In The News
Beyond the Bus: Charge Management
Published by Mass Transit
Interest in zero emission bus fleets is growing as states and local municipalities mandate reductions in greenhouse gases and transit agencies develop their own sustainability initiatives. Complete mobility solutions developed on the supply side of the industry include planning and scheduling tools to help transit providers optimize their current fleets, while keeping options open for future growth.
INIT, Innovations in Transportation Inc., offers an integrated suite of electromobility tools to aid users through the many stages of e-bus integration including route planning, charge management, operations control and data collection/analysis.
One of the company’s electromobility products, eMOBILE-PLAN, has been developed as a planning and simulation tool that allows transit agencies and OEM’s to simulate and optimize numerous deployment block scenarios while considering the unique constraints that electric buses have.
“With eMOBILE-PLAN comparing all conceivable scenarios allows agencies to make sound deployment strategies both prior to and after procurement of electric buses,” said Ryan Mackem, electromobility business development manager at INIT.
Mackem explains that the eMOBILE-PLAN’s optimizer considers an array of variables such as the types of electric buses, battery types, temperature ranges, route profiles, variable sizes of e-bus fleets and mixed fleets, different types of charging stations and their placement within the network, and electricity costs based on peaks in demand.
“One of the immediate advantages of eMOBILE-PLAN is the reduction in the amount of effort it takes to plan blocks for e-buses,” said Mackem. “Rather than having the planner attempt to manually create time consuming blocks searching for both range and cost efficiency, eMOBILE-PLAN allows the planner to simply enter the parameters and run the optimizer to quickly produce the results. This gives the planner the ability to run multiple scenarios where they can analyze the efficiency of each block.”
Mackem notes that finding the right block scenario is a matter of economics. He says that finding ways to deploy e-buses on longer or additional blocks will be required as an agency’s percentage of e-buses in their fleet increases over time.
“As a planning tool, eMOBILE-PLAN has no limitations on the number of electric and conventional buses it can optimize simultaneously,” said Mackem. “In addition, the system can deal with any number of routes, and the user can include or exclude specific routes.”
Mackem says while the use of depot chargers is prevalent, on-route opportunity charging will be critical to the scalability of zero-emission fleets as more government mandates come into effect.
He added, “As an agency’s electric fleet expands, the aim of eMOBILE-PLAN is to determine how many vehicles and charging stations are required for each strategy and locate the best position to place the stations.”
New Flyer of America Inc., has more than five decades of experience manufacturing zero-emission buses. In January 2019, New Flyer Infrastructure Solutions™ was launched to “support mobility projects from start to finish and focus on energy management optimization as well as infrastructure planning and development.”
Not only does New Flyer Infrastructure Solutions provide optimized energy management strategies, but it can provide support throughout the entire design, installation and testing process to “ensure safe, reliable and cost-effective infrastructure projects.”
Once an electric fleet has been established, David Warren, director, sustainable transportation, says access to real-time data is a key factor to a program’s continued success.
“Real-time data can make the difference between a good versus great electric bus program, and harnessing data and performance metrics is key to efficient management and energy conservation,” explained Warren. “New Flyer’s over-the-air analytics dashboard, Connect 360™, is powered by its New Flyer Connect® technology and offers insight into the operation, charging and maintenance needs for new battery-electric buses. Key business analytics provided include battery state-of-charge, outside air temperature trends, GPS location and average speeds, HVAC energy consumption per mile, regenerative braking, range achieved and remaining and energy consumption (kWh/mile). Benefits of Connect 360™ business analytics provide operators additional range capability with ideal driver performance, decision-making information to optimize charging strategies and intelligence on how to preserve battery energy throughout the day; all resulting in reduced operating cost and maximum fleet utilization.”
Warren says that with the continued transition to zero-emission fleets, the focus has shifted to buses that can meet longer range requirements, such as those traveling more than 150 miles without recharging.
“These buses will need more than 400 kWh battery packs, utilize more powerful depot chargers to reduce charging time and employ smart chargers that use software to optimize the charging strategy and reduce infrastructure and energy costs,” said Warren.
To help transit agencies transition their bus fleets to zero-emission, New Flyer opened its Vehicle Innovation Center (VIC), where visitors interact with learning exhibits, classroom programs and hands-on bus demonstrations. Part of the VIC’s program includes electric fleet planning, management and maintenance essentials. The facility also consists a full-size transit bus simulator to help drivers learn to pilot an electric bus in a manner that increases range by up to 20 percent with the use of regenerative braking.
“The transition toward electric buses is not a revolution. It’s an evolution requiring careful time and consideration that effectively charts the course of integration to existing fleets, and does so with prudent spending of taxpayer dollars,” said Warren. “For New Flyer, it is no longer just about the bus – it’s about providing complete, connected and sustainable mobility solutions.”
Optibus Ltd., notes that transitioning to an electric bus fleet can bring new challenges to transit planning and scheduling. The company specifically mentions the concern surrounding peak vehicle requirements as buses temporarily rotate out of service to charge.
“Schedulers must strategize when and where to charge to avoid the need for extra diesel buses,” explained Amos Haggiag, co-founder and CEO of Optibus.
Haggiag also says the choice between returning a bus to the depot to charge or setting up charging stops along routes can be complicated. He says several considerations play into when and where a bus will be charged such as whether a bus battery will be brought to full charge or only partial charge, can driver breaks be scheduled to coincide with charge times and can charge times occur during low electricity-demand times.
“There’s no doubt that the addition of these new parameters to planning and scheduling make an already complex process that much more complicated,” said Haggiag. “And, good scheduling is paramount to the globalization of [battery electric buses].”
He continued, “Because of this, even more so than with traditional buses, optimization tools are necessary to minimize costs and allow electric vehicles to seamlessly integrate into existing transit systems. As most scheduling software lacks the algorithmic ability to address the intricacies of electric vehicles, these tools have been largely unavailable. However, a new generation of scheduling and planning software solves this problem by employing advanced optimization algorithms and AI.”
Optibus Electric Vehicle Scheduling uses EV-specific metrics to create an integrated and optimized charging plan.
“Schedulers can address parameters specific to electric vehicles such as battery and charger types, the locations of charging stations, and variations in electricity prices throughout the day. Additionally, setting a minimum charge requirement can absolve driver’s fears of running out of battery on-route,” explained Haggiag. “In many cases electrification begins with a few vehicles that are added to a diesel-based fleet. This means that scheduling is required for a hybrid fleet with different vehicle types and modern tools can address this within one schedule, saving work and increasing EV utilization.”
“The successful introduction of [battery electric buses] to public transportation is dependent on the use of technology and policy to support sustainable transit,” said Haggiag. “For transit agencies, employing scheduling optimization software is necessary to maximize operational efficiency and take full advantage of the lower cost of electricity compared to diesel/natural gas. Additionally, improvements in battery and electric grid technologies, as well as economies-of-scale created by the expansion of the [battery electric bus] market, will further decrease both capital and operating costs, enabling global electric vehicle adoption.”
Planning for scale
Proterra says transit customers have confidence that battery-electric technology has both the range and power to meet route requirements. Instead of one to two bus pilot programs, Proterra is seeing larger deployments, between 10 to 50 buses, which makes the shift in focus to infrastructure and fleet planning more important.
“As more fleet operators transition a larger percentage of their fleet to electric vehicles, they encounter a new set of challenges and upfront costs beyond simply buying new vehicles. To meet this challenge, Proterra recently introduced Proterra Energy™ fleet solutions, a full suite of options that enable turnkey delivery of a complete energy ecosystem for heavy-duty electric fleets, including design, build, financing, operations, maintenance and energy optimization,” said Matt Horton, chief commercial officer for Proterra.
Proterra says its energy fleet solutions provides a customizable and comprehensive one-stop shop for customers transitioning to an electric fleet. Following the vehicle procurement process, Proterra can provide high-fidelity route simulations, fleet modeling and a detailed total cost of ownership analysis to determine the right vehicle, battery and charging configurations to meet individual route requirements.
Proterra also points to the implementation of smart tools as a way to help customers plan for scale of their electric bus programs.
“As the fleet grows, smart energy management, energy optimization and maintenance of vehicle batteries and charging systems becomes key,” said Horton. “The Proterra APEX™ connected vehicle intelligence system integrates the data streams from vehicles, batteries and charging systems, and offers customers access to historical and real-time performance information about their electric vehicle fleet, to improve vehicle and charging operational efficiency. Further, the APEX system offers charge management features such as scheduled charging, monitoring and control of charging stations, to manage power demand and reduce electricity costs.”
On the topic of electricity costs, Proterra has seen transit agencies engaging with utilities earlier in the process, which helps to secure rates. Additionally, Proterra can recommend the appropriate charging solution, leveraging universal, industry standards, to meet requirements of a given site with options available to incrementally scale.
On a final note regarding scalability, Proterra says more agencies are leveraging innovative financing solutions to deploy larger fleets in a shorter amount of time. Proterra recently partnered with Mitsui & Co, Ltd., to create a $200 million credit facility to support its battery lease program for transit buses. The company explains this enables electric buses to be competitively priced against diesel buses and introduces options for second life applications.
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