This article first appeared as a part of HDR's Experts Talk Interview series. Converting to all-electric bus fleets can help get us closer to a zero emission future, but the process is complicated. The conversion affects everything from infrastructure and operations to workforce develop- ment, and it often requires forging a new relationship with the local utility company. Meanwhile, battery technology is changing rapidly, so what isn’t feasible today could be possible tomorrow. The key is to be ready and have a workable plan. Harpal Kapoor has more than four decades of experience with transit agencies in executive management and as a consultant, helping them implement these types of fleet conversions and changing their profiles. In this interview, he provides a road map for how to approach a fleet conversion and discusses some of the challenges that often appear dur- ing the process. Converting to an Electric Bus Fleet Q: What should fleet owners consider before they start making the conversion to an electric fleet? A: Battery electric buses and fuel-cell electric buses are still evolving technologies and have different operational and maintenance charac- teristics than traditional diesel vehicles or other alternatively fueled vehicles (i.e., CNG). In particular, charging or fueling infrastructure How to Head Off Problems and Get the Most Efficiency Out of an Electric Fleet Conversion
Q: How can fleet owners create a smooth transition to electric? A: Understanding the technology and its gaps in the early stages is the first step — it all comes back to the road map. This road map should cover all aspects of the process, including an analysis of the expected routes (length, gradients, number of stops, etc.), ambient temperatures, expected passenger loads and other data to characterize the parameters under which an electric vehicle needs to operate. At HDR, our team has developed the Zero+ Fleet Optimizer, a GIS-based modeling tool that’s cross-layered with operational fleet data to provide superior operating, charging and energy cost scenarios. Once route-specific data is established, we can develop a charging profile for the entire fleet. A clear understanding of fleet power require- ments is the foundation for a strategy of data-driven decisions and negotiations with the local utility company. This, in turn, allows utility companies to plan the upgrades to their grid systems to meet the power demand. There are a lot of moving parts in this technology, and successful tran- sition is based on smart planning with modeling tools, selection of the right technologies (vehicle and charging) and working with the utility companies for a scaled-up operation — starting the transition from a fleet of 5-10 vehicles to the entire fleet of 100 or above. Q: What are some common issues with converting a fleet to electric vehicles? A: The issues vary for each transit agency based on their geographical locations, past technology used and the duty cycles. While studying the pilot testing of buses in early deployments with transit agencies like WMATA in D.C. and MBTA in Boston, I found that electric buses did not provide a one-to-one replacement of a diesel bus.
requirements are significantly different and can vary substantially based on operating conditions, unlike conventional vehicles. I’d recommend that fleet owners develop a con- version “road map” that considers all of these factors prior to the purchase of their first ve- hicle. They need an investment and operating plan for the entire average 12-year life cycle for their electric bus fleet. Adoption of the road map begins with estab- lishing a vision which is consistent with the agency’s goals and the regulatory environ- ment in which it must function. The effort then moves to research and planning to develop a clear understanding of what technology is available and how it will or will not work in achieving operating objectives. Create a fun- damental foundation to inform future decisions.
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