Energy technology company Enel X is bringing its electric bus charging infrastructure and services to Australia, in a bid to ride the wave of electrification coming in the nation’s public transport sector this decade.
The NSW government last year announced it wants its entire 8,000-strong bus fleet to be electric by 2030. Earlier this month, Victoria said all new buses would need to be electric by 2025, while the ACT plans to replace 90 diesel buses with e-buses over the next four years. Other states are also moving in the same direction.
This will require major infrastructure upgrades, both at depots – which are not currently big electricity users, but very soon will be – and along bus routes. It will also require investement in smart technology and a new approach to purchasing energy.
Enel X believes it has the holistic answer to this. The company specialises in wide range of smart energy services, from demand and supply management and EV charging, to microgrids and virtual power plants, and currently provides charging services to around 1400 e-buses, mostly in Chile and Colombia.
Jeff Renaud, head of Asia and Oceania for the company, says ambitious state government policy means the “time is now” to start marketing Enel X’s services in Australia. He says the company has both the technological solutions and the experience with energy markets to provide a “holistic” service to bus operators.
The service “can include necessary upgrades to depots, the charging stations themselves … the software platform that orchestrates the charging, and the energy supply – the actual electrons – that supply the depot,” he says.
He says the company would also consider financing electrification of bus fleets – something it has done in Latin America – though he adds it is early days and the financing model or models have not emerged. As yet, he says Enel X has not signed off on any deals with Australian bus operators.
Whether or not finance is needed, radical infrastructure and technology upgrades are inevitable. Enel X envisages a mixture of overnight bus depot charging and in-route fast charging. Renaud says the company wants as much of the electricity as possible to be renewably generated, adding when electrification really takes off there may be a need for in-depot stationary battery storage.
Further down the line, he says the buses or stationary batteries could also provide grid services, though that is some way off.
“It’s going to be a natural evolution. Today we’re talking about electrifying a minority of the overall bus fleet. The solution to managing the network issue is to look at which routes you’re electrifying, and staggering the schedule of those buses so at any time you have minimal number of buses at the depot charging,” he says.
“As you increase the number it becomes more challenging. You’ll likely see stationary energy storage required at depots as the penetration rate of e-buses goes up. But storage is not inexpensive, so its something that in our view should only be used if necessary.”
He says technologically that picks the most cost effective times to charge and puts minimal strain on the local network, is key.
“The first principle is do no harm. Which means trying to coordinate charging of bus fleets at times when it’s smart in realtion to the wholesale energy market, and to manage charging within the local network contraints.
“There could arise opportunities to have the depots or buses providing grid services – but I don’t think that’s something that’s a big piece of the equation today,” he says.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy and The Driven. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.