Zero Emission Buses – a framework for a successful transition

There is about to be a huge amount of money spent on transitioning the nation’s bus fleet to zero emissions. The looming question is how to spend this money most productively, and in a way that does not create stranded assets or waste.

There is a large amount of dynamism in the zero emission bus technology space, not to mention the supply chain for either electricity or hydrogen. The capabilities of vehicles are changing, along with supporting infrastructure all the while fleet owners are being asked to put in a submission that may lock them into long term decisions prematurely.

These decisions include:

  • When and how fast should I transition to zero emission buses?  
  • Should I go hydrogen or electric?
  • Should I go for a pantograph or plug-in?
  • Should I build an electrolyzer or do I truck in hydrogen supply? 
  • How do I most effectively apply for grants?
  • Can I collaborate with other fleets in the area to share infrastructure?
  • Should I do one depot all at once or upgrade depots incrementally over time?
  • How will my operations be impacted if I transition to zero emission?
  • What standards should I impose for vehicles, chargers, energy management and telematics?
  • How much training will my staff require and what sort of training?

The question is: how to make all these decisions in the most sustainable way, during a time of great pressure to make a move quickly in many organizations? 

For the past several years, transit agencies have approached this in a combination of four ways:

  1. Vendor driven engagements to pilots (for example with zero emission bus suppliers)
  2. Creating transition plans either in-house or with outside consultants
  3. Looking at the experiences of industry peers to make decisions
  4. Delaying decisions until things are clearer in terms of technology maturity 

All of these pathways are valid,  but as we move into the scale-up phase, the zero emission transportation experts at Evenergi have found that that the most important elements that contribute to success are:

  1. Creating a framework for managing long term changes rather than just point in time plans
  2. Establishing organizational alignment with an understanding that it will be an agile journey
  3. Avoiding ‘lock-in’ decisions as much as possible early in the journey to enable this agility
  4. Capturing valuable data at each step to be used at every other step in the transition

We are constantly talking about the need to create a framework rather than a series of point-in-time plans. This relates to a data driven and iterative process where there is an acknowledgement that with the rate of technology change in the battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric space, a plan is likely outdated the day after it is written. 

The framework has many parts, but these can be summarized as financial, operational, infrastructure changes on depots and then regional influences. We then look at how these areas are impacted through the lifecycle of planning, implementation and management of the transition. 

Planning phaseImplementation (pilot)Implementation (scale-up)Management
Financial frameworkGap analysis – Total cost of ownership and capital vs operationalAnalysis of RFQs against dataFinal long term decisions Monitoring data to feed back into planning and to optimize operations
Operational – transit operations frameworkBuses meeting their service assignments 

Depot locations

Interlining linkages

Collective bargaining agreement implications 

On-time performance vs on-route charging 

Depot emulation – can buses fit within dispatch given different depot designs?

Can ‘fueling’ be sufficiently completed considering pull-out/pull-in schedules and service profile? 
Managing multiple propulsion types until fleet is fully transitioned
Optimized dispatch

Optimal driver use
Operations – energy infrastructure frameworkWhat is the right charging design

Early information from utilities around capacity 

Optimization to minimize capacity requirements

Balance of distributed energy resources on-site
Refueling/charging specification  and selection and installation

Energy management alternatives
Refueling/charging specification  and selection and installation

Potentially larger upgrades
Proactive energy management vs operational limitations

Microgrid management on-site

Potential integration with dispatch systems
Regional frameworkRegional energy infrastructure collaborations

Regional fleet collaborations
Agreement on supply chains

Agreement on access to shared refueling infrastructure
Potential to share energy infrastructure with third-party usersPotential to coordinate infrastructure access

At the bedrock of each step in this journey there needs to be a decision making framework based on robust data and strong analytics.

The next generation of planning framework requires a new types of data and analytics platform that should have a number of key components including:

Enable detailed route analysisDetailed data increases accuracy and reduces costly mistakes 
Looks at all fuel types (including mix fleets) and all, charging types (if it is electric)Reduce total cost ownership
Integrated into scheduling systemsIncrease accuracy reduces mistakes and lowers ongoing consulting fees
Model depot impact Ensures that unforeseen depot infrastructure costs are minimized
Model dispatch – particular once sub-fleeting is no longer an optionEnsure that costly operational errors are minimized
Interlining between depots and even between different fleet ownersMaximize opportunities for cost sharing and new revenue streams
Rapid iterations of scenarios and sensitivitiesMinimize on-going consulting costs
Single set of data across entire journeyMaximize leverage of data and iterate learnings
Tools independent of any one consulting firm Minimize rework as you go through different partners on the journey
Ensure that outputs from planning (such as charging profiles) can be operationalisedEnsure that plans can be executed to maximize savings
Make sure that data captured from telematics can feed back into planningReduce total cost of ownership through learning

This is an exciting and challenging time for many fleet owners, but many of the questions stated at the start of this article can be answered with tools that exist today, with the power being placed in the hands of the long term operators of the buses and infrastructure.