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The Journey to COP26: Conversations on Clean Transport Episode 4: Electric Bus in Glasgow

Hitachi is committed to helping governments, cities and businesses tackle climate change. As part of that commitment Hitachi has been working with First Bus in Glasgow to help deliver zero-emission electric buses.

Travelling on First Bus’ first battery-powered bus in Glasgow, Hitachi’s Mike Nugent, Head of EV, met Andrew Jarvis, Portfolio Managing Director at First UK Bus. On their journey they discuss the importance of clean air, clean power, the current limits of batteries, and the ongoing partnership between Hitachi and First Bus....

Mike: Obviously you want to hit zero-carbon or zero-emissions as soon as possible. Tell me a bit more about your plans.

Andrew: Yes, we've got an overall plan to get to zero emissions by 2035, and that's a challenging but deliverable time scale. Part of that is going to be electrics I'm sure, part of it could be hydrogen. We've got 15 hydrogen vehicles running around currently in Aberdeen. So, we're technology-neutral, but what we do want to do is get to zero carbon emissions in that 2035 timescale.

Clean Power

Mike: I suppose one of the challenges for you, as it is for all big businesses, is not just about electrification, it's like, "Well, where does that electricity come from?" Or, "How is that hydrogen generated?" Because ultimately, we're all going to be pushing towards a zero-carbon world, not just a decarbonised or a net-zero world. Does that match your ambitions and some of your thinking?

Andrew: Yes, absolutely it does. At the moment, we buy certified green electricity for all our operations. That's relatively easy for us to do in a buildings and property sense. As we go towards more and more electric vehicles then it becomes ever more apparent that that's what we need to make sure we do. So, the depot that you've been to this morning, that's got a large solar array on top. But that's nowhere near enough power to do the buildings and do 150 electric vehicles. So, we're going to have to think quite carefully about how we try and minimize our total cost of ownership, and a key part of that is, where do we get the fuel from? Where do we get the electricity from? How do we make sure that it's as green as possible? There's no point really greening the fleet and then just moving the emissions somewhere else. So, wind, solar, whatever other renewable sources of electricity that we can tap into, that's what we want to do.

Mike: And hence why we're working with you on the fixed battery installation that we're going to put on-site. More PV. But also, it's thinking about what we can do with your fixed asset. So, here we are, on a lovely mobile asset, but what do we do with your depots? How can we turn them into zero-carbon as well? So, battery storage, accessing wind, accessing solar is all part of our partnership.

Battery Range

Mike: We’re going around Glasgow, this is a fantastic electric bus, but obviously city bus driving is dominated by lower range requirements, isn't it? So, is that why you're also looking at hydrogen? To think about longer range? What are your thoughts around that? The role of hydrogen in the whole decarbonisation mix?

Andrew: Yes, it's an interesting point. Single deck electric bus ranges are now able to meet probably 80% of the requirements for single deck buses. So, for example, in Glasgow we've got single deck operations that stretch into the 200 miles, almost 260 miles a day. So, we can't convert those to EV without charging during the day. So we either need more buses or more operational cost to enable that to happen.

Hitachi’s Role

Mike: So, I suppose one of the questions a lot of people ask is, what does Hitachi do and what are we doing with you? And it's a good question and it's something we're really proud of. First of all we're helping you with financing the batteries, particularly on these buses. But, we're also looking at how we can use our tech to improve and help you transform both the buses of the future, but also the depots of the future.

So, how can we integrate all of these different new pieces of tech? Because it's pretty complex when you break it down. We've do we get the power into the depot? What type of chargers do you use? How effectively do you use them? There's hardware issues, there's software that runs on those. You then want to be smart in the way that you charge, when you charge, how you charge.

And ultimately, we know that things are going to go wrong. There's going to be buses that are not going to be charged for whatever reason. And our job is putting ourselves between you and all of the various different parties that could be responsible for why that bus hasn't been charged. Because it could be user error, it might not have been plugged in. The charge point might not have been working. Software on the charge point. Anything to do with power coming in, our job is to help that transition be as smooth as possible. We rely on our daily platform to actually provide you with all of the information, and us with all of the information so you can anticipate problems, remediate them, and get it sorted before anybody even notices. And just ensure that you can then focus on what's important for your business, which is getting as many people using your buses and loving your buses as much as possible.

Andrew: And certainly, when we started on this particular journey, we needed a partner that would understand and help us understand the battery-as-a-service element. So, effectively buying the battery, and then selling it to you guys, and then renting it back over the life of the battery to give us certainty over a key variable in the total cost of ownership. It’s really, really useful. I think it's been evident since we started to speak to Hitachi, that there's a load of other things that you guys can do as well as the pure battery-as-a-service element. And so, we take that one as read, and then it's other elements that we're keen to develop with this relationship, that partnership, that means we can deliver a better service to our customers for the lowest cost that we possibly can.

Mike: Yes, and we'll work with you to work out where that ‘as-a-service’ element ends. Because it could be even further, it could be bus-as-a-service and we just essentially deliver you a bus and guarantee a level of state of charge. We just want to experiment and work it out with you, and that's the beauty of this partnership, is what we can do is we can just test these different models out, different commercial approaches to see what works best for your business and for our business. And I think it's a dream partnership.

Cleaner Air

Mike: Here we are in the beautiful center of Glasgow, what's the importance to you of all of this when it comes to clean air?

Andrew: We want to reduce our carbon emissions. In this fleet, I think it's around 5,000 tons of carbon a year that the 148 vehicles will save going into the atmosphere. So, in Glasgow, we want to be seen to have a big electric vehicle fleet. It's better for the city, it's better for the traveling public, it's better for everyone. Who wouldn't want to improve city streets?

So, I think it's really exciting. We've got our commitment to 2035, we've got 14 years to change our entire fleet, and it's a hugely exciting journey. If you divide our fleet by the number of years, we need to be investing in around three to four hundred vehicles every single year in order to complete that operation.

So, we feel like we need to do our piece and we want to do our piece. And if we can make the operations stack up in terms of the ranges and everything else, and now we can. And that hasn't been the case until very recently, we can make the case commercially. And again, with people like ZEBRA, with funding from Transport Scotland as well. Then if we can make the commercial case, we can make the operational case, why wouldn't we invest in cleaner vehicles that are better for the environment? That are good for customers? That are nicer to drive for the drivers? It just makes absolute sense.