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Overcoming the operational challenges of electric buses: lessons learnt from China

Buses has been at the forefront of vehicle electrification. The launch of “One Thousand Vehicles in Ten Cities” National Energy-efficient and New Energy Vehicles demonstration project in 2009 marked China’s national effort to promote electric buses. Since then, e-buses have outnumbered diesel buses and natural-gas buses, becoming the largest bus fleet. Even so, the operation efficiency of e-buses remains a prominent challenge. Based on big data analysis and the survey conducted to bus operators and transport bureau officials in fifteen Chinese cities, this study demonstrates the lifecycle benefits and measures for operation efficiency improvement for e-buses.

Executive Summary

Buses has been at the forefront of vehicle electrification. The launch of “One Thousand Vehicles in Ten Cities” National Energy-efficient and New Energy Vehicles demonstration project in 2009 marked China’s national effort to promote electric buses. Since then, the number of electric buses (e-buses) in China has kept ratcheting up. In 2018, the nation’s e-buses have outnumbered diesel buses and natural-gas buses, becoming the largest bus fleet. According to the Eight Measures to Control Air Pollution of the Ministry of Transport, by 2020, the number of new energy buses in China should exceed 400 thousand, and the e-buses will constitute a lion share toward fulfilling the goal.Although the number of e-buses has reached the tipping point in China, the operation efficiency of e-buses remains a prominent challenge. At present, city bus operators are struggling with low availability rates, shorter daily operating mileage, and frequent breakdowns of e-buses. As a result, to replace one diesel bus often requires more than one electric buses, to fulfill the same operating mileage.Based on the lifecycle cost analysis, the research reveals that operation efficiency improvement offers the largest cost saving for e-bus operators. At the cost level as of 2018, per each electric bus procured, realizing the 1:1 replacement of e-buses to diesel buses can save 1.1million RMB of lifecycle cost. In such a circumstance, even without the public subsidies, by reducing the number of e-buses deployed for service, e-bus operators can enjoy considerable lifecycle cost-savings, although the procurement cost of e-buses remains high.Based on big data analysis and the survey conducted to bus operators and transport bureau officials in fifteen Chinese cities, this study demonstrates that in reality, e-buses’ operation efficiency are affected by: the mismatch between e-buses technical performance and the operation requirement, the insufficient plan and provision of charging infrastructure, and the lack of coordinated operation and charging schedules for e-buses. At the procurement stage, bus operators should begin with scanning the overall charging infrastructure availability at bus terminals and depots. Constraints on charging infrastructure provisions will affect the selection of charging methods (that is, fast charging or slow charging). Bus operators should then procure the right vehicle model that fits different operational requirements of fast charging and slow charging. Improvement on the operation schedules based on the charging needs will also be necessary to save the number of e-buses being deployed and enhance e-bus operation efficiency. Last but not the least, to improve e-buses’ operation efficiency relies on joint efforts from national governments, industrial association, local municipal governments, bus operators, and electric bus manufacturers.Establish a national testing, scoring, and noticing system for the technical performance of different e-bus brands.Establish a nation-city-operator three level e-buses operation monitoring data platform to track the progress of e-buses and inform decision-making at all levels.Subsidize the construction of charging infrastructure and the upgrade of the distribution grid at bus terminals and depots; encourage bus operators and city transport bureaus to prioritize charging infrastructure planning to the procurement stage.When determining the technical specifications for e-bus procurement, bus operators should weigh in practical operational requirements (fast charging or slow charging and daily operating mileages) and seasonal variations in battery ranges as well as battery degradation. Biding requirements to ensure the long-term reliability of e-buses should be included in the procurement document.Foster the development and adoption of bus scheduling and operation software to ensure efficient and coordinated operation and charging schedules for e-buses.

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