the current universe of ESB models so you can make an educated choice that will lead to the best overall investment experience.

We believe the best first step in any significant fleet investment is to find a partner committed to helping you identify and achieve realistic objectives. While we join in the enthusiasm about the future of V2G technology, we prefer to focus on our customers’ real-world success.

Mike Millar serves as lead, eMobility Marketing and Business Development, Navistar, Inc. Visit for more information.

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