Race to zero: $36m electric bus pilot takes off

Tuesday, 26 October, 2021

Race to zero: $36m electric bus pilot takes off

A $36m pilot program, aimed at driving a cleaner future for public transport, will see 40 new electric buses deployed across Sydney.

As part of the project, the Leichhardt depot in NSW is being retrofitted to include the use of 40 electric buses with a combination of 368 kWh and 422 kWh onboard batteries, five 120 kW electric bus chargers capable of charging two buses at a time, thirty-one 80 kW electric bus chargers, 2.5 MW/4.9 MWh of stationary batteries and 387 kW of rooftop solar PV. The electric bus fleet will service public bus routes in Sydney’s Inner West, the CBD, Mascot and Green Square.

The first 12 of the 40 new electric buses will start entering service this month, with the rest of the fleet arriving over the next six months.

Being delivered through a joint venture between Transgrid and Zenobe, with support from Transit Systems and Transport for NSW, the project is said to be an Australian first, transitioning diesel buses to electric, in addition to upgrading the charging infrastructure and retrofitting the Leichhardt bus depot.

Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said the pilot aims to show the technical and commercial viability of using electric buses travelling a full route without the need to stop to recharge along the way.

NSW Minister for Transport Rob Stokes said, “We’ve set an ambitious target to transition our fleet of 8000 buses to zero emission technology by 2030 and this project is a huge step in that direction.”

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is injecting $24.5 million, which will enable project counterparties Zenobe and Transgrid to own, operate and lease the electric buses and infrastructure to Transit Systems and Transport NSW. The project is also being supported by a $5 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and $6.5 million in equity from Transgrid and Zenobe.

“The innovative financing model adopted means we’re able to deliver 40 new electric buses for the Inner West quickly, at no extra cost to the NSW taxpayer,” Stokes said.

NSW Treasurer and Minister for Energy and the Environment Matt Kean said, “Transport is one of the major sources of carbon emissions, which is why we need to forge ahead with initiatives that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and drive us towards a cleaner and greener future.”

The three-year trial will drive the commercialisation of electric buses in Australia and continue the development of the Australian Government’s Future Fuel Strategy, which aims to empower consumer choice, stimulate industry development and reduce emissions in the road transport sector.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said previous electric bus trials in Australia have involved fewer than four buses each, making this trial important to demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility of the electrification of large depot-scale bus fleets capable of travelling a complete route without needing to be recharged.

“Heavy vehicle transport is an important area to target given that together buses and trucks account for 25% of transport-related carbon emissions and 5% of Australia’s total carbon emissions.”

Electrifying the NSW bus fleet will drive down noise and pollution on Sydney’s busy road network. It is expected to abate two-thirds of carbon emitted for every kilometre travelled, saving 2600 tCO2e annually and up to 39,000 tCO2e over the expected lifetime of the equipment.

The transport sector was responsible for 17.5% of Australia’s emissions in the year to March 2021.1 This was down 13% on the previous year, reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel and economic activity. But emissions are increasing again: they rose 5% in the March quarter and are projected to rebound in 2022, peaking at 101 Mt CO2-e in 2026.2

CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said that while transport continues to contribute significantly to Australia’s carbon footprint, our uptake of electrical vehicles has stalled. Last year, EVs made up less than 1% of total car sales in Australia3, compared to 10.7% in the UK and 75% in Norway.

“Improving these figures is critical to the ongoing decarbonisation of the economy. And with vehicle makers confirming they will stop producing pure internal combustion engines in coming years, now is the time to accelerate our transition. There is [an] enormous opportunity to electrify substantial elements of our transport sector, including cars, buses and heavy vehicles,” Learmonth said.

Zenobe co-founder and Director Steven Meersman said the project hallmarks a new way to make an environmentally sustainable solution for our public transport fleets, which is financially sustainable as well.

Transgrid Acting CEO Brian Salter said, “Our energy system is evolving rapidly and Transgrid and its commercial arm, Lumea, are playing an important role in leading the transition to a clean energy future. Electrification of transport is an essential feature of the modern energy system and this initiative is a welcome addition to the grid-scale batteries and multipurpose energy hubs that Lumea is developing throughout Australia.  We are delighted to be bringing Zenobē’s global experience and capability to Australia through this project.”

Taking the successful electric pilot programs to scale has required significant planning and infrastructure works to ensure the grid and electrical network can cope with the charging and energy storage needs, said Clint Feuerherdt, CEO of SeaLink Travel Group, which owns Transit Systems.

“With responsibility for transporting over 207 million passengers each year, we strive to not just meet the community’s needs today, but ensure we futureproof our solutions with sustainable outcomes that will benefit us all tomorrow.

1 Quarterly update of Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory: March 2021, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources
2 Australia’s emissions projections 2020, December 2020, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources p29

3 State of Electric Vehicles August 2021, Electric Vehicle Council

Images supplied by Transit Systems.

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