E-mobility is changing the face of public transport

E-mobility is changing the face of public transport

We are seeing exciting advancements in the electrification of public transport networks around the world and buses are taking centre stage.

By Sean Stove, Head of ABB Australia’s E-Mobility Division.

ABB is proud to have a long history with this maturing industry. In 2016, in Belgium, we worked with Volvo Buses to automate two fast-charging systems to enable ‘opportunity charging’ for their electric buses. This set-up recharges a bus in minutes each time it arrives at an end station. This makes smaller, lighter batteries possible, which increases passenger capacity and the number of routes, in turn increasing revenue.

In 2017, our team developed Geneva’s first electric bus based on flash-charging technology that partially recharges batteries en-route, reducing charging time at terminal stations. In the United States, we deployed one of the first ultra-fast-charging stations (150kW) for electric vehicles and launched the world’s first 24-metre electric bus – again using flash-charging technology. We were also the first company to deploy a 350kW charging station. Last year, the world’s first 12-metre, fully electric, autonomous, 40-seater bus was launched in Singapore, powered by ABB’s HVC 300P fast-charging system that recharges a battery in 3-6 minutes using a pantograph for end-point charging. The advancements made in just a few years alone are exciting.

Closer to home and ABB in Australia is supplying and installing electric vehicle charging stations at Perth’s Joondalup Bus Depot to power electric buses along the popular, free five-kilometre Joondalup CAT (central area transit) route commencing early 2022. ABB’s EV chargers will provide overnight charging for the new Volvo electric buses to operate this CAT route, ensuring zero emission transportation throughout the day. These compact, high-power fast chargers have the ability to charge two buses simultaneously, ensuring less downtime and improved utilisation of the vehicles across the planned route.

Upfront versus a compelling total cost of ownership

What these examples begin to showcase are the opportunities facing public authorities and transit operators, and the trade-offs they need to consider to capitalise on electric vehicle technology. It’s a trade-off worth exploring, because ebuses are the way of the future.

Particularly considering the number of jurisdictions that outsource public transport to private operators, the direct business case for an efleet has to stack up. And it does, in significant immediate and long-term environmental gains and in cost savings when based on the total cost of ownership (TCO).

At the outset, infrastructure costs can be significant compared to diesel systems. Providers face depot upgrades for charging infrastructure, power upgrades, the fleets themselves and so on. However, it’s the ongoing costs that are far lower. Research cited by Charge Together Fleets shows that electric vehicles can reduce up to 90% of the fuel and maintenance costs compared with combustion engine cars.

In Australia, Melbourne Water is one organisation that has estimated cost savings of approximately $2,000-$3,000 per year per electric vehicle in its fleet. ‘Refuelling’ is substantially cheaper after those initial outlays. Servicing is simplified, with around one third of the components of diesel counterparts, such as no gear box and no engine and no oil changes. The focus of maintenance is on breaking and suspension. With much lower operating costs from day one, depots that look at integrations such as solar, and opportunities such as intelligent charging out of peak, have the potential to reduce that overall running cost even further down the track.

Tailoring charging solutions for public transport efleets

Because buses follow fixed schedules and routes, there is no unpredictability around range. The anchor decision is the bus charging strategy – because efficient recharging reduces electric bus operating costs.

There are three main types:

  • Depot charging (typically overnight running at relatively low power levels for longer (10-150kW)
  • Terminal charging (typically day-time for less than 2 hours)
  • En-route and on-board charging (requiring DC chargers operating between 150kW and 600kW).

Cities that are seeing the greatest success from their ebus set-up are using a hybrid approach to these charging options. They are also looking at it holistically and planning for the full range of forces that impact performance and cost.

With depot charging, the battery needs sufficient capacity to complete each route. However, increased battery size reduces passenger capacity and increases the cost and weight of the vehicle – as much as 45% of upfront costs with a depot-only charging strategy come from the battery.

With terminal charging, charging times need to be less than scheduled breaks. This can become challenging to manage during peak periods, requiring either partial recharging or risking a delay. As a result, they typically require more resources to deliver a reliable public transport solution – more buses, drivers, and terminal and depot charging stations.

En-route and on-board solutions have improved significantly in recent years and can take a variety of forms. For example, cable charging offers a number of charging levels – ABB starts at 24kW and can move up to 350kW. That introduces a lot of flexibility in the design of a bus network, with charge times dependent on the battery system and energy management of the fleet. When this is coupled with fast-operating pantograph up and down solutions, efficiency can go to the next level. Again, there are trade-offs. For example, with pantograph up, the charging infrastructure is from within the bus.

However, this adds weight and reduces capacity for passengers (and revenue). With pantograph down, the charging infrastructure is on the route, meaning less weight on the bus, creating opportunities for other features such as air-conditioning. We are seeing most countries opting for pantograph down solutions, but the key point is that technology is creating a breadth of choice so that cities can design efleet solutions that best optimise their context. The core logic is charge fast and often – a proven way to minimise costs and maintain schedules via charging while passengers embark and disembark.

Naturally, there are numerous other factors that bus operators need to consider. Achieving a low TCO means operating only as many vehicles as needed and optimising those vehicles, their batteries and their supporting infrastructure. Goals such as minimising the footprint, aiming for modular units that can easily scale up, and integrating features like automated connection systems and remote management, come into play – alongside rethinking approaches to old disciplines, such as maintenance schedules. However, charging strategies are consistently delivering a core advantage and deploying a mix of these charging opportunities is proving to be the winner. It means that operators can maintain their focus where it’s needed – on the schedule – not on range.

As for ABB, we see only upside as cities continue to make the shift. We’re already seeing governments, like in France and the UK, bring forward their zero emission zones because they are seeing the direct and immediate benefits of efleet cost savings and air and noise quality improvements. Having delivered the charging infrastructure to power the first 100% electric ferry, that can be charged in less than 10 minutes when docked – now operating between Denmark and Sweden – the horizon also extends well beyond buses as we continue to deliver an ever-smarter, safer and more sustainable public transport future.

[1] https://fleets.chargetogether.org/article/selling-the-benefits/

About Sean Stove

Sean Stove is the head of ABB Australia’s E-Mobility Division. In this role he is responsible for driving strategic direction and growth in the electric vehicle (EV) and sustainable transport sector across ABB’s EV charging and infrastructure portfolio for electric cars, and buses and heavy vehicles. Joining ABB in 1997, Sean has held numerous senior roles in sales, operations and business development across Asia Pacific and Europe. Most recently he led ABB Australia’s transportation and rail segments, having been involved in the rail sector since 2003. After completing his Electrical Certificate from Christchurch Polytechnic, Sean became a graduate of the University of Queensland’s Mt Eliza MBA Program, and completed the Senior Leadership Development program at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.


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