Reducing Capex and Opex in zero emission bus operations is as easy as CYB

The transition to zero emission public transport is accelerating. In Western Europe there were more electric bus registrations in 2019 than in the entire period 2012-2018. In fact, their number tripled. This means that zero-emission transport is rapidly coming out of the ‘project’ phases and has entered a volume that requires operators to take a much closer look at the requirements for managing a 100% zero-emission fleet. New rules and tools for playing the operational game are required and failure to adopt these could make the transition very costly indeed. There may be help around the corner, though.

An eco-system of best-of-breed technology partners

Reducing Capex and Opex in zero emission public transport
Bus charging Station

Three years ago, a group of technology pioneers in their fields set out to create an integrated technology platform with the objective to facilitate operational excellence in zero-emission public transport. This initiative, called Cloud-Your-Bus (CYB), is co-funded under the EMEurope innovation program. Today, these technology partners form a technology eco-system of best-of-breed partners in their fields. Their promise: reduce capital expenses by up to 10%, reduce operational disruptions and associated expenses radically, and improve quality of service simultaneously.  Sounds too good to be true? Well, here is their story.

“In an emerging market with a lot at stake, there is a reflex by many actors in the zero-emission supply chain to defend their own turf and to try to develop their own propositions and services in dire isolation. We don’t believe in this approach”, says Kristian Winge, CEO of Sycada, and initiator of the CYB initiative. “The complexity of the transition across areas such as battery health management, smart charging, energy trading, dynamic operational planning, massive data collection and processing, machine learning and big data analysis is such that no single actor can develop and maintain the level of expertise required to solve the entire transition riddle. Enter the world of connected specialists”.

It’s the data, stupid!

Any operational management in the zero-emission space starts with data. Lots of data.

So how do you secure live, consistent data from e-buses when no data standard for collecting the required data exists for these buses? And there are more than 50 different bus makes and models on the European market today, all with different availability and update frequencies for the required data points! “I suppose you either go single source, or find a data partner that can provide you a normalized data set across all makes and models. So, part of the CYB initiative was to start the creation of a taxonomy for e-bus data points that would allow a bus operator to simply subscribe to data like State-of-Charge, Power Draw etcetera across the entire fleet. That taxonomy is now in place and available via the CYB data hub”, says Rogier Mulder, CTO of Sycada.

Another of the founding partners in the CYB eco-system is Owasys, a manufacturer of wireless embedded computers based in Bilbao, Spain, which has developed an ITxPT certified data gateway for buses. This device has now become the preferred choice for many IoT projects in European Public Transport, given its extensive modularity, data processing power and open Linux operating system, that allows for a multi-tenant development strategy on the device itself.

Along with the vehicle data, the CYB platform integrates transactional data from opportunity and depot chargers using OCPP and OCPI protocols. This allows CYB to stream live data from the e-buses and the charging infrastructure, making both available to operational planners, traffic controllers and, where relevant, drivers.

Turning data into actionable information

So how do you turn tons of vehicle, battery and charge point data into information that adds real value to bus operators, OEM’s and partner companies? It starts with the realization that data points can be (selectively) shared for mutual benefit to all stakeholders. Sycada has implemented a ‘fork’ strategy for data that allows e.g. granular battery cell data to be shared with a bus manufacturer’s engineering department, but not with the bus operator, and at the same time battery state-of-charge data, from the same source, can be made available to the traffic planning operations of that same bus operator. The same strategy allows live data from e-buses to be enriched with 3rd party data such as traffic congestion and weather conditions; data points which add value to adaptive scenario planning in bus operations.

This is exactly how ICRON, one of the other founding members of CYB, is feeding their planning algorithms in order to optimize line- and charge planning for bus operations throughout the day.

How real-time scenario planning can reduce Capex

ICRON has advanced algorithms that automatically generate optimized plans for both static day-ahead planning and dynamic re-planning. These algorithms consider trip requirements, service level targets, vehicle types, battery capacities, battery levels, vehicle locations, charger restrictions in order to rapidly generate optimized plans.

The CYB platform continuously monitors vehicle locations, battery levels, charger states, weather and traffic information and provides an overview of the real-time information in the planning cockpit. The system continuously compares the operational reality with the plan in order to identify any discrepancies and to detect potential problems, such as vehicles not having sufficient charge to complete a route, or a charge cycle being delayed or interrupted. The planning dashboard displays notifications and proposes alternative solutions such as vehicle re-assignments to mitigate the detected problems. The dynamic planning algorithms automatically make minimal modifications to the plan to quickly resolve problems with the least possible impact on operations.

“We continue to enhance the planning algorithms by using machine learning to for example, program the impact of environmental conditions on energy usage or the impact of driving behaviour on actual range, together with our partners in the CYB eco-system”, says Caner Taskin, CTO of ICRON . “A good example of such R&D work is the collaboration between Sycada and the Technical University of Eindhoven to more accurately predict the remaining battery State-of-Charge at the end of an active route, and to update this prediction during operations for use in the ICRON planning algorithms. This is absolute cutting edge when compared to the relative low accuracy of estimated range data coming from most electric vehicles today”.

Obvious benefits reductions in fleet sizes

In the recent transitions from fossil fuelled to full electric concessions many bus operators added extra buses to their fleets in order to secure a high quality of service. In the first 100% electric concession in the Netherlands, 34 diesel buses, serving 34 lines, were replaced with 43 electric buses with a significant impact on capital expense. 6 of these e-buses were basically serving as ‘back-up’ for operational calamities and to compensate for the lack of real-time planning optimisation systems.

By using smarter technologies, such as the ones developed by the CYB partners, this ‘risk buffer’ can be seriously reduced. Reducing the required fleet size with 2-3 buses in the above-mentioned example would reduce Capex with some Euro 2mln. Extrapolating this to the 15,000 city buses in operation across western Europe today, a large part of which will transition to zero-emission drivetrains during this decade, and the potential savings become staggering.

A glimpse into the near future

The intention of the founding partners behind the CYB eco-system is to continue to develop and expand the services to be offered around the platform together with existing and new solution partners. The premise is that a strong and growing network of technically connected specialists will be a compelling value proposition to both OEM’s, bus operators and other stakeholders in the zero-emission supply chain.

Kristian Winge concludes, “Building on what we have developed with the initial CYB launch partners, we will add new partners and online services in areas such as battery cell prognostics and energy balancing and trading during the course of 2020. Our clients are of course in charge of with whom they share data and from whom they acquire services, but having the option on these solution modules, and knowing that all parts of the system integrate seamlessly, is definitely a compelling idea”.

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