As the coach industry looks to electrify, what unique challenges is it facing – and what are the solutions?
We answer three key strategic questions for coach operators, based on our conversations to date.
Coach travel is already one of the least environmentally harmful ways to get around: taking the coach instead of driving reduces carbon emissions by up to 80%. But for the UK to achieve its net zero goals, the coach sector will need to eliminate its tailpipe emissions entirely.
As the Government consults on phasing out the sale of non-zero emission coaches, operators want to understand what strategies they can use to decarbonise.
We answer three key strategic questions for coach operators, based on our conversations to date:
- How can operators overcome high capital costs?
- How can operators power large fleets with small grid connections?
- What can be done to extend electric coach range?
“Electric transport as a service” (ETaaS) models reduce the capital expenditure required by an operator, converting up-front costs for vehicles, charging infrastructure and replacement batteries into a monthly charge – a similar model to a tyres contract. ETaaS is already an accepted model in the bus sector but to decarbonise the coach sector, there is a need for new ETaaS contractual models tailored to the demands of coach.
However, standard bus ETaaS contracts tend to be long-term: 12-15 years. Coach operators are less well-placed to sign up to contracts of this length, as their revenue streams rely on multiple individual short-term contracts, rather than regular service contracts.
To fix this, fleet electrification specialists and coach operators are developing bespoke contracts for the sector, lasting 8 years rather than 12-15 years. These contracts remove technical as well as financial risk, placing responsibility for charging fleets and for optimising battery performance onto specialists.
Fleet electrification specialists have developed two key tools to power large fleets with small grid connections: charging software and onsite batteries. Both coach operators and bus operators face one key challenge: upgrading diesel infrastructure to electric infrastructure. To supply enough power to charge vehicle fleets, it is necessary to connect depots to local electricity networks. For fleet operators used to filling up with diesel, this can be a confusing process. Operators often overstate the size of the grid connection they need, incurring unnecessary costs.
These tools prevent depot conversion projects from triggering expensive upgrades to local electricity networks. This keeps costs down. While these methods have been developed in the bus sector, they can be put to new use to electrify coaches.
Charging software and onsite batteries reduce or remove the need for grid upgrades. Charging software powers up vehicles slowly overnight, alleviating pressure on electricity networks. Onsite batteries provide an additional source of electricity when energy demand is high. Together, they cut the overall cost and complexity of connecting to the electricity network.
A combination of a coordinated national approach to charger installation for coaches and driver energy efficiency is key to extending range – as technology develops in the meantime.
Coaches generally cover longer distances than buses. A fully electrified coach sector will therefore require a network of high-speed chargepoints along major routes.
The Department for Transport has consulted on how to increase the amount of chargepoints along motorways. However, they have not provided any specific information on chargepoints for coaches. There is an opportunity to request more detailed policy on this issue via the current consultation on ending sales of non-zero emission buses and coaches.
To provide certainty for operators, government can commit to progressively increasing the amount of chargepoints for coaches, freight, and buses at service stations. Alongside these policy and regulatory changes, there are opportunities for collaboration between different sectors to share private charging infrastructure.
Finally, electric coach operators can increase journey ranges by improving drivers’ energy-efficiency skills. By avoiding braking and accelerating sharply, drivers use less energy. Drivers can also use a technique called ‘regenerative braking’: releasing the accelerator rather than braking generates energy, which is stored in the vehicle battery. Zenobē’s internal data shows trained bus drivers consume 61% less electricity (kWh/km) than untrained drivers, meaning they can go further on a single charge.
Coach operators are yet to receive the same level of subsidies available to the bus sector, despite facing similar pressures to decarbonise their fleet. Rest assured that there are ways to make this work commercially, as shown by operators who are leading the way.