New Foray

India experiments with pure electric buses

The electric bus made its debut in India in March 2016, with the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC)

taking the lead in the deployment of the zero-emission bus. Delhi has followed suit, with a trial currently under way. Globally, the demand for such buses, which are considered to have a zero-carbon footprint, is rising. Interest is fast catching on in India too, which is realising the benefits of deploying a bus powered solely by electricity, in terms of reduction in pollution. However, a new technology comes with its own challenges, especially those of price in comparison with already established technologies.

Pioneering initiatives in India

Bengaluru’s electric bus is fully air-conditioned (AC) with a capacity to seat around 41 passengers. The bus operates between Majestic and Kadugodi and the fare is similar to that of Volvo buses. It weighs 18 tonnes and has a length of 12,267 mm, width of 2,550 mm and height of 3,486 mm. According to BMTC, the upfront cost of the electric bus is Rs 27 million as compared to Rs 9 million for an AC Volvo bus. However, the operational cost of an electric bus is estimated at Rs 7 per km as against Rs 18 per km for an AC Volvo bus.

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) began the trial of an electric bus in March 2016 at the initiative of the Delhi Dialogue Commission and the Delhi government’s Transport De-

partment. The government has also set up a charging station at the Millennium Depot for the bus, which runs 250 km on a charge of five hours. It is being operated between Delhi Secretariat and Central Secretariat on a promotional basis by China-based electric bus manufacturer BYD Auto Industry Company and Indian importer the Smart Group.

The bus is air-conditioned, has CCTVs and a public address system, and is fitted with fire-fighting equipment, a medical kit and special seating for differently abled people. It also has a fireproof battery with a life of more than 4,000 recharging cycles.

Going forward, the DTC plans to purchase 25 such electric buses to counter pollution in the city. Tenders for its procurement are planned to be launched shortly after receiving cabinet approval.

In April 2016, Mumbai’s Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport [BEST] Undertaking announced plans to introduce 25-30 electric buses in the city. BEST has also received a grant of Rs 1 billion from the civic corporation to convert compressed natural gas (CNG) buses to electric buses.

Activity in the manufacturing space

The potential for electric buses in India has spurred global and Indian manufacturers to expand their capabilities. In March 2016, China-based BYD, better known as Build Your Dream, announced plans to manufacture and launch its pure electric buses in India in a joint venture (JV) with Smart Dreams. The electric bus manufacturing facility will be built at ModiCiti (near Moradabad) in Uttar Pradesh. BYD is one of the largest electric vehicle suppliers in the world with a presence in 190 cities across 43 countries.

In July 2016, auto component manufacturer JBM Auto formed a JV with Poland’s Solaris Bus & Coach SA for manufacturing electric and hybrid buses. Earlier, in February 2016, JBM Auto had unveiled a fully electric bus, Ecolife, which was developed in partnership with Solaris Bus & Coach. The Ecolife is planned to be manufactured in India using Solaris’s technology. The vehicle will be powered by lithium batteries and run 150-200 km in 10-15 hours of city bus operations.

In January 2015, Ashok Leyland unveiled the Versa EV from its UK arm Optare plc. The 36-seater bus is planned to be introduced in India in 2017 and is targeted for feeder, airport tarmac and intra-city applications.

Global market

As of 2015, the global electric bus market accounted for sales of 19,059 units. The market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20.9 per cent in terms of volume during the period 2016-2025. Among various technologies, the parallel pure electric bus is expected to be the largest segment (50.8 per cent share) in the global electric bus market in 2025.

In Europe, the UK, Germany and France are the major markets for electric buses. The UK government launched a double-decker electric bus in London in 2015. Outside Europe, Côte d’Ivoire, Uruguay and Brazil are expected to be the early adopters of electric buses. In May 2016, BYD supplied the first electric bus for Santiago (Chile), as part of the city’s Green Zone initiative. In the same month, a China-manufactured electric bus began a two-year trial run in Montevideo, Uruguay. The pilot is part of Uruguay’s plan to replace diesel-fuelled buses in Montevideo with electric vehicles by 2026.

The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Low or No Emission Vehicle Deployment Programme is encouraging the deployment of pure electric buses. In September 2015, the FTA announced the availability of $22.5 million from its fiscal year 2015 funds and in April 2016, it selected seven projects for the deployment of low- or no-emission transit buses.

The major players operating in the electric bus market are AB Volvo, Alexander Dennis Limited, Ashok Leyland Limited, BYD Company Limited, Daimler AG, EBUSCO, FAW Group Corporation, King Long United Automotive Industry Company Limited, Proterra Incorporated, Shenzhen Wuzhoulong Motors Company Limited, Solaris Bus & Coach S.A., and Zhengzhou Yutong Group Company Limited.

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Benefits

According to a study by the Indian Institute of Science, electric buses generate 27 per cent more revenue and 82 per cent more profits per day than diesel buses. In addition, an electric bus emits about 50 kg less carbon dioxide (CO2) per day than a diesel bus. A diesel bus emits around 77 tonnes of CO2 every year.

Moreover, in its entire life cycle, an electric bus is estimated to save fuel worth around $365,000 as compared to diesel buses and $225,000 as compared to CNG buses. Electric buses are less noisy and require less maintenance, compared to their conventional counterparts.

In closing

Although pure electric buses should be the preferred choice in terms of sustainability, their demand is still low because the price of an electric bus is almost three times that of its conventional counterpart. It is estimated that an electric bus would cost Rs 30 million as compared to a diesel bus which would cost Rs 8.5 million. Inadequate infrastructure, such as lack of charging stations, is another constraint in the adoption of electric buses in public transit systems.

The electric bus market is still in a nascent phase and requires further technical development for increased adoption. The

premium price of electric buses is a major hindrance to its large-scale adoption for public transport services. As the technology matures and pilots produce favourable results, the market share of electric buses is expected to grow.

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