3 min

The e bus revolution

Posted by: Ezhilan Neelan Date: 29 Jul 2022

While e-buses play an important role in the journey towards de-carbonization in India, robust testing and certification infrastructure will ensure that they can cope with extreme weather conditions, including flooding

Barring the exception of Mumbai, which has a robust, if jam-packed, suburban train system as of 2005, buses meet almost 90% of the demand for formal public transport in Indian cities. According to a 2016 report by the Central Institute of Road Transport, public State Transport Undertakings (STUs) owned over 150,000 buses and carried over 69 million passengers daily – both intra-city and intercity.

From these statistics, it is clear that in India’s de-carbonization efforts, transitioning to e-mobility in public transport will play a vital role. Recognizing this, the government initiated an incentive structure for the adoption of an e-bus programme in its policy initiative, Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India).

In 2019, the government tweaked the initiative and launched FAME II. It sought to address the issues of coverage and operation models. It set a deployment target of 7,000 e-buses with dedicated fund allotment to STUs and city governments.

Among its features was a uniform demand incentive of Rs. 20,000 per KWh (kilowatt-hour) to the maximum of Rs. 50 lakh for a battery size of 250 KWh. It allowed the STUs and city governments – as bus operators – not to make outright purchases, thereby reducing the burden on their capital expenditure. Instead, it evolved a model where the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) takes responsibility, not only for providing the buses but also for operating, managing and maintaining the fleet on a cost per kilometre basis. Various state governments have followed up with policies to incentivize the deployment of e-buses through tax breaks, subsidies or special tariffs on electricity.

This has had a major impact and the e-bus programme has gained excellent traction with many city and state governments setting up ambitious targets. Andhra Pradesh has targeted 100 per cent conversion of the bus fleet to electric in major cities by 2024 and in the entire
state by 2029. Similarly, Kerala has targeted converting its entire government-owned fleet to e-buses by 2025. Delhi has pledged to convert 50 per cent of all stage carriage buses by 2022.
Kerala targets converting the entire bus fleet by 2025. Tamil Nadu aims to procure 1,000
e-buses every year.

According to a recent report, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation is likely to boast of two electric buses for every kilometre of the road by 2024. By then it is likely to have a fleet of 4,000 e-buses – double of municipal corporations in Delhi, Chennai or Bengaluru.

All this action on the e-bus front couldn’t have come too soon. According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, several of India’s mega-cities are threatened by climate change. According to the report, climate change is intensifying the natural water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding. Seasonal rainfall variability is expected to increase, with fewer days of rainfall alongside increased intensity of downpours.

Unfortunately, in several cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru, low-lying areas get routinely flooded during monsoons. Extreme weather conditions with increased intensity of rainfall are only likely to exacerbate the situation.

This beggars a few questions. How will a city transport infrastructure based on e-buses cope with this issue? Will the maintenance staff of the bus operators be able to cope with e-buses that have been caught in the floods? Will flooding increase the likely risk of short circuits in these buses?

How will a city transport infrastructure based on e-buses likely to cope with flooding?
The answer is exactly the same way as it presently does. Transport in some low-lying areas will, unfortunately, have to be suspended till the floods recede. The important point to remember is that the move to e-buses is a way of trying to contain climate change that causes these extreme weather events and should be welcomed at all costs.

Will the maintenance staff of bus operators be able to cope with e-buses caught in floods?
EVs in general and e-buses, in particular, runs on 400Volt or beyond operating voltage. Maintenance staff needs to be trained properly to perform repair and maintenance work under such high-voltage environment and avoid accident risks

Will flooding increase the likely risk of short circuits in these buses?
Highly unlikely, provided the batteries of these e-buses are tested and certified to be of an acceptable safety standard. Globally, all electrical components need to have an Internal Protection (IP) rating. Standards in advanced EV markets stipulate that EV electrical components, in particular those in the high voltage sections of the motor, speed controller and battery, are rated to IP66 or better. (The first digit of ‘66’ refers to sealing against external particles like dust and the second digit refers to water penetration). An IP66 rating means that the components are protected against high pressure water jets

Further, in most e-buses in the advanced markets, the motor, speed controller and batteries are actually water-cooled to ensure longevity. These carry an IP water rating of ‘8’, the highest possible. As a result, they have proven to be unaffected by flooding.

The key to ensuring that India’s emerging e-bus fleets are not hampered by extreme weather events and resultant flooding is to have robust testing and certification infrastructure. This will ensure that these e-buses and especially their batteries and electrical components adhere to global standards and can be safely used in Indian cities, even in the case of floods.

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