The CEO of the leading US electric bus manufacturer has said that everything that has an urban drive cycle will ultimately be an electric vehicle.
Ryan Popple, president and CEO of Proterra, the leading U.S. electric bus company has told US media just that and reckons in the US at least that it will be achieved in the next decade.
Popple argues that the future of transit isn’t cleaner diesel, hybrids, natural gas, or hydrogen fuel-cell buses, but pure electric vehicles and he says it is being driven by the rapidly dropping price of batteries along with new fast-charging technology that will render the competition obsolete.
“Right now, the biggest question isn’t which technology will win in the bus market — it’s how quickly all-electrics will take over, and whether Proterra can keep ahead of the Chinese competition, like electric vehicle giant BYD,” said Popple.
Popple says the company is focused on electrifying the transit market, which he expects “will be 100 percent electric” in a decade or so.
If Popple’s vision for electrifying buses sounds as ambitious as Elon Musk’s is for cars, perhaps that’s because he was an early employee of Tesla and served as senior director of finance at the company. Like Tesla, Proterra is not putting new batteries into an old vehicle design. It has redesigned the bus from the ground up to optimise it for an all-electric drive with fast-charging capabilities.
As a finance man, Popple reckons that the numbers no longer add up for the competition. Interestingly Proterra actually built and sold four hydrogen fuel-cell buses before battery prices started to plummet.
“The reason we don’t market a hydrogen fuel-cell bus for customers is that it’s a really bad decision for them,” Popple has told US media.
He says that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are a “technology looking for a problem.”
“I’ve been making that case for more than a decade but the exponentially-growing success of electric vehicles now simply leaves no significant room (or rationale) in the marketplace for hydrogen vehicles, big or small,” he has said.
Proterra’s 12.1 metre electric buses have fuel efficiency equivalent to 10.6 l/100 km, making them 20 to 25 per cent of the per-km fueling cost of regular diesels, hybrids, and natural gas buses. They also have much lower maintenance costs. So over the 10- to 12-year lifetime of a typical urban transport bus, the Proterra says its pure electric buses can save around $555,000 in total operational costs compared to a typical diesel.
So with the kind of sharp price drops in batteries it was only a matter of time before the higher first-cost of the electric bus was dwarfed by the fuel and maintenance costs savings. Popple says that point has already been passed and electric buses are now less expensive across a lifetime than the other forms of fuel whether that is diesel, hybrid or hydrogen.
Today, with batteries in the $AuD400/kwh range, Proterra is offering private operators in the US a deal where they buy the bus and lease the battery for the same upfront costs as the diesel alternative, but with guaranteed monthly savings. That is very similar to the kind of lease deal for domestic solar power that proved game-changing in the US.
Proterra now has a 18 month backlog of orders with a cumulative value of $AUD133 million. while the company has also been winning grants awarded in the US Federal Transit Authority’s (FTA) Low and No Emission Vehicle Deployment Program.
The last remaining “Achilles Heel” for electric vehicles has been charging time, however the latest superfast charging technology answers that problem .
Proterra can give its bus an extra two or three hours of drive time in a matter of minutes with its on-route charging system. A key enabling feature is the ability to recover as much as 92 per cent regenerative breaking energy which allows each bus to go a lot further on each charge. Proterra has demonstrated its buses can travel more than 1100km in 24 hours using such a system.
While Proterra’s five minute charging is fast, one Chinese bus company uses a similar on-route charging system — but with much faster bursts. Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive, which is a subsidiary of high-speed train maker CRRC, uses advanced super-capacitors to charge batteries for 5 km more travel distance in just ten seconds!
The bus “operates a 11-km route with 24 stops,” so superfast charging allows it to just keep going and going and going — all the while delivering “one-tenth the energy cost of a diesel bus with lifetime fuel savings of $200,000.” The city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province, where the bus factory is located, plans to purchase 1,200 of these buses over the next three years.
In Europe in 2013 engineering powerhouse ABB delivered a bus using a wireless flash system that allows it to be recharged in 15 seconds at every stop with an overhead device that delivers 400 kilowatts of electricity to the Geneva public transport authority. The pilot test was a success, and Geneva is planning a larger rollout of the system in the near future.
Electric buses with fast or superfast charging are a game-changer in the pursuit of affordable zero-emission transit. For those concerned that over the next decade we are facing a glut of cheap day-time solar power that will wreak havoc on the grid, have no fear: Electric vehicle makers (and buyers) are eagerly looking forward to the day when they can recharge their EVs during the day with abundant, low cost, renewable power.
Poppel’s point that ‘everything that has an urban drive cycle will ultimately be an electric vehicle ‘ will also see the likes of garbage trucks, delivery vans, food carts/trucks and on and on will be powered by pure electric powertrains.
The future of low-carbon transit and transportation is here — and it is electrifying.