Growing interest in electric buses at UITP show

Growing interest in electric buses at UITP show

FRANK BEETON reports on an electric atmosphere at the UITP.

At the exhibition staged by the International Association of Public Transport (more often known by its French initials UITP) in Geneva in May, a distinct trend towards increased interest in zero emission all-electric buses was clearly evident.

It was notable that companies more usually associated with the rail and trolleybus sectors, such as ABB, Bombardier, Siemens and Vossloh-Kiepe, were taking a more active interest in electric bus technology. This included rapid and frequent-charge solutions to reduce range anxiety, and no fewer than seven exhibitors displayed electric vehicle products at the show.

Among them was Polish bus, trolleybus and tram manufacturer Solaris Bus & Coach that exhibited a 12-metre, low-floor, fully-electric city bus. Using a Solaris Urbino 12 body shell, this vehicle is powered by an asynchronous traction motor fed by lithium-ion batteries, with battery power output options of 60, 120 or 220 kW.

All auxiliary systems, including air-conditioning, heating, power steering and door operation also draw their power from the batteries. Battery charging can be effected by plug-in connection, inductive charging from beneath the roadway, or roof-mounted conduction charging.

Solaris estimates that, at initial acquisition, full-electric buses are currently twice the price of conventional diesel units, but energy-related running costs are between three and five times cheaper. Solaris electric buses are currently operating in Brunswick (Poland), and Klagenfurt (Austria), while the former city has a requirement for four additional units, and two vehicles have been ordered by Rhinebad in Dusseldorf.

Dutch bus manufacturer VDL Bus & Coach unveiled its Citea Electric, 12-metre all electric city bus, with Ziehl-Abegg wheel-hub drive and a choice of power supply technologies in Geneva. The power options include Valence lithium-ion batteries and power management, quick charging by induction, trolley or plug-in inputs, or a “range extender” using a battery, a fuel cell or a diesel generator.

At the same show, Swiss company ABB exhibited its “flash” charging system, using a roof-mounted, laser-controlled moving arm that connects to a receptacle located in the bus shelter roof. Recharging time is claimed to be only 15 seconds at each intermediate stop, followed by a more comprehensive three- to four-minute charge at terminus points.

We have devoted considerable attention to the subject of electric buses in recent issues, and the wide range of developing technology that has been featured suggests that no consensus on the most appropriate universal approach has yet been found. This situation is likely to persist, as individual cities and countries follow their own agendas with regard to routes, distances and available power supplies.

There is no doubt that great political leverage is being used worldwide to reduce emissions and carbon footprints, and the operational profile of urban passenger transport makes it an ideal playground for new technologies. We believe that a similar era of alternative-traction experimentation may also dawn in South Africa sometime soon.

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