dec 02

4 essential steps to electric bus procurement

Time is ticking away for bus operators. In most European countries, the aim is for transport to be zero-emission by 2030 with North America following closely. Have you got your e-fleet up and running yet?

The C40 Fossil Fuel Free Streets Declaration includes a growing number of cities which commit to both the exclusive procurement of zero-emission buses by 2025 and the establishment of zero-emission zones by 2030. C40 is a network of 94 of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change representing 700+ million citizens and one quarter of the global economy.

One such city is Amsterdam, where the municipality endeavors for all new buses to be zero-emission by 2025. By 2030 all of Amsterdam’s city buses must fully run on clean energy. Copenhagen also plans to switch all buses to electric ones by 2030. More cities in Europe have comparable ambitions, with the US not far behind. California state, for example, plans to have a fully electric bus fleet by 2040.

So, as a bus operator you are left with a game changing project, and only 10 years to complete it. How can you transition your fleet smoothly and efficiently within such a short time?

If you don’t know exactly where to begin, we can lend a helping hand. Here are the 4 steps that can guide your transition to a fully electric bus fleet:

  1. Research & Planning
  2. Financing
  3. Pilot programs and Testing
  4. Tendering Process

1. Research & Planning

The first step is to construct a plan based on research. Market research is the essential base for planning your transition. At this stage you should evaluate manufacturers (OEMs), the competition, total costs over time, the financial grants and loans available and how to submit your request for funding. At the same time it is important to gather feedback from customers and employees.

Here are some of the things you should keep in mind at this stage:

  • Assess the competition:
    This is a key step when a change occurs in any business. Find out how far other bus operators are in developing their electric fleet and construct a competitive analysis. This ensures you stay compatible and informed, but also sees to it that you don’t fall behind in current developments in this fast-paced environment.
  • Think ‘Total Cost of Ownership’. TCO is the total cost of owning a vehicle from the time of purchase through its operation and maintenance to the time it leaves the operation. Comparing TCO of various models and vehicle types help you choose the vehicle that fits your operation’s requirements and help define your budget. 

Some of the key elements incorporated in the cost of ownership for a vehicle include:

  • Depreciation costs
  • Battery and charging costs or fuel costs 
  • Insurance
  • Maintenance costs
  • Fees and taxes
  • Downtime costs

The example below shows a possible TCO comparison model you can make. Include your diesel vehicles to offer contrast for your financial plan:

TCO comparison in Sweden assuming 250km travelled per day. SOURCE: T&E, Electric Buses Arrive on Time.

💡 Costs are going to be high in the beginning, but you will find that the TCO of an electric vehicle is lower compared to that of a diesel. 

The graph below, from  Bloomberg NEF, shows that costs level up after a few years assuming that a transit bus drives an average of about 55,000 KM (34,000 miles) per year. 

As you can see, even the most expensive electric bus – the 350kWh battery e-bus, slowly charged once per day at the depot – at 80,000km per year has a TCO of $0.92/km, just at par with diesel buses. 

  • OEMS 

Consider the different manufacturers based on your requirements. 

First, determine your operation’s needs and research all influential external factors. Then you can determine the right OEM, or mix of OEMs, for your operation; bus types and charging stations. Bear in mind that more information will become clear after the pilot phase.

Furthermore, ensure that the desired OEM product is available within the required time. Vehicle types may not be available in your country. 

  • Routes and range requirements 

Electric buses have a range of between 100 km (62 miles) and 300 km (186 miles) with one charge. However, it depends on the route. Extreme temperatures, hills, and weight (load) have a great impact on the range. 

Determine the ideal mix for your operation and the routes. Buses with larger batteries are more expensive or consider an opportunity charger along the route. For short routes choose buses with a shorter battery life. 

Keep in mind that advertised range is almost never the same as actual range, this will only become clear after testing the vehicles.

  • Depot structure:

Charging stations require space. Ask yourself the questions: Does my bus depot offer enough capacity for the required charging infrastructure? If not, where and when am I going to charge the rest of my fleet? 

Be innovative with charging time. Maybe it’s not necessary to charge the whole fleet at once because by charging smartly, with Smart Charging you can prioritize your buses based on their routes.

  • Grid infrastructure

Contact your utility company and discuss the possibilities at the planning stage. You may need to upgrade the infrastructure with transformers for the power required to charge your e-fleet. This might take between 1 and 2 years, so the sooner you start the better. 

Prior to introducing your e-fleet to the current infrastructure, make sure you have all the information at hand and set your own grid restrictions and limits to avoid: 

  1. Reaching the grid’s limitations
    • An example is a Swedish provider who acquired a fleet of e-buses and plugged them into the grid at night; which is the same time when most households use most of their electricity in the region. Due to a lack of power capacity and the increased load, the power that was demanded at a particular time was more than could be provided by the grid resulting in major shortage risks.
  2. High energy costs from the utility providers. 
    • An example is a German operator who connected their new e-fleet to the grid and ended up with a high utility bill for the rest of the year.  This is because the energy demand costs are based on the maximum peak load and not the average energy used. 

💡 Keep in mind that with Smart Charging you can rethink the total requirement and demand because you’re able to spread out the power demand over a longer period of time, lowering the amount of energy required at a particular time. 

  • Get feedback
    Receive feedback from passengers and involve personnel: drivers, depot & operations teams. Why is this important? Because these people are the key users and stakeholders. Involving them from the beginning allows you to discover any objections they might have and make sure you address them before you start your roll-out. 

2. Financing

Funding. A principal question when acquiring a whole new electric fleet is: Can my operation apply for financial support from the government? Most of the time the answer is yes!

Luckily governments don’t just set transition deadlines but often also provide loans and tax-based incentives to support transit operators with the purchase and operation of the new e-buses. 

  1. For example, in Copenhagen, the municipality provided low-interest rate loans and a guaranteed contract length as an incentive to give the operators a boost. 
  2. Another example is the Lo No Grant. The program, also called the No Emission Competitive program, provides funding to state and local governmental authorities for the purchase or lease of zero-emission and low-emission transit buses as well as acquisition, construction, and leasing of required supporting facilities. The grant made $55 million available until 2020 to projects on a competitive basis. 
  3. Like these, there are many other funds. You just need to do your research. For some more interesting funding examples check out this presentation from UITP Europe
  • Financial Plan: Construct a long term (15 years) budget and financial plan based on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to convince investors. As you saw in the graphs above, the operating costs of e-buses are far lower than diesel buses, but the upfront costs so immense it puts off investing in expensive vehicles. With the TCO, all costs are taken into consideration and e-buses get more attractive to invest in. 

Here are some other options to consider when building your financial plan:

  • Lease vehicles and/or batteries. Take into consideration alternatives to purchasing the fixed assets by leasing your vehicles and batteries. For example, in the US, Proterra & Mitsui and Solaris offer vehicle and battery leasing programs to help operators alleviate the burden of large investments at the introduction of an e-fleet.
  • Joint purchasing. Cities and regions can join forces and make a deal with an OEM and receive discounts based on larger orders making a large purchase from a manufacturer. 
  • Include the findings from your discussions with utility companies and take possible grid upgrade costs into consideration. 
  • There are more innovative financing models to take into consideration when starting an e-bus operation. For example, present your TCO model to include air pollution costs. This too demonstrates that TCO for an electric bus is substantially lower. 

3. Pilots and Testing

A pilot is a trial that is done before introducing buses into a full operation. Using 2-10 buses is usually sufficient to evaluate different vehicles and understand the actual performance per vehicle. 

A trial works best when done in phases: A phase without passengers, a phase with passengers, and finally actually introducing the vehicle and letting it run in service. This way is safer, and will minimize any risks associated with introducing new technology. The phased pilot would provide a more positive reaction from bus drivers and passengers and improve public perception of the project.

A pilot should assess the following aspects: 

  • Bus performance. This is the time in which you evaluate if the bus offers what your operation requires. Report the findings and cross compare with any other vehicle types you are testing. Do this before introducing passengers to the pilot.
  • The range depends on the route, climate, topography, average speed, passenger load and driving styles. Other factors, such as temperature and elevations in the landscape also influence the state of charge. You can’t fully trust the advertised range time of an electric bus without testing it in your city’s environment.

    For example, the trial of a bus in California showed that the AC unit alone used a fourth of the bus’s battery. Therefore it’s highly recommended you test the buses in all seasons, and at different times a day. In doing so, the actual range in the most extreme conditions will become evident. This allows you to make a decision based on the best performing buses for you.
     
  • Charging Infrastructure. With electric buses come charging stations. It’s just as important to test the charging infrastructure that works for your operation. Test how long your vehicles will need to charge and test whether you can control the speed at which you can charge, and see if you can prioritize certain vehicles. Smart Charging will help you plan your electric operation saving you unnecessary costs or grid upgrades. 
    • Based on your findings, revert back to the utility company to analyze energy demand and (grid) infrastructure and evaluate electricity grid capacity

💡 A key thing to remember is that you will need a reliable and OEM-independent way to collect and measure all the data. 

Nowadays most OEMs will offer a free monitoring system, but that comes with a big drawback: it makes it hard to collect and compare all your data in one place. More importantly, comparing parameters across different OEM telematics systems becomes unreliable. You may be comparing apples with pears with the use of multiple data standards. For example: One system may take SOC (state of charge) from the dashboard, and another directly from the BMS (battery management system); comparing these parameters results in an unreliable observations.

💡 A good practice is to have a single system in place that works with electric buses (from various OEMs) as well as chargers. This will allow you to have all your data in one dashboard so you can easily compare it and make the best decisions. 

The best in class monitoring solution for electric buses and chargers is ViriCiti. Our powerful dashboard will provide all the information you need to optimize your transport operations. 

4. Tendering process

From the 2-10 buses, you have data and statistics you need to make informed decisions based on the best performing vehicles for your operation. 

Now it’s time to write out a tender request that states that you’re open for offers from the bus manufacturers that suit your project’s specific needs. 

Here are some things you should include when you write your electric bus tender: 

  • Total number and types of buses.
  • Environmental conditions. Include information about the weather, roads, etc.
  • Battery warranty. Negotiate a contract with OEMs ensuring the batteries are guaranteed for a minimum of 8 years at 70% capacity. If you want to learn how to optimize battery life in electric buses you can read our blog post (coming soon)!
  • Monitoring software and other on board systems required. Here is important to specify what info you will need to read out from the CAN bus.
    💡 Keep in mind that at this moment there’s no FMS or J1939 equivalent for electric buses. So unless you specify in the tender, you will not be able to access the data by default. To get access to the desired CAN Bus can be a lengthy process involving time-consuming negotiations with the OEM. If you need any help defining what data you need to specify in your tender let us know and we can advise you
  • On board systems that must be available. Make sure the cabling is universal and for all systems
  • Desired configuration of the vehicles: Length, arrangement and load capacity
  • Required economic lifetime of the vehicles
  • Get references from the OEMs existing customers

For a  brief view of the tender procedure for your electric buses take a look at the below flowchart, made by the tender experts at UITP.

Source: UITP

One last thing:

Transitioning to an electric bus fleet can be overwhelming at first. However, with the right approach and the right tools you can easily navigate this process. 

We hope that this blog post will give a better idea of the things you need to consider on the road to electrification. 

And remember we’re here to help so feel free to get in touch if you have any questions regarding monitoring your electric buses

Good luck! 

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