With all the excitement over electric cars, it is easy to forget that there is another nascent segment of the EV industry: electric buses. The challenges that confront electric buses are obvious: after all the size, weight and cost of batteries are problematic enough for automobiles. Now plunk that technology in a city bus and most municipalities, spooked by the price and changes needed to local infrastructure, will stay loyal to diesel or CNG (compressed natural gas) buses.
But with the cost of fossil fuel spiking and battery technology improving, electric drive buses are a long term prospect that benefits everyone. Transit authorities could eventually see lower fuel costs, while customers and the general public enjoy quieter vehicles and of course, breathe easier thanks to lower emissions.
One company that is bullish on the future of electric buses is the Chinese firm BYD. The firm has buses running in four of China’s cities that together have racked up over 3.4 million miles of service as of April this year. And while the bulk of the company’s vehicles are in Asia, some of BYD’s buses are in Europe and have even made it to South America. A fleet of electric buses will arrive in Uruguay later this year, and by 2015, the Uruguayan government claims it will have 500 electric buses running on its roads. The buses will be able to travel 155 miles (250 km) on a single charge on city streets, and feature an energy consumption rate of less than 130 kwh per 62 miles (100 km). According to BYD, the buses’ iron-phosphate battery technology is safe and has a long service life.
So whether electric buses hum along streets in China, Denmark or Uruguay, watch for electric bus sales to surge in the coming years. By 2018, annual sales of electric buses will quadruple. The caveat, of course, is that currently about 5000 such buses are sold annually. That number will increase to 20,000 in six years, mostly due to municipal governments that are struggling to meet their emissions goals and therefore find electric buses an option worth exploring. A research report on the future of electric buses suggests that the vast majority of these vehicles will end up in Asia.
The necessary, and for now, very costly infrastructure required to support fleets of electric buses in the near future is a huge barrier. And in an era of deficits, most communities will continue to get by with conventional buses as long as feasibly possible. Nevertheless the future promises to shine bright for electric buses–and imagine how cities could benefit. Noisy cities from Cairo to Seoul to Sao Paulo, which also have choking traffic, become just a little quieter–and cleaner.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo courtesy BYD.