Jonathan Bassett 04 March 2020

The road to an electric bus fleet

The road to an electric bus fleet image

The Government has announced a £50m fund for one local authority to develop an all-electric bus town as part of a new £220m fund for Britain’s bus network.

This funding has been made available to develop an all-electric bus town or city that would see an entire locality’s bus fleet changed over to vehicles that are fully electric, or capable of operating in electric, zero-emission mode. The winning town will then be used as a model for other local authorities up and down the country as the government aims for all buses to be fully electric by 2025.

Electric buses will be key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from towns and cities. Electric buses reduce congestion and improve air quality by providing an alternative to personal cars. Charging up buses with renewable energy minimises emissions over the life-cycle of the vehicle.

The charging infrastructure for an all-electric bus town will set out the foundations to a successful transition. A smart approach and the use of the latest technologies can reduce both capital and operational expenditure significantly. For example, through our work with an international fleet operator, we identified capital costs reductions of 69%, and ongoing energy costs reductions by up to 30%, through the use of smart-charging.

From our experience working with bus operators around the country to help them transition their routes to electric, we have set out some of the key considerations to think about before setting out on the road to an electric bus fleet.

Start with the bus route energy demand

Modelling a bus route and its energy demand is essential to plan for charging needs. Energy demand can be affected by bus efficiency, weather, and geography. The timetable of a route is also important - buses with long working hours have less time to charge overnight, and so require higher power chargers installed in the garage.

Assess power availability from the local grid

Transitioning one route to electric buses can require as much power as hundreds of houses. To charge electric buses therefore requires new electrical infrastructure to be built to connect to the local electricity network. Electricity Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) throughout the UK are developing alternative grid connections to facilitate the uptake of electric vehicles, and these options should be explored to minimise infrastructure costs.

Connection costs are a key area for cost optimisation - and route energy modelling is essential for matching your bus fleet’s energy demand profile to potential connection options, including timed and flexible connections.

Consider charging technology alternatives

Once you understand the energy demands of your bus route network and the time you have to charge, the best chargers suited to your fleets’ needs can be selected. If switching to hybrids is not preferred, en-route charging at bus stops can be used for longer routes where buses cannot return to a garage during the day. Appropriate technology selection for a given town or city is key to ensuring a future-proof infrastructure system.

Assess on-site infrastructure impacts

The electrical equipment and charge-points installed on site may take space away from parking buses. However this can be minimised through smart electrical design, and by considering the use of the latest DC charging technologies to keep bulky charge-points away from the buses.

Maximise value for your assets

There are a number of potential opportunities to maximise value from the buses, and the charging infrastructure once it is installed into a depot, including:

  • Sharing of infrastructure, either the charge-points of grid-connections, to enable installation of public EV chargers
  • Installation of on-site renewable energy generation such as solar panels
  • Using the bus fleet to provide energy services back to the grid to stabilise the electricity network - for EV fleets we have estimated energy costs savings could reach between 10% and 30%.

Jonathan Bassett is an EV infrastructure consultant for UK Power Networks Services

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