Wireless and overhead charging leads the electric bus brigade

Electric buses have different charging needs than electric passenger cars. The recurring stops on a bus route enable innovative systems where battery buses are charged from the top and the bottom. It is helping realize some of the promise of electric buses in reducing fossil fuel exhaust emissions in urban areas – especially from cheap and dirty diesel fuel.

Three years ago the then-recently installed CEO of Proterra zero-emission buses told GreenBiz “This electric bus market is going to be the first to eliminate fossil fuel use.” And it looks like his predictions are coming true.

Proterra now has 400+ buses in service or on order and also holds the world record for electric vehicle travel on a single charge: 1101 miles (1772 kilometres).

Overhead charging system

The charging needs of a commuter bus are much different from those of an electric passenger vehicle, and a main element of Proterra’s success has been its innovation in bus charging.

Its overhead on-route fast charging system, can deliver 12-15 miles per every 5 minutes of charging, enabling 24/7 vehicle operation. Charge stations can be installed at curbside pullouts, transit centers or bus stops.

Proterra Electric Bus Charging system

The electric commuter bus market is indeed growing and these new charging capabilities from Proterra and others are making it viable for cities and towns to invest in all-electric battery buses.

Just last week, buses were purchased or approved by councils or transit commission in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Brampton A bedroom community of Toronto). And that is just in Canada!

Intelligent Transport reports that sales of electric buses to U.S. public transit systems doubled in 2017. In August of 2017 San Joaquin, California committed to making its entire bus fleet electrical by 2025.

The Vancouver buses will be testing overhead charging similar to Proterra’s proprietary technology but with a cross platform system that can power buses made by two different companies – New Flyer and Nova Bus, part of the Volvo Group. The system was developed with the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC)

How about WIRELESS charging

Another system, by Momentum Dynamics, is in use and being tested in Baltimore Maryland, Chattanooga Tennessee and Wenatchee Washington.

A panel is embedded in the pavement, a corresponding panel is attached to the bottom of the bus, and energy is transferred through the air to the bus battery when the bus sits above the panel.

Andy Daga, CEO of Momentum, told the Philadelphia Inquirer “This is really revolutionary, to automatically operate fast-charging systems that nobody needs to interact with,” said Daga. “Your vehicle will automatically charge itself without thinking about it.”

While the jury will be out for a while on whether it will work for passenger vehicles, the Momentum system makes sense for commuter buses. They follow the same route over and over, so the panels can be positioned along the way. And the bus can get quick, small charges along the way rather than relying on one big jolt at the beginning or end. The system allows the bus to stay in service for a 16-hour shift.

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