The future of public transport in India is here. Ahmedabad is on the verge of rolling out air-conditioned, electric buses, named ‘Circuit-S,’ manufactured by Ashok Leyland.
These e-buses have a unique ‘battery swap’ technology developed alongside SUN Mobility, a Bengaluru-based start-up.
What does ‘battery swap’ technology entail?
“Battery Swapping is one of the energy management techniques adopted by Ashok Leyland in a tie-up with SUN Mobility. In this set-up, Ashok Leyland has designed and configured buses which are capable of having batteries which can be swapped after a fairly long round trip,” says Sriram Tirunantalwan, Lead– Business Development & Solutions Design, EV & e-Mobility Solutions at Ashok Leyland, in a conversation with Better India.
“SUN Mobility is the energy service provider and will own and operate the Battery Swapping facility, which is known as the ‘Quick Interchange Station’. The bus, after its round-trip, aligns itself in front of the QIS and the Automation from the QIS removes the drained battery from the bus and swaps it with a charged battery. The QIS houses chargers and batteries which get charged throughout the day thereby ensuring there is no sudden load surge during any time in the day,” he adds.
Instead of worrying about how much energy a standard lithium-ion battery in an e-bus can last on a single charge, these vehicles can make a pit stop after completing their circular route at a QIS. There, a fully-automated system will swap the smart batteries under 2.5 minutes and replace them with new ones. These smart batteries weigh just one-fourth the weight of a standard lithium-ion battery of that size.
In Ahmedabad, the battery swapping station is at the Ranip depot.
According to municipal authorities, the city will have 50 e-buses running in the city by April, of which 18 will be built in with battery-swapping technology, while the rest will run on a fast charging mechanism called Circuit-F.
By the end of the year, the city is expected to have 350 e-buses running in both categories.
In the fast-charge segment, an e-bus can run for 200 km on a single one/two-hour charge. These buses can transport anywhere between 35 to 50 passengers at any given time.
As per recent media reports, Ashok Leyland will undertake the entire bus operation through their E-MASS operation unit running at an operational cost of Rs 63 per km.
There is a palpable difference in terms of the fuel economy an e-bus will give over its diesel counterpart.
“While diesel buses will give you an average of Rs 18 per kilometre, our e-buses will give a fuel economy of Rs 7.20 per kilometre,” says Karthik Ganesan, the head of sales and marketing EV and eMobility solutions for Ashok Leyland, in a conversation with the Times of India.
The future of public transport
There are primarily three critical challenges in operating an e-bus system anywhere:
1) The batteries of e-buses must become lighter so that the buses can carry higher passenger loads for the same charge.
2) Passengers on e-buses should not have to pay more per kilometre than diesel buses.
3) E-buses need to be ready for use at all times – or at any time, much like the diesel ones.
The system in Ahmedabad addressing some of these concerns.
For starters, as battery packs account for more than half the cost of electric vehicles, by swapping and sharing batteries, there is a drastic fall in the cost of a single bus.
In fact, it becomes comparable to the cost of standard internal combustion buses.
These interchange stations can operate on all sizes of buses ranging from 9-12 metres in length. These buses cost much luxury diesel-powered inter-State transport buses costs.
There are also other key advantages of adopting e-buses – including reduced noise pollution and carbon footprint.
“The key advantage of the battery swapping is seen at a fleet level where in the total number of batteries for a fleet is lesser compared to a fleet which has buses loaded with excess batteries. Also, for a typical city route which is within 35 kms of round trip, the Circuit-S gives hassle-free round-the-clock operation. Another aspect is the parking space – which is a factor during charging in the case of other technologies. Where there is a vehicle charger, it occupies more space compared to a compact container for the Battery Swapping,” says Sriram.
The major local players in this segment are Ashok Leyland Limited, JBM Auto Limited, Tata Motors, Deccan Auto Limited, among others.
Tata Motors, for example, has recently received a sizeable order of over 250 buses from cities like Kolkata, Indore, Lucknow, Jammu, Guwahati and Jaipur.
Additionally, as the Government of India has set a target of switching to 100% electric vehicles by 2030, there is extensive financial support for state governments through their Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme.
As per the scheme, the Centre is offering anywhere up to 60% subsidy to companies and states governments who want to purchase e-buses.
So the e-bus market in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of 38% according to P&S Market Research, as reported by Fortune India.
Problems and solutions
Having said that, one must admit that there are some serious logistical and regulatory challenges ahead.
“Electric buses need charging infrastructure and public regulations. Therefore, an entire ecosystem needs to be created. Substantial efforts are already on-going in each of these areas. Key points being addressed for the charging infrastructure are standardizing charging station interfaces, regulatory changes to decide on which entities can sell power, defining safety standards, and an entity that can enable the necessary space for installation of charging stations,” says Parag Diwan, the CEO of EVOracle, a niche consulting firm in e-mobility, in a recent blog post.
Developing this infrastructure is key to the development of the e-bus ecosystem in India, which given the right conditions could revolutionise the public transport system and help deliver last-mile connectivity to commuters.
Stakeholders in this industry hope that the government’s FAME II scheme, which is slated to be announced by March 2019, will address some of these infrastructural concerns.
The success of any public transport system hinges on its reliability. With the necessary infrastructure in place, India could one day become a model for public transport systems.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)