Since trams first scared the horses back in the mid 19th Century, electric vehicles have ever-so-slowly been creeping into the public’s perception. Now, with the likes of major manufacturers like Renault and Nissan making pure electric cars, they’re well and truly on the road.
However, the cost of batteries and length of recharging have meant that public service vehicles like buses have yet to fully embrace this new technology. But that may be all set to change, with British engineering company Arup and Northern Irish manufacturer Wrightbus, along with others, collaborating on a project that may bring the day of widespread electric public transport rather closer.
That project is the development of the UK’s first wirelessly charged, all-electric bus route in Milton Keynes, planned to be up and running in June 2013.
While there have been electric buses before, they suffer from the perennial problem of all electric vehicles – the long time needed to recharge the batteries, usually overnight.
Wireless charging technology changes all that.
The Milton Keynes’ trial will have charging points at three locations along an already established bus route, meaning that a series of ten minute stops through the day is all that is required for a recharge, at no inconvenience to passengers as they will take place during driver changeovers.
While these ten minute charges won’t fully top up the buses’ batteries, there will be enough power to ensure that each vehicle is able to complete its daily time-table, which could be as long as 20 hours.
Charging stops are so rapid because with wireless technology there’s no time-consuming need to connect large, heavy cable to the bus. What’s more, roadside charging also means that the prohibitively expensive and heavy batteries that would otherwise be needed on such a hard-working vehicle can be replaced with smaller, lighter and cheaper units.
This is the first time there will be a completely electrified bus route in the UK, as in the past electric vehicles have operated in tandem with diesel buses, which simply take over when the electric ones run out of juice. This time round, the electric buses will work the same hours as their diesel counterparts.
The team behind the scheme also hope that they will be able to show that it is marginally cheaper to operate electric buses than diesel ones. Should that be the case, it will be one more plus point in their favour.
The route currently transports more than 775,000 passengers a year over a total of 450,000 miles and by replacing existing diesel buses the scheme’s supporters expect to remove about 500 tonnes of tailpipe CO2 emissions a year and further 45 tonnes of other noxious emissions.
With running costs £12,000 to £15,000 a year lower than diesel buses, this will do much to offset the additional upfront investment required for electric buses, which are generally double the price.
When the trial is over in 2017, it is hoped that there will be sufficient data to demonstrate the economic viability of low-carbon public transport, which the partners hope could kick-start electric bus projects in other towns and cities worldwide.