Regional New South Wales could emerge as a hotspot for electric bus manufacturing, as the NSW parliament considers the role local suppliers could play in replacing the 8,000 strong Sydney bus fleet with all-electric models.
The NSW parliamentary inquiry into electric buses found that there was significant interest in establishing a manufacturing base for electric buses in regional New South Wales, which could help the NSW government its fleet of diesel and gas buses.
The NSW parliament launched an inquiry into the future of a local bus industry, after the Berejiklian government announced that it wanted to transition all of Sydney’s public transport bus fleet to electric models, amounting to 8,000 buses.
In delivering its findings late last month, the inquiry endorsed the move, finding that while an electric bus fleet would initially cost more upfront, it would overall cost less than maintaining a diesel bus network, thanks to avoided fuel costs and reduced maintenance expenses.
“Electric buses are cheaper than diesel buses over their lifetime. While the vehicles cost more than diesel buses and require charging infrastructure, they cost less to run and maintain,” the inquiry found.
The inquiry also found that there would be wider flow on benefits from an electric bus fleet, including reduced air pollution and reduced noise.
“Electric buses will improve our cities, towns and suburbs through better air quality and quieter streets and also provide financial savings over their operational life”, committee chair Robyn Preston said. “The health benefits of the transition from diesel to electric vehicles could also lead to lower health costs”.
In fact, the inquiry concluded that electric buses could be so quiet, that it recommended that Transport NSW consider whether it was necessary to include noise emitters to alert pedestrians of oncoming buses.
The quietness of electric buses is a major benefit but it poses a safety risk for pedestrians and passengers with disability. Using an alert or noise emitter will help ensure people hear the bus when it’s nearby and avoid the risk of injury,” Preston added.
Nexport told the company that it had plans to partner with Chinese electric vehicle giant BYD to establish a manufacturing facility in the southern New South Wales town of Nowra. Nexport said that it was currently in negotiations with the New South Wales government about the possibility of support under the Special Activation Precincts initiative.
“It is anticipated that the localised chassis manufacturing site could be located in regional NSW and support upwards of 100 local jobs,” Nexport told the inquiry.
“The proposal would be for a streamlined manufacturing process using the might of BYD’s global supply chain combined with localised resource and content resulting in a globally sourced, cutting edge technology product built in NSW using local skills and labour.”
Nexport has previously been involved in an agreement struck with BYD to manufacturer electric vehicles based on BYD designs in South Australia.
The parliamentary inquiry also identified Queanbeyan, which sits on the boarder of the ACT, as another potential ideal location for electric bus assembly, given its co-location with other advanced manufacturing facilities.
“Southern regional NSW was suggested as a good location for electric bus manufacturing,” the inquiry report says.
“We heard that Queanbeyan’s closeness to existing Defence manufacturers and suppliers, and a skilled workforce, could make it an attractive, base for bus manufacturers. We were also told that buses made in Victoria come in to NSW via southern areas such as Queanbeyan.”
The NSW government could seek to replicate initiatives of other state governments that have sought to establish a local electric bus manufacturing base, including the Victorian government which has supported SEA Electric grow its offering of electric buses and trucks with manufacturing facilities in regional Victoria, and the South Australian government, which has provided a $2 million grant to support the production of two electric bus models.
The inquiry recommended that the NSW government work with both bus manufacturers and bus fleet operators to identify the infrastructure requirements, ensuring sufficient charging infrastructure and depots are established.
“Detailed planning will identify what charging infrastructure is best and what bus depot upgrades are needed. Setting out contract arrangements will give bus operators the certainty they need to invest in new depot infrastructure and vehicles,” Preston said.
The NSW government has yet to issue its response to the inquiry’s findings and recommendations.
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.