E-buses & Charging Infrastructure
Cover Photo: Siemens AG
For more information on E-buses, don’t forget to read the SCIS E-bus Solution Booklet.
Cities that want to integrate electric buses and a charging infrastructure within their communities will be confronted with diverse challenges alongside this process.
Many challenges are of technical nature: the size of feeder pillars has an impact on street planning; the availability of data and a well-functioning back office support is important to provide real-time and useful information to bus drivers; under-dimensioned network infrastructure could be an obstacle for charging infrastructure availability; the overall reliability of the buses is key for both client and driver satisfaction. Moreover, maintenance and repairing of electric buses can proof to be difficult due to limited expertise compared with ICE-maintenance. (ICE = Internal Combustion Engine)
Additionally, the investment cost (about double of the cost for a diesel bus), budget availability and secure funding can be considered as obstacles. Until today, there is no large scale production of E-buses in Europe like there is for conventional buses and only a limited number of sizes is available (> 50 seats, 18 seats, 12 seats, … ). Besides, there is a clear competition with bus fleets on 100% renewable fuel. (Other arguments could play a decisive role when making a decision on fuel type.)
There might also be uncertainty about the charging locations since the required infrastructure needs to be integrated into the urban context. This needs to be studied appropriately upfront. Furthermore, the charging infrastructure and processes need to comply with the applicable regulation (such as Traffic Regulation Orders).
Bus drivers are often skeptical about electric buses, mainly due to range fear. Taking care of the involvement and acceptance process of all key stakeholders therefore is vital to the success of the system (read also Citizen Engagement).
Finally, from an overall decarbonization perspective, the electrification of other heavy-duty vehicles should also be considered.
To master the described challenges, cities should consider the introduction of clean air zones, the implementation of a congestion charge and the raise of additional taxes to finance initial costs. It is also beneficial to promote active and sustainable transport over car use.
Persons in charge should take advantage of the fact that citizens are generally welcoming sustainable transport and will appreciate the financial benefits since electricity costs are lower than fuel costs.
The possibilities for action are diverse. At city level, first experimenting and then scaling up is the recommended approach. The lessons learned during the pilot phase will prove to be extremely valuable during the roll-out of a bigger electric bus fleet, both from a user experience and financial perspective. On a regional, national or even international scale, cities might collaborate to aggregate demand for electric buses, so they can approach suppliers together. The resulting large order of buses could force needs-based production and cost reduction.
In day-to-day operation of the electric fleet, real time information (via dashboards) should be provided to operators and well-trained drivers. The provision of a best practice guide explaining how to transform from combustion engines to electric motors as an operator is also advisable. Furthermore, it is helpful to design an integrated monitoring framework that can capture the overall technical, environmental, economic, and social impacts and effects.
Last but not least, cities may use innovative technologies to balance the different electrical phases in order to avoid grid overload and may apply flexible approaches when designing charging stations to increase efficiency.
Plan for Implementation: next steps
It is indispensable to accelerate a European approach on production. Currently, a lot of cheap production happens in China and does not meet up to EU requirements. As soon as electric vehicles are available in front-runner cities, implementation strategies could be rolled out to other cities. By adjusting the infrastructure, upscaling and adoption of electric vehicles can be enhanced.
Overall, pilot projects should be considered as learning processes: they might not be profitable straight away, but will proof their value when upscaling the roll-out to other parts of the city.
Cities also need to identify how to show stakeholders the qualitative advantages of electric buses next to the quantitative advantages. Moreover, cities can support partner cities in designing and implementing some specific aspects of the e-bus solution, such as a monitoring framework, and may help them to identify innovative business models linked to it.