What an extraordinary car show it was: 134 manufacturers from Germany and abroad presented the latest developments that would shape the future of “automobilism”, including an “eight horsepower two-cylinder engine”, a new type of “mechanism for handling reverse driving” and a model by Benz that promised an incredible top speed of 30 km/h.
The year was 1899. This was around the time combustion engines began to take over the market – consequently, few people if any paid attention to the fact that most of the 100,000 visitors to the International Motor Show had traveled to Berlin with an even more futuristic form of transportation: The world’s first electric bus line.
The rest is history: The line was expanded with ten additional buses, but it was discontinued just a year later. While subways and trams in metropolises around the world switched to electric operation at the beginning of the previous century, the combustion engine took over the streets – and that included bus traffic.
Today, in the search for ways to combat the climate crisis, electric buses are experiencing a renaissance. The Italian cities of Genoa and Turin made one of the first forays into the world of electric transportation in 2002 with a total of 30 battery-powered buses. By 2010 a true boom was underway around the globe. In 2013 the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog set up Europe’s first line of buses powered solely with electricity. Electric models of the world-famous London double-decker buses have been in operation since 2015 and in the same year Berlin also began operating electric buses again.
Naturally, countries that also lead the way in electrically powered private transportation have a head start when it comes to public transportation: nearly all of Oslo’s bus lines are electrified today and the Chinese metropolis Shenzhen, with 12 million inhabitants, has more than 16,300 electric buses, making it the world’s largest electrically powered public transportation fleet.
Although electric buses are still roughly twice the price of conventional buses today, climate protection experts and city planners consider them the most sustainable investment in the future: They cut noise emissions in half, are up to 50 percent cheaper to operate and do not emit any nitrogen oxide or CO2 when in service.
This is the idea behind the EU’s Clean Vehicles Directive, the objective of which is to ensure zero emissions for a quarter of all buses by 2025 and two-thirds of all buses by 2030. Berlin and around 25 additional European cities even want to switch the entire bus network to 100 percent electrical operation.
The biggest challenge here is building practical charging infrastructures. As the world’s leading supplier of charging solutions for all types of e-mobility, ABB has been a part of the electric revolution in the transportation market right from the start and even received the Global E-Mobility Leader 2019 award in recognition of its essential role. Today the Swiss electrification pioneer offers a broad spectrum of innovative solutions to reliably and precisely meet the many different requirements of municipalities and infrastructure operators.
Revolutionary TOSA technology
A globally unique fast-charging technology was already undergoing testing in 2013 in Geneva. The technology enabled e-buses to operate all day without having to make prolonged stops to charge. These TOSA buses are commuter buses on a regular line from downtown to the Geneva International Airport. They are charged via a laser-operated charging arm at selected bus stops with a 650 kW electric impulse in just 20 seconds and have enough energy to continue smooth operation for the next two to eight kilometers. This is the fastest flash-charging technology in the world. The Geneva TOSA buses have traveled around 500,000 kilometers to date, saving up to 1,000 tons of CO2 annually in the process.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, ABB was also able to demonstrate how well this solution works even under the harshest of weather conditions and challenging terrain. Participants were the first to ride a TOSA e-bus line set up especially for travel to the various conference locations. The French city of Nantes and the Australian metropolis of Brisbane are also planning on equipping their e-bus lines with ABB’s TOSA system in the near future.
ABB developed its OppCharge system to charge e-buses in as little as five minutes every time they make a scheduled stop at the terminal station. A panthograph lowers from the charging station, connects to the battery via rails on the roof of the bus and charges it with 450 kW.
This enables the vehicles on the 17 line – which, incidentally also feature electric motors from ABB – to travel the entire route from Köniz to Bern central station and back without any additional charging stops, resulting in an annual CO2 emission saving of around 500 tons.
Pantograph Down Charger
Beginning in the last half of 2020 a more advanced version of this OppCharge system will help Sweden achieve its goal of 100 percent climate neutral transportation by 2050 at the latest. Göteborg, Mölndal and Partille are slated to begin operating 157 new Volvo e-buses in a first step and switch the entire fleet to electric power by 2030.
To help all of the nearly 71 million bus passengers in the region travel safely and with zero emissions, ABB will install what are known as Pantograph Down charging solutions along the 19 routes and ensure safe, secure connection to the grid. The 450 kW DC chargers can recharge the buses within three to six minutes. The charging stations also take advantage of ABB’s innovative Ability™ digital portfolio, which helps charging network infrastructure operators minimize station downtime via remote monitoring and updates.
Nighttime charging at the depot
In Hamburg, where all of the approximately 1,000 diesel buses are scheduled to be replaced with electric models by 2030, Hochbahn AG invested in a depot solution. They built Europe’s most state-of-the-art bus depot in Hamburg-Alsterdorf specifically for this purpose in 2019. ABB installed 44 high-power chargers here as a first step.
These fast chargers ensure that buses are fully recharged at night so that they can operate continuously the following day. They are part of ABB’s systems-based approach and offer maximum flexibility in the expansion of electric solutions for public transportation.
In Singapore ABB is proving that these systems can also be combined if necessary. The plan is to add a total of 40 e-buses here by early 2020 – from two different manufacturers – to reduce noise and improve air quality.
ABB will supply four 450 kW fast chargers for the 20 single-deck buses developed by ST Engineering, which will take full advantage of “Opportunity Charging” in under ten minutes at key bus stops. The buses manufactured by BYD, on the other hand, will feature 150 kW nighttime charging systems from ABB. They will enable the vehicle to recharge within 4.5 hours.
ABB also supplies a similarly multifaceted system for the Dutch Qbuzz fleet. A total of 62 100 kW high-power charging stations will be installed along with an additional 38 Terra 54 charging stations with a power output of 50 KW in depots in various cities. These nighttime charging solutions are enhanced with six intelligent HVC 300 Pantograph Down stations, which provide a charging capacity of 300 kW along the route to enable the buses to recharge within minutes.
The Norwegian city of Trondheim was also faced with the challenge of acquiring buses from two different manufacturers for its new electric fleet. To save the operators the trouble of having to build two parallel charging infrastructures, ABB worked with the bus manufacturers on site to develop a revolutionary new interoperable system – the first of its kind to also offer charging for vehicles from different manufacturers at the same charging station. And they did it in record time: There are eight charging stations in total at the terminal bus stops. They only need three to six minutes to charge the bus batteries with enough energy for the entire subsequent route.
This innovation helped Trondheim become the first city in the world with a public transportation network that operates completely independently of fossil fuels. The four new, each up to 15 kilometer long zero-emissions electric bus lines will save around 2,000 tons of CO2 annually compared to fleets that operate using fossil fuels – this translates into a greenhouse gas load of around 10 million kilometers by car.