Cities like Portland are not alone in efforts to harmonize public policy, public funding, utility programs, and transit agency planning to maximize the benefits of electrified transportation. Hawaii has dedicated almost 85 percent of their total VW settlement funds to electric buses. Honolulu and other cities across the state are working closely Hawaiian Electric to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean energy and transportation. To create a more favorable environment for electric buses, the commission approved the utility’s program offering reduced rates for off-peak transit bus charging in March.
New York City has taken a similar approach to achieving goals of total bus fleet electrification by 2040. ConEd offers reduced rates for bus charging and has invested more than $12 million to add to significant public charging. This complements public programs like NYSERDA’s Charge Ready NY that offers rebates for charging stations and statewide renewable energy and transportation electrification goals encapsulated in the state’s energy strategy, referred to as Reforming the Energy Vision.
For these cities and states, transit bus electrification is about more than just saving money on fuel and providing smoother rides. These partnerships serve as examples local solutions to climate change that reduce emissions and prioritize the public health needs of their communities. However, there is more cities could be doing to take advantage of the nexus between clean transportation and renewable energy.
There is a greater potential to strengthen the complementary relationship between EVs and renewable energy using federal funds. The latest round of the Federal Low or No (Low-No) Emissions Vehicle Program closed on May 14, setting up cities across the country to receive an additional infusion of $85 million in 2019 for the purchase of electric buses. According to our Public Funding Awards Dashboard, only six states that have received Low-No funding to date specify that some of their buses will be charged with renewable energy. These programs are worth roughly $10 million together—less than five percent of the total funding.
With more than $560 million in approved investments across five states, including some focus on mass transit, electric utilities can help fill this gap. By investing in public charging stations and providing rate promotions for EVs, utilities can expand the demand for off-peak power. Daytime charging can capture excess renewable energy generated during off-peak hours that would otherwise be thrown away. Utility savings through load balancing and increased revenue with an expanding EV fleet can generate savings for all ratepayers.
Overall, the U.S. electric bus market is well-positioned to increase the demand for renewable energy generation. More than $350 million in public funding has been invested in electric transit buses across 43 states from 2011 through 2019. These programs have facilitated the purchase of more than 380 electric transit buses since 2011. However, not all of the awardees specify the number of buses they plan to purchase with the grants. CALSTART fills in for unreported commitments, estimating 1,650 electric and fuel cell transit buses in operation or soon to be deployed through 2018. Despite increasing investment, electric transit buses comprised less than one percent of the national fleet at the end of 2017, the last year for which data is available.