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Battery-Electric Buses Might Not Be Quite Ready for Prime Time

Companies are marketing battery-electric buses as the transit vehicles of the future, but there is still much room for improvement.
January 22, 2019, 12pm PST | Camille Fink
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Proterra Inc

Alon Levy reports that cities in the United States and Europe are starting to look at battery-electric buses (BEBs) as an environmentally friendly, zero-emissions alternative for their fleets.

However, the performance of BEBs in cities across the country has been inconsistent. Battery range has been a big issue, with BEBs not able to travel nearly as far as fuel-powered buses. The need to recharge during the day is costly and labor intensive, and buses out of commission for charging means more vehicles are needed to maintain the same capacity.

BEBs also appear to have problems both in cold and hot weather, when batteries drain more quickly and vehicles subsequently struggle with a decrease in range.

One alternative is in-motion charging (IMC), which involves outfitting a trolleybus with a small battery and allows the vehicles to go off-grid. IMC is gaining ground in Europe, but the focus in the United States has remained largely on BEBs, says Levy.

While IMC does require overhead wire, Levy notes that BEB technology does not appear ready for widespread use. He suggests that American cities instead follow the lead of European cities putting in trolleybus networks with IMC.

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Published on Thursday, January 17, 2019 in CityLab
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