Towards operational excellence in zero-emission public transport

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Zero-emission transport is destined to grow rapidly and some of the earliest movers have been in the areas of public transport. More and more electric buses can be seen in city centers across Europe and bus operators in The Netherlands are among the pioneers.

In 2016, the first full-electric concession started in Eindhoven with some 43 electric buses replacing a fleet of 30 diesel buses of operator Hermes, part of the leading global public transport group Transdev. In 2018, a second large concession transitioned to full electric and today the zero-emission fleet of Transdev in The Netherlands exceeds 200 electric buses. More than 40 million zero-emission kilometers have been driven since the initial the roll-out. And, The Netherlands is practically the testing ground for Transdev on how to transition to and run zero-emission transport operations on a large scale. You will not be surprised that innovative technology is one of the key ingredients.

Transition to zero-emission is not a trivial task!

The transition to zero emission vehicles in urban transport represents a significant challenge when it comes to operational planning and control. A diesel bus easily drives 300 kilometers on a daily shift and can be refueled at the depot overnight. An electric bus drives significantly less kilometers on a fully charged battery and requires opportunity charging during operations. Moreover, energy usage patterns of an electric bus is more unpredictable than its fossil fueled cousin. This makes operational and tactical planning way more dynamic and hence introduces more vulnerability in operations.

The increased operational vulnerability can be solved by either adding more assets to the fleet (which is costly) or by adopting new solutions that allow for real-time insight in the status of electric vehicles and their batteries, in the progress of charging cycles, and that facilitate dynamic (re)planning of operations in virtual real time (which is a lot smarter).

Telematics companies like Sycada which have more than 2.000 enterprise customers across Europe are developing solutions that reduces the risks and costs associated with the transition to zero-emission transport. And the combination of improvements in battery technology and access to live bus and charge point data will soon close the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) gap between fossil and electric powered buses.

Telematics technology is playing a key role

Access to streaming data from buses and charging infrastructure in order to run operations has become a must. Such data feed is not a luxury, but a key requirement to make the transition from fossil fueled to zero emission buses economically viable. A few telematics players have invested in developing connected vehicle solutions that facilitate this, Sycada is one of those.

“Sycada has been involved in e-mobility solutions for more than seven years, starting with relatively small, experimental pilots in various industries across Europe. Today, we have left the pilot stage far behind and provide a full suite of online modules that give access to live data from vehicles, batteries and charging infrastructure. Latent operational problems, such as a lower than required battery state-of-charge to complete a route or an unintended interruption of a charge cycle, are detected early so that corrective actions can be taken. This is where it starts, but certainly not where it ends”, says Kristian Winge, CEO of Sycada. “ Our involvement in the Electric Mobility Europe innovation programme through the project consortium “Cloud Your Bus” aims to create operational excellence in zero-emission transport. We connect different users of vehicle, battery and charge point data via a collaborative online data hub. When different actors in the ecosystem are connected and agree to share data for the collective optimisation of the system, great efficiency gains can be realised in terms of costs, risks and time”.

Cloud Your Bus

19 European national and regional government-related organisations with a strong interest in advancing electric mobility in Europe set up an ERA-NET Cofund to further advance electric mobility in Europe: the Electric Mobility Europe. This initiative is designed to take transnational e-mobility research and policy exchange towards deployable solutions.

Sycada took the initiative to the Cloud Your Bus consortium that brings together different actors across wireless data terminals (Owasys), telematics and data services (Sycada), energy modelling (TU/e) and scenario based planning (ICRON).

The CYB platform is addressing a number of critical business questions related to large scale transition to zero-emission transportation, including:

  • How to secure access to critical but non standardised vehicle and battery data across different vehicle makes and models?
  • What constitutes an optimal driving style for an electric bus and should I coach my drivers to drive more efficiently?
  • How can I move from a static route planning to dynamic route and charge cycle planning whilst absorbing the associated operational volatility?
  • What is the optimal configuration of buses and batteries for a specific concession area?
  • How do I monitor that vehicles and batteries are used within and comply to OEM warranty conditions?
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Zero-emission innovation themes

The CYB consortium is working along a series of innovation themes to address these critical challenges.

On the data collection side, an ITxPT compliant wireless gateway has been developed that caters for 3G and 4G wireless communication as well as Ethernet connection to a shared IT back-bone in the vehicle. The gateway is a real powerhouse with a Linux kernel and an ARM Cortex 32 bit processor and a series of interfaces that includes 3 CAN and 2 Kline connections. It allows for high speed data logging and processing of vehicle and battery data.

To secure a normalized set of data collected from the buses, a data taxonomy has been developed that ensures comparable data across different bus makes and models. Authorised useds can subscribe to live data such as vehicle status, battery state-of-charge, energy usage of HEVAC and auxillaries, regenerated energy, estimated range, charging status, ETA to fully charged, cell voltages as well as derived alerts, e.g. charge cycle interruptions, and more. Slowly but surely, a virtual protocol for electric bus data Is emerging which makes sure that bus operators do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to accessing the necessary data.

Fortunately, a protocol with respect to charge point data is being rapidly deployed by charge point manufactures. The CYB data hub integrates this Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) into the data hub, which allows for live streaming of both vehicle and charge point data into operations. OCPP also allows for remote managing of charging infrastructure and, in time, for smart charging algorithms that manages both AC and DC chargers on a single grid point with finite capacity.

Having access to live data from vehicles and charge points and working with known constraints in terms of battery and charging infrastructure capacity makes it possible to play the planning game in a different, more dynamic way. In the context of CYB, we work on planning algorithms in three phases: The first phase is a constraint based planning tool; a second phase, adaptive planning, takes into account extra parameters such as driving style and load; a third phase, enhanced planning, will integrate 3rd party data such as traffic density and weather into the planning algorithms.

Needless to say that having access to historical data on the level of routes, rotations and even typical road segments also makes it possible to configure zero-emission fleets for different concession characteristics. This gives a strategic planning advantage to bus operators using the CYB data hub.

An optimal driving style as range extender

The difference in fuel efficiency between drivers on the same type of diesel bus is more than 35% and this is entirely related to differences in driving style. How drivers bring the bus up to speed, how well they anticipate in traffic, how brakes are applied, etcetera. In short, how well drivers deal with kinetic energy. This is no different for an electric bus, but the sweet spots to look for in terms of driving style are slightly different and include additional parameters like regenerative braking. One of the innovation themes in CYB is therefore also to create energy profiles for the different electric buses and to tailor driver in-vehicle feedback and coaching towards adopting an optimal driving style for an electric bus.  After all, if positively coaching drivers to become more energy efficient could extend the range of a bus with 10-15% on average it would have a tremendous business impact.

CYB is an example of how innovative technology can be used to accelerate the transition to zero-emission transport at lower risk and at lower total cost of ownership.

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