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Electric buses in Australia

    An electric bus is powered by electricity via a battery (battery electric bus) or an external source (such as the trolley bus and contact with overhead wires). This article will focus on battery electric buses in Australia. 

    An electric vehicle fleet may include electric buses in order to meet emissions reductions targets by corporates and governments. The global stock of electric buses increased 25% in 2018 relative to 2017. [1]

    Considerations of transitioning to an electric bus fleet

    When considering electric buses, transit operators will need to consider: 

    • emissions reductions and delivery of renewable energy to ensure zero emissions
    • electricity capacity of sites
    • new depot configurations
    • battery range of the vehicle
    • impact of topography and climate on battery efficiency and range
    • bus route optimisation 
    • charging management 
    • energy generation (such as onsite batteries and solar power)
    • driver behaviour 
    • total cost of ownership based on balancing higher upfront cost with lower operating costs

    Assessing the viability of transitioning to an electric bus fleet

    This table highlights the key criteria the ACT Government used in the trial of Alternative Fuel Buses in the Transport Canberra Bus fleet to measure the viability of transitioning to an electric bus fleet: [2]

     

    ‘As with many new technologies, electric buses present new benefits and challenges. Some of these are highlighted below:

     

    Benefits to operating an electric bus in Australia

    1. Environmental: An electric bus does not emit tailpipe emissions, reducing emissions profiles for CO2 and other harmful emissions (GHG, NOx and PM10). 
    2. Health: A lack of tailpipe emissions reduces air pollution, resulting in cleaner air quality for communities. The electric drivetrain produces less noise and vibration than petrol or diesel engines, resulting in a quieter and more comfortable ride for the driver and passengers. This benefit can also be felt in the community, with reduced noise pollution as a result of traffic. 
    3. Economic: Trials in Australia have shown that electric buses have lower whole of life economic costs as a result of their lower maintenance and refuelling costs. [3] Buses are also an economic way to reach emissions reductions targets, due to high utilisation and fuel replacement savings. [4]
    4. Grid integration: The integration of buses with large buses and onsite batteries and solar ad depots can be used to support the grid during periods of high demand. [5]

     

    Challenges to operating an electric bus in Australia

    1. Capital cost: the upfront purchase price of an electric bus is higher than petrol and diesel alternatives. 
    2. Passenger capacity: Bus passenger capacity is limited by heavy vehicle payload restrictions. The weight of a battery in an electric bus is higher than a tank of petrol and diesel, increasing the vehicles tare weight and reducing its payload capacity. Therefore, reducing the number of passengers an electric bus can carry. 
    3. Upskilling: An electric bus will require new driver behaviour, procurement models, maintenance requirements and refuelling operations.   
    4. Charging infrastructure investment and management: Additional assets investment is required to refuel electric buses via electric vehicle charging stations. This may also include electrical capacity upgrades for charger locations. 

     

    Charging an electric bus

    The electrification of buses will require the installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. There are currently two models of EV bus charging being utilised globally:

     AdvantagesDisadvantages
    Depot based charging
    Buses are charged overnight using on site electric vehicle charging infrastructure
    Lower upfront capital costPotential grid limitations may require upgrade
    Allows for off-peak chargingNew depot and charging management
    Located on pre-owned propertyLonger refuelling time
    On route charging
    Buses are charged via fast chargers along bus route
    Smaller battery packs mean higher passenger countMore expensive and may require leasing/purchasing land
    Greater flexibility in bus operationsRequires fast charging and may incur higher energy costs with DC grid integration
    Can compete more than one route with a rest period Requires driver upskilling
    Note: a combined model approach may be appropriate

     

    Electric buses in Australia  

    NSWTransit Systems NSW – Sydney’s Inner West
    NSW Government commitment to electric buses
    VICTransdev – Melbourne Route 246
    SASkybus – Adelaide Airport
    Adelaide Metro
    Adelaide Metro (Guide)
    QLDLendlease and Logan Coaches - Yarrabilba
    Brisbane City Council – Metro Bus project
    Brisbane Airport Corporation - AIRPARK
    ACTACTION bus network Electric Bus trial

     

     

    References

    1. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-ev-outlook-2019
    2. https://www.transport.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/1427561/Alternative-Fuel-Bus-Trial-Summary-Assessment.pdf
    3. https://www.transport.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/1427561/Alternative-Fuel-Bus-Trial-Summary-Assessment.pdf
    4. https://fleets.chargetogether.org/webinar/electric-buses-international-learnings-and-australian-opportunities/
    5. https://electricvehiclecouncil.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2019-Submission-to-NSW-Parliament-on-buses-1.pdf