Volvo & ElectriCity
The end will be the beginning
In the second of three visits to Sweden to monitor Volvo’s progress in the development of electric buses, and specifically the ElectriCity project in Gothenburg, Stuart Jones was at the company’s Hallered test track last week hearing more about the plans and experiencing the vehicles on the test track for the first time. In previous articles he has covered the earlier project that saw the first hybrid electrics operating in the city (B&CB issue 1260, 24 January 2014) and travelled there to hear about the new project and witness work on some of the infrastructure being put in to support it (B&CB issue 1305, 5 December 2014).
On this visit, Hakan Agnevall, President of Volvo Buses, looked at the economic case for electromobility; City Mobility Manager, Johan Larsson talked about the ElectriCity project; Lotta Brandstrom and Andreas Rydbo, respectively CEO and Executive Vice President of Goteborg Energi spoke on the challenges for sustainable transportation and; Markus Vogelsang, Siemens’ Expert eBus Solutions, considered technical solutions and charging concepts for line operation and depots. We were also joined by Chief Product Managers at Volvo Bus, Patrik Pettersson and Fredrika Berndtsson who handle respectively the new electric bus and the driveline.
Hakan Agnevall gave a presentation entitled ‘Growth through Electromobility in Cities.’ He saw Volvo Bus as ‘pioneers in what we think will be the next big step in public transport: electric buses.’ As a group, Volvo’s approach to sustainability was united by a single vision, ‘To become the world leader in sustainable transport solutions’. They would do this by: creating value for customers in selected segments; pioneering products and services for the transport and infrastructure industries; driving quality, safety and environmental care and: working with energy, passion and respect for the individual. There was a small area where social, economic and environmental interests met to combine safe and secure transport solutions, high productivity in the transport system and energy efficiency and low emissions, and this was where Volvo was aiming. Volvo Buses was the flag carrier for this.
Demographic growth and urbanisation that will see two thirds of people living in cities by 2060, compared with a half in 2008; climate change; resource scarcity; air quality, traffic congestion and road safety were all global drivers that required public transport to play its part in reducing its impact on the urban environment. Sustainable cities had to be built for the future.
Not only were sustainable cities needed with solutions that provided 60-80% reductions in energy consumption, 75-90% reductions in CO2 emissions, and the virtual elimination of noise, sustainable solutions were also financially viable solutions.
There were three cornerstones to Volvo’s E-MOBILITY programme. The first was the product portfolio which offered: hybrid, electric hybrid and full electric options. The second was Volvo’s ability to offer a complete system offering, including buses and infrastructure, with the help of its partners ABB and Siemens. The first three networks, Hamburg, Stockholm and Gothenburg were all using Siemens. Thirdly, Volvo believed there should be open interfaces with one common and open interface for charging infrastructure across all manufacturers to enable operators to take buses from other suppliers and run them on their networks. It was also important that those installing the infrastructure could use it for other things, such as charging cars. Volvo was driving standardisation in this regard together with Siemens and ABB.
The company already had in place an international network of City Mobility Partners with which it was forwarding its electromobility plans.
No plan B
In the question and answer session that followed I asked Hakan what Volvo would do if people were not convinced that opportunity charging and electromobility were the way forward and whether there was a plan B? His response was unequivocal, ‘There is no Plan B, we believe strongly in this’ he said, pointing out that the company had offered gas buses in the past but had ceased doing so. His argument was a strong one, that the gas required to directly fuel one gas bus would, if burnt in a power station, fuel three electric buses, and the emissions created would not be in the centre of the city.
He believed that if you wanted to run an efficient bus operation of some size ‘there is only opportunity charging.’ If you charged overnight it took four or five hours using infrastructure that had very limited other use. On Volvo’s hybrid electrics, ‘You do need to balance the batteries overnight but this uses very little power’ he said.
Asked whether Volvo wasn’t losing a lot of tenders in Sweden because it did not offer gas fuelled buses, Hakan said he recognised that and it was painful, but, ‘that is the strategy.’ He was aware that there were a large number of gas buses in Sweden but said, ‘We do not believe that they have a future.’
He was confident that politicians were getting the message. ‘I don’t think political people are sleeping. Politicians are gradually shifting so it will come,’ he said. ‘We need to show with the pilots what it delivers. It’s a very convincing product.’
Asked about viability, he admitted that the ‘hybrid case is challenging’ but said that while the full electric case was more expensive, it saved 80% of fuel which meant that it was viable over a six to 12 year payback period.
In conversation over lunch, Hakan made it clear that the focus on electromobility did not mean that operators in the UK would not be able to buy the diesel products they wanted, because Volvo would continue to produce them, including double deckers.
Most of the detail of Johan Larsson’s presentation on the ElectriCity project in Gothenburg has been covered in previous issues. Johan’s role is delivering the product into service and with the Hamburg and Stockholm networks now successfully up and running, it is the Gothenburg network that is now his priority focus. He stressed the region’s and Volvo’s common desire to have a city and a region that wants to be at the forefront and be an arena for the testing of new technology products and services. There were a lot of partners involved. It was important to actually try the technology he said, ‘If we do not do it for real we do not learn.’
From June there would be two types of technology running in the city. Firstly there would be seven electric hybrid buses and these would be accompanied by the three full electric buses, running quietly on electricity for the whole route. As well as the driveline technology they also featured centrally placed drivers, big doors for enhanced passenger flows, plug in phone chargers, a new interior layout and nine interior information display screens.
Supply network changes
Goteborg Energi’s Lotta Brandstrom continued the idea of economic, social and ecological sustainability. Gothenburg already has district heating covering 90% of homes. This uses either renewable sources or waste/excess heat from industry. It already has a congestion charge, though at much lower rates than in London.
Lotta’s colleague, Andreas Rydbo, said that Gothenburg was geographically spread out with most of the new development in the centre and by the port. It was currently very car dependent because it had been designed that way but public transport usage had to increase. The key reason for an electricity company to become involved in the ElectriCity scheme was because of the need to provide electricity for public transport and this should be renewable energy. An out of town solar park was planned along with rooftop solar panels elsewhere. He noted that the world for energy generation was now very different, much more localised and decentralised than in the past. Grids had been designed in a different older way and the nature of the grid would change, with much more local production and solar panels. The problem now was calculating how the grid would cope with peak demand.
Concluding that, ‘I’m sure we will be fine’ he said that there was ‘a lot more to infrastructure needs than sticking up a few pantographs.’
Pointing out that an E-bus was a stranded asset without a connection to a grid, Siemens said its role was to be a systems integrator. There were different e-mobility technology options which influenced infrastructure choice. With opportunity charging, there was the choice of inductive or conductive charging and Volvo was using the Siemens conducive system because it offered lower weight vehicle componentry, safe proven technology, low vehicle cost and complexity, fast charging up to 450kW and efficient energy transfer.
The Siemens system, which was wifi operated, compatible with different bus types, had all charging equipment off board, and met all standards, consisted of grid connection and switching devices, an isolation transformer, a core charger and system controller, a structural mast for the inversely mounted pantograph and a wireless communication system between the bus and the charger.
The Gothenburg system has two chargers, one at each end of the route. They charge the bus at 5kWh per minute and a full charge takes six minutes. The company also supplies the charging station enclosure which can be deigned to suit the operator and can include facilities such as toilets and messrooms for driving staff.
We were given the opportunity to inspect the three new buses and also travel on them around the Hallered test track, as well as witnessing the recharging procedure. We were not allowed to take photographs of the exterior of the new buses nor the recharging, though we were permitted to take pictures of the vehicle interiors. The exterior shots accompanying this article were supplied by Volvo who are very keen not to reveal too much about the external appearance in advance of the June launch.
The Hallerad facility had opened in 1973. It covered 70 acres, had 23 separate tracks offering different testing opportunities and directly employed 350 people. Now owned by Volvo Cars, Volvo’s commercial vehicle operations have a long term contract that enables them to continue using it. Departmental Manager for Vehicle Management and Validation, Mattias Royson, described it as ‘a self-contained Volvo community’ with its own traffic control and other support functions.
Alongside Hallerad is the brand new Astro Zero testing facility owned by Chalmers University and in which Volvo is a partner. It specialises in active safety testing.
Hallerad undertook a huge range of testing work, though it was not the only Volvo testing site. Winter testing was carried out in Kiruna in northern Sweden and summer testing at the Michelin facility at Almeria in Spain during the Months of June, August and September.
Tests undertaken on the electric bus at Hallerad included: those to do with charging, braking, steering; doors (the electric hybrid has a new Ventura system); the driver’s place (featuring an optional central driving position); noise; and running reliability in operation.
On the track
Chief Product Managers at Volvo Bus, Patrik Pettersson and Fredrika Berndtsson, said that the project had started in 2013 and was a mix of old and new technology in which the driveline was completely new. At the end of that year the timeframe, cost and features were determined and the development phase had begun. Build had started in the summer of 2014, by which time driveline testing had already started with the new lightweight two speed gearbox unit. It features a conventional low floor rear axle.
Measuring 10.7m long rather than the 12.2m of the electric hybrid, the electric vehicle with large centre doors and short front overhang is expected to carry four more passengers, a total of 86 rather than 82, depending on specification. The seating capacity as shown was low with four fixed and nine tip-up seats at the front and 16 up some shallow steps at the rear.
The only power source is the electric batteries on the rear of the roof. These are four 19kwh lithium ion gel units and are the same as the single unit on a Volvo electric hybrid. It is possible to charge either the complete battery or individual battery cells. Weighing 350kg each, the four batteries have a combined weight of 1,400kg within an overall ULW of 11,723kg.
At the rear is the electric motor drive, joined to the neat two-speed gearbox which enables a low floor layout.
Although the first three buses have a central driving position, I was told that there are no dependencies within the driveline at the front so you could have a conventional front end layout with either right or left hand drive.
Fine tuning is still being undertaken but on the buses we sampled the change up from low to high gear took place at around 25kmh. I found it very quiet throughout with no rattles, though, as a colleague pointed out, there were no bumps, something that seems to be a feature of Swedish roads. When we pulled up at the end of one run there was quite a loud and abrupt clunk, which seemed as much of a surprise to the Volvo team as the journalists, but it did not appear to effect the vehicle and was not replicated. We witnessed the charging process from inside and out, and at present the pantographs goes down on to the roof mounted charging bars with quite a clunk.
We were told that the inclinometer within the hill hold feature was malfunctioning on one of the buses, which made it more difficult for the driver to correctly position the bus beneath the charger and consequently for the charging process to be carried out, which was evident the first time we witnessed the procedure.
We were told that the optimum distance between charging stations is 8-10km, though the range on a full charge is at least 20km in tough conditions, so if a bus was occasionally prevented from charging at one end of a run it should be capable of returning to the other end and recharging with interrupting the service.
The moment that Volvo has been working towards is the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race which will take place in Gothenburg sometime between 21-24 June 2015. By then the three electric buses and four of their electric hybrid stablemates will be in revenue earning service on the whole of the route. We’ll be going back at that time for the final instalment of this technological journey.
And as for the commercial availability of the vehicles, Volvo will be ready to supply commercially during 2017 though the launch will be before that.