A third of U.S. buses on path to be carbon-free — report

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

All-electric buses made up just a fraction of all deliveries to transit agencies last year, but the prospects for long-term growth are bright because of municipal emissions-cutting pledges, according to a new analysis.

The index from EB Start Consulting, a New York-based consultancy that advocates for electric buses, relied mostly on public data from transit agencies and manufacturers. The assessment is the group’s second on transit agency electrification and comes at a time of considerable optimism among advocates, who say funds from the Volkswagen AG diesel emissions-cheating settlement could serve as an initial springboard in the electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

Most of the VW money set aside for electric buses hasn’t been awarded yet. But the analysis underscores the role of a different catalyst: cities’ commitments to decarbonize their fleets. By 2045, 33 percent of the country’s transit buses are likely to be zero-emissions because of those pledges, said the consultancy.

That includes the 12,000-bus fleet in California, where state energy officials voted in December to require zero-emissions procurements starting in 2029. New York, which has a fleet of 5,800 buses, and Seattle, where city agencies have target dates for a full conversion, also are on track.

“The commitments are huge [for future adoption], to the extent that people actually follow through,” said Judah Aber, principal at EB Start.

About half as many new contracts were signed in 2018 as the year before, according to the index. And battery electrics accounted for just 4 percent of the new-bus revenue generated by sales to transit agencies.

Still, the number of electric buses delivered grew by almost 30 percent. And unlike the light-duty sector, where predictions for uptake are still partly a matter of guesswork, commitments from authorities may shore up estimates of future growth.

Some cities were holding off on deliveries while they resolve questions around performance, adding to a 500-bus backlog at manufacturers.

Bus batteries are likely to function differently in hilly San Francisco than on New York’s flat terrain, especially during extreme heat or cold. That means agencies don’t have identical needs from their bus and charger suppliers, said Aber. Figuring out those needs at the pilot stage could drive technological improvements from manufacturers eager for a larger share of the market.

“From the perspective of an electric bus manufacturer, it helps to know there is a future out there,” said Aber. “Now they need to make sure the future heads in their direction.”