Electric buses are about to have their moment. Globally there were 460,000 electric buses operating in 2018, an increase of 25% on 2017 numbers, with China representing a huge 99% of the global market.

In Australia, technology and industry are ready for policy support to aid the transition from diesel. Precision Buses in Adelaide is producing electric buses locally as part of contracts with South Australia, NSW, Queensland and Victoria and Australia’s largest bus body manufacturer, Volgren has begun production of electric buses at their headquarters in Melbourne.

In December 2019, ClimateWorks Australia was invited to make a submission to the New South Wales government inquiry into electric buses for regional and metropolitan public transport networks. With transport currently contributing 21% of the state’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonising transport systems is critical to achieving the NSW Government’s net zero emissions objective. States have the chance to drive a rapid transition to reduce emissions by electrifying bus fleets and powering vehicles with 100% renewable energy.

Existing trials show the moment is ready to be seized. Transit Systems Leichhardt depot is trialling electric buses on some of Sydney’s busiest routes. Premier is already trialling an electric bus from their Nowra depot, with reports that the bus can cover 290km per day across 15 hour shifts, returning with a 45% charged battery, and that the electric bus has reduced daily running costs 72% compared to diesel buses. Public transport can be powered by renewable energy, as demonstrated with Sydney’s Metro NorthWest sourcing all the project electricity needs from NSW’s Beryl Solar Farm.

The incentive to transition from diesel goes beyond emission reductions. Over the lifetime of the vehicle the costs are competitive with conventional buses, with price parity expected to be achieved by 2030 or sooner depending on the rate of adoption. Electric buses are also quieter and produce less air pollution than their diesel counterparts.

Fleet operators transitioning to electric buses are motivated not just by the emissions reduction benefits, but also cost reductions over the life of the vehicle, and the broader benefits presented to public health and the economy.

ClimateWorks submission to the inquiry into electric buses in regional and metropolitan public transport networks in New South Wales

Cities all over the world are moving towards electric buses. More than 34 cities have pledged to buy only zero emissions buses from 2025. Combined, these cities represent 80,000 bus vehicles, sending a market signal for electric buses in the coming years. Bloomberg projects electric buses will comprise half of the global fleet of buses by 2025. Many countries are planning an outright ban on fossil fuelled vehicles, including Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.

If state governments formulate policy that addresses some of the biggest barriers to adopting electric buses at scale, including purchase cost, bus charging infrastructure range and electricity grid impacts, we could reap the economic, health and environmental benefits of a transition to electric buses. 

In its submission, ClimateWorks recommended the NSW government provide policy direction and certainty to help shift these known barriers.