Charging Forward With Transit Infrastructure

By Mike Hynes, CALSTART

Mike Hynes

Infrastructure can be one of the most daunting challenges for a transit agency electrifying its fleet. The entire process can be overwhelming, given the cost of equipment and construction, the power requirements that may not be available onsite, and the space constraints that plague so many agencies. New technologies are being deployed to address some of these issues, however, and they could unlock potential solutions across multiple industries.

When looking at traditional charging infrastructure, what comes to mind is probably a vehicle that has a charger plugged into it. This is a relatively cost-effective and easy solution. However, it is not scalable. Transit agencies do not have one diesel dispenser for every bus so we cannot expect them to have a charging dispenser for every bus in their zero-emission fleet. It would not be cost-effective, and space constraints would be prohibitive in many cases. This solution can work for small deployments of vehicles but quickly creates issues as it is scaled up. Beyond this, the uptime for chargers is roughly 60 percent in the United States on any given day. This has less to do with the hardware than with the software as new firmware updates and patches may not be synchronized between the vehicle and the charger. There are companies addressing this by adding an additional layer of code to chargers that can update wirelessly, which has shown a dramatic improvement in reliability.

While the reliability of chargers is being addressed, this still leaves the physical issue of space constraints unresolved. One technology that is gaining traction is inductive charging. Inductive charging allows inground infrastructure to be installed, corresponding to buses (or trucks or passenger cars or scooters, etc.) that are outfitted with a receiver that can accept a wireless charge. Transit providers have expressed that static inductive charging (charging while parked) technology has significant promise, particularly as agencies seek to ensure their zero-emission vehicles have the necessary range to achieve their service goals. While the technology for charging while parked has been around for decades, a new technology, dynamic inductive charging, allows vehicles to charge while in motion.

Several dynamic inductive charging projects worldwide are pioneering the integration of wireless charging technology into transportation infrastructure. Sweden’s eRoadArlanda initiative, for example, involves embedding electric rails into a section of public road near Stockholm to allow vehicles equipped with the technology to charge while driving. In the United Kingdom, the Electric Road System (ERS) Trials by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) are currently assessing wireless charging on a test track. South Korea’s Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV) System, developed by KAIST, focuses on wirelessly charging buses while they are in motion using power transfer pads embedded in roads. In the United States, the Michigan Department of Transportation is piloting the first public in-road charging system along a one-mile section of road in Detroit.

While not limited to transit fleets, the application of this technology can be transformative in the transit vehicle space. Entire bus yards can become charging pads, while streets across urban areas could be charging vehicles as they move throughout the city. Beyond the potential benefits to transit fleets, dynamic wireless charging has the potential to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles for fleets and the public by turning streets into sustainable shared energy platforms.

Mike Hynes joined CALSTART in September 2022 as the National Transit Bus Program Manager. Mike leads the transit bus program as a member of the Bus Initiative team to assist agencies with planning, procuring, and deploying zero-emission vehicles. With more than 20 years of experience in the public transportation sector, Mike strives to expand CALSTART’s role in the adoption and implementation of zero emission transit fleets across the nation.

A mission-driven, industry organization focused on transportation decarbonization and clean air for all, CALSTART has offices in New York, Michigan, Colorado, California, Florida, and Europe. CALSTART is uniquely positioned to build the national clean transportation industry by working closely with its member companies and building on the lessons learned from the major programs it manages for the State of California. CALSTART has more than 280 member companies and manages more than $500 million in vehicle incentive and technical assistance programs in the United States. Visit calstart.org.

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