Multiplying zero (emissions)

Battery-electric bus census increased more than a third last year

Battery-electric buses still account for a small portion of the U.S. fleet, but their numbers grew by 37 percent last year. New orders, particularly from transit agencies, are being signed faster than manufacturers can build the buses, reported CALSTART, a non-profit organization.

“Despite becoming much more popular among transit agencies, ZEBs (zero-emission buses) are still advanced technology and they can take months, if not years, for bus manufacturers to build and deliver,” said the organization’s 2019 report, Zeroing in on ZEBs.

The report lists 2,255 ZEBs operating in the U.S., up from 1,650 in the previous year. The total includes 2,184 battery-electric buses and 71 powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

More than 200 transit agencies deploy the vehicles or have them on order. More than 65,000 buses are operated by transit systems across the country.

“A nearly 37-percent jump over such a short time is remarkable, considering the life-cycle of transit buses as well as the adjustments agencies make when upgrading to new, more advanced technologies,” said John Boesel, president and chief executive officer of CALSTART, in announcing the report.

The organization, based in Pasadena, California, cites the Federal Trade Administration’s Low or No-Emission Vehicle Program (Lo-No) and the California Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) among incentives for the growing purchases. Many states also are devoting funds from the 2016 settlement of the Volkswagen scandal involving manipulation of emissions testing of diesel automobiles.

“Between 2013 and 2019, the Federal Transit Administration has distributed over $356 million for hybrids, battery-electric and hydrogen-fuel-cell buses via the Low or No-Emission Bus Program,” the report said. Low-No grants totaling $84.9 million were made to agencies in 38 states in 2019.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has allocated more than $589 million in HVIP grants since 2009. In October, CARB announced the availability of $142 million in new HVIP grants. A week later the state announced that it would accept no further applications because the program already was “oversubscribed.”

By the numbers

The Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) research service reported that electric vehicles accounted for less than 20 percent of the global fleet in 2019, but that share will rise to nearly 70 percent by 2040.

Prices of lithium-ion batteries fell 85 percent from 2010 to 2018, from $1,160 per kilowatt/hour to $176. In the future, “We calculate a learning rate of around 18 percent. This means that for every doubling of cumulative volume, we observe an 18-percent reduction in price. We expect the price of an average battery pack to be around $94/kilowatt/hour by 2024 and $62/kilowatt/ hour by 2030,” according to the BNEF Battery Price Survey.

About 99 percent of the world’s electric buses—420,000 of 425,000—are operating in China, BNEF reported. China, which mandates electric bus usage, is expected to field about 600,000 by 2025.

“Over 2 million electric vehicles were sold in 2018, up from just a few thousand in 2010, and there is no sign of slowing down. We expect annual passenger EV sales to rise to 10 million in 2025, 28 million in 2030 and 56 million by 2040,” reported the BNEF Electric Vehicle Outlook 2019.

“Despite the rapid growth in sales, there are over a billion vehicles on the road and EVs are less than 0.5% of the global vehicle fleet. Changing this over will take time. The total passenger vehicle fleet continues to rise to 1.68 billion vehicles in 2040, driven mostly by demand in emerging economies. By 2040 we expect 500 million passenger EVs on the road and over 40 million commercial EVs.”

Leading states for ZEBs

  • California                    1,106
  • Washington                211
  • Florida                         142
  • Colorado                     73
  • Illinois                         73
  • North Carolina           54
  • Texas                           38
  • Pennsylvania               37
  • Ohio                            36
  • Nevada                        30
  • Maryland                     30
  • Hawaii                         30

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