In the public transport sector in the Netherlands, an ever increasing number of diesel buses are replaced by electric vehicles. The line 1 bus service in the city of Utrecht is driving fully electric from today and the buses are charged with a new technology. "The Netherlands is truly leading the pack".
The city of Utrecht is experimenting with the possibilities. Earlier this year an experiment was done with a transport company in the Hague where buses were charged by using the upper tram lines such that the vehicles could continue their services within 8 minutes.
Today something similar has been engineered. The ten buses operating on line 1 can charge themselves briefly after each ride at the end station. The buses do not have to be tied to a connector but are parked under an "opportunity charger" equipped with a pantograph (a set of extension arms with which buses and trains are connected to the upper energy network) and are charged sufficiently for the next trip.
This charger can also do something else: during evening hours, when there is peak usage in the energy consumption, the buses can discharge energy. "Our buses are a kind of storage buffer for energy providers", says Han van der Wal, fleet manager at Qbuzz.
Wijnand Veeneman, a researcher on public transport at the Technical University Delft, qualifies the implementation in Utrecht as "very promising". "Especially, by transferring energy back to the network driving will become a lot more eco-friendly. It is an exciting development".
Last year Secretary Dijksma (Infrastructure and Environment) signed an agreement with all transport providers where an agreement was reached to expedite the implementation of electric and hydrogen bus technology for public transport.
In 2025 all new buses in the public transport sector need to be without exhaust fumes that are damaging to the environment. In 2030 all buses should be on a zero emission level.
Bus line 1 in Utrecht transports 1 million passengers annually. Electric driving over a trajectory of 2600 kilometers per day saves 900,000 kilograms of CO2 per year. The cost of the 10 buses are EURO 4 mio and is divided between the transport service provider Qbuzz, de municipality and the province.
Further experiments are on the way in a number of cities with electric buses including Eindhoven, Venlo, Maastricht but also on the islands north of the Netherlands called "the Waddeneilanden". According to Veeneman, the Netherlands has embraced the electric bus with this initiative. "The sector is also looking for all kinds of possibilities". For instance, Conexxion is investing millions of Euro in electric transport.
According to the researcher, the Netherlands is in the middle of a phase to identify the best and smartest road to electric charging. "There are growing pains and it will happen that a bus full of passengers will be stranded within the city".
Challenges also remain for the electricity provider. If many buses are charging at multiple locations, the grid should be able to handle the load.
Only China is further ahead
Those are all risks we need to take according to him to make buses more environmentally friendly. He cannot promise all buses will be emission free in 2030. "Every step has a risk and things remain uncertain".
According to Veeneman the Netherlands belongs to the leading nations when it comes to electric buses. "We are moving fast in the Netherlands. Only China is moving a little faster".
In the meantime, a number of Dutch companies and startups are paving the way on this market like VDL, Ebusco (there buses are driving in Paris, Munich, and Norway) and Proov (specialized in wireless driving). "We don't know what the challenges exactly are. Charging still takes some time but the battery technology is evolving super fast", says Veeneman.
Van der Wal of Qbuzz says that the entire sector is collaborating. "We exchange a lot of information, also with other countries. Previously you bought a bus and you were ready to go. With electric buses, it is more complicated. You have to think about the entire eco system, but that only makes it more interesting".