The electrified depot will run as a test bed for other fleet-owners, with the ANU working on a platform that will interpret data for use as a planning tool.

The lumbering, growling buses that prowl Sydney’s Inner West have slowly been joined by silent electric versions over the past year, but the pace of change is about to speed up as the Leichhardt bus depot and the fleet housed there are electrified.

Apart from soon taking delivery of 40 new electric buses with a combination of 368kWh and 422kWh onboard batteries, work has begun at the depot on the installation of five 120kW chargers capable of charging two buses at a time, thirty-one 80kW chargers, 2.5MW/4.9 MWh of stationary battery storage and 387kW of rooftop solar PV.

The $36 million project will see the depot, which is operated by NSW Transit Systems, transformed into a next-generation electric charging terminal.

The rooftop PV and stationary battery at the Leichhardt depot will be delivered by Smart Commercial Solar, with arrays to cover “pretty much every square inch” of the maintenance sheds, says Smart Commercial Solar head of marketing Anastasi Kotoros. “The aim is to generate as much onsite renewables as possible to charge the battery and offset additional electricity used to charge the buses.”

Every solar installation comes with its own complications but the job at Leichhardt will include the extra dimension of very large vehicles rolling about at all hours. “There are some complexities in that,” says Kotoros. “It’s a very sensitive site and a very high-profile client. For us it’s about not impacting the operation of the site.”

The project is a joint-venture for NSW network Transgrid and electric transport specialist Zenobe, with funding and in-kind support from partners Transit Systems and Transport for NSW.

Under Zenobe’s plans, the battery at the depot will be recruited for demand management and frequency control ancillary services duties.

Check the timetable

A few electric buses have been operating out of the Leichhardt depot already but they’ll soon be joined by a bunch of new, silent buddies.

The electrified depot will also run as a test bed for other fleet-owners, with a team at the Australian National University already at work on a platform that will interpret data from Leichhardt to model operations and charging hardware for operators at other locations.

“One of the reasons there has not been good uptake of electric buses is because there is not good data on how electric buses perform under Australian conditions, particularly in the heat but also the length and topography of routes,” says ANU battery storage and grid integration program research leader Dr Bjorn Sturmberg.

The platform, called RouteZero, will take fleet-owners’ inputs for routes, timetables and number of buses operating and return an optimal mix of bus size, charging infrastructure and a suggested timetable, including charging intervals during the day and overnight.

“It will also have a very keen eye on what the network connection is for that bus depot,” says Sturmberg. “Rather than charging all the buses overnight, we expect some may charge during pitstops during the day and some in a staggered fashion overnight.”

The trick is to ensure all buses are charged for use in a way that doesn’t exceed network connection. “That’s a major concern, especially in regional communities that have a weaker grid connection.”

If the program can’t find a solution to suit the owner’s inputs for timetable and passenger demand within the constraints of its network connection, it will suggest a capacity of stationery battery storage for the depot to ensure flexibility to meet demand.

The project received government support in the form of $5 million in grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and $24.5 million in financing from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Another one will be along in a minute

Previous electric bus trials in Australia have involved fewer than four buses each. A project in central Sydney orchestrating the operation of 40 vehicles will demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility of the electrification of large depot-scale fleets, said ARENA chief executive Darren Miller.

“Heavy vehicle transport is an important area to target given that together buses and trucks account for 25% of transport related carbon emissions and 5% of Australia’s total carbon emissions,” Miller said in a statement.

The first 12 of the 40 new electric buses will be on the road by the end of November, with the rest arriving over the next four months. The Leichhardt project is part of the NSW government’s plan to transition its 8,000-strong bus fleet to zero-emissions vehicles by 2030.

Zenobe is an EV fleet and battery storage specialist with offices in London, New York and Sydney. The company claims to have about 175MW of contracted storage assets and to have delivered about 25% of the EV bus sector in the UK.

The three-year trial will drive the commercialisation of electric buses in Australia and continue the development of the federal government’s Future Fuel Strategy, which aims to cut transport emissions.

The electric bus fleet will service public bus routes in Sydney’s Inner West, the CBD, Mascot and Green Square.