The New South Wales state Coalition government has outlined its strategy for transitioning the state’s 8,000+ bus fleet to zero-emission models by 2030.
Transport for NSW published its new strategy on Monday, asking for residents to share their opinions on the proposed strategy via an online survey.
Already there are 89 battery electric buses ordered to arrive by mid-2022, and 22 are already in service across Greater Sydney – including the first electric bus to have been made in New South Wales, which was unveiled earlier this year.
The new strategy focuses first on short-term replacement opportunities over the next 18 months, then a ramp-up to begin in 2023 before reaching peak delivery of between 1,200 and 1,300 electric buses per annum in the latter part of the decade.
“At present, Chinese manufacturers are the largest producers of [battery electric buses (BEBs)], but European and Australian manufacturers are moving quickly to produce competitive BEBs,” the strategy explains.
“Local Australian manufacturers have commenced taking orders for vehicles and have indicated that they can re-tool to produce BEBs and ramp-up production capacity to meet local demand over the coming decade.”
According to Transport for NSW, “The transition presents both challenges and opportunities for bus manufacturers and supply chains” including opportunities for the Australian bus manufacturing industry to scale up, thanks to a major near-term stimulus boost.
However, challenges still remain, with the scale of the ramp-up needed potentially putting a strain on local manufacturers, and the possibility of a “demand cliff” at the end of the transition as demand drops to only “growth” requirements.
While the transition to zero-emission vehicles is part of the New South Wales Government’s larger commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 – and takes place within the much larger global transition towards zero-emission electric vehicles – Transport for NSW is quick to highlight the more immediate and tangible impacts their zero-emission transport strategy will have for the community.
At the moment, buses account for nearly half of Transport for NSW’s annual carbon emissions, at 46%, while trains account for 45%. A wholesale transition to zero-emission buses will then have a concomitant impact on the health and air quality across the state, as well as reducing residential noise.
According to the strategy, the transition to zero-emission buses will also create potential savings of between $1 billion and $2 billion in environmental and health costs.
The immediate economic impact will also be felt across the state, as the transition to zero emission buses will create investment and jobs – particularly in bus manufacturing and depot upgrades. A parallel skills growth in emerging technology research and development, manufacturing, and deployment will also serve the state’s economy in the decades to come.
Transport for NSW’s strategy will also focus on both battery-electric buses as well as hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses – a decision which will no doubt annoy some, but which will serve as an important diversification for development and innovation.
However, the government is aware of the disparity between battery and hydrogen.
The report identifies both that hydrogen fuel-cell electric bus technology “is emerging rapidly and should be a focus for scaled trials to support industry development but is unlikely to be cost competitive for wide scale transition for 5–10 years,” while similarly acknowledging that the immediate transition “will need to begin with a focus on BEBs as they are the only mature technology available at scale that can support a net zero transition in the immediate term.”
Such a large-scale and wholesale transition to zero emission buses will also require a companion development of supporting infrastructure upgrades. Specifically, the report identifies two significant necessary infrastructure upgrades as being “to the electrical grid and the individual bus depots.”
Importantly, the strategy acknowledges that the “long lead-times of such upgrades may limit the speed of transition if not considered and addressed in advance.”