27 September 2018 Kate Palmer

New Zealand has a well-deserved reputation for innovation and with the rollout of the first electric double-decker bus fleet in the southern hemisphere, we’re again ahead of the pack.

In July, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Tranzit launched a plan for a fleet of 10 double-decker buses to service Wellington residents this year and 32 by 2021, with the goal of achieving a 100% electric bus fleet

This is well ahead of the US, which is aiming to have its first electric double-decker bus by 2019.

WSP Opus is working with Tranzit to help with recharging the vehicles – one of the biggest challenges facing any electric vehicle.                                              

Kristian Jensen, WSP Opus Project Director Utilities and Electrical, says that our existing infrastructure wasn’t designed to cope with the demand pressures of electric buses.

“In many cases the transformers were only designed to give 2kW per house in a residential area and, where you may have a 500kW transformer in a large commercial district, one electric bus could use all of that capacity during one fast recharge.”

“Hills and route length present difficulties – as do different seasons. In winter you’ll be using more lighting and heating; even using windscreen wipers uses more energy.”

Because the vehicle has to carry batteries to power its journey, they are heavier than a normal bus.

“That mass presents its own challenges because you’re already pushing the limits on weight and stability. If the bus loses charge how do you recharge it? If it breaks down, or needs to have a tyre changed while on the road, it’s an onerous exercise to repair or recover.”

Jensen says these problems aren’t unique to New Zealand and are being tackled by many international cities by WSP including in Singapore and London. He believes that the technology that is coming will remove many of the current challenges.

“Battery technology is taking massive leaps forward, what we’re doing today simply wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. Now we’re seeing some really viable solutions – such as better batteries with quicker recharging and also induction chargers or hydrogen fuel cells.”

Saul Chambers, WSP Opus Manager, Sustainability & Climate Change Solutions, says that as we transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles we are seeing the ever-growing demands for the technical skills of senior electrical engineers.                                                                               

“Many of our clients are looking to be leaders or early adopters, however, we are seeing many businesses, both large and small, needing advice on electric vehicle recharging. It’s an exciting time, very much like the transition from the horse and cart to the motor vehicle in the 19th century. It’s great to see New Zealand once again punching above its weight.”

Charging ahead

Our experts are using innovative technology and design solutions to make the complex problem of reducing fleet emissions into an achievable strategy.

Here’s our pick of the top four things that will transform this space.

  1. Induction charging: a shared electric network would become more viable if inductive charging technologies enabled the vehicles to restore battery power while moving. Inductive charging could be particularly beneficial on heavily used future public transit corridors and across inner city locations.

  2. Fuels beyond electric: today’s ambitious electric vehicle production depends on the global supply of rare battery minerals (primarily lithium and cobalt). China’s initiative to use E10 biofuel, containing 10 per cent ethanol, is headed towards a planned 2020 roll-out across the country.

  3. Reliability is key: reliable, available charging infrastructure dictates the local uptake of electric vehicles. Regulation of the technology (both charging points and visibility of pricing) is, therefore, key to widespread distribution.

  4. Regulation adaptation: large fleet operators, including freight hauliers, local authority services, public transport and private hire fleets, have a major opportunity to change the electric vehicle mix significantly within a very short timescale. This relies on them having confidence that the vehicles and supporting regulation will meet their everyday operational requirements.