Clean Tech

Towards green and no guzzling

Preeti Mehra | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on January 17, 2017

Volvo’s pitch on sustainable public transport for Indian cities

When Volvo buses began to negotiate the Indian roads 15 years ago, the company had not envisaged that it would also be the first to begin a pilot project on sustainable transport in the country. But now with two hybrid buses running in Navi Mumbai, the company is getting ready to interact with more Indian cities, the government and administrations to take forward the concept of green public transport.

Cautioning that technology has to be applied in a phased manner after building an ecosystem for it, Håkan Agnevall, President of Volvo Bus Corporation, said, “We want to engage in dialogue with cities of the world, we do that in several parts of the world, we share our experiences such as the BRT and electro mobility, the positives and the negatives, the constraints and try to have an open dialogue with the authorities”

In an exclusive interaction with BusinessLine along with his colleague Akash Passey, Senior Vice President, Business Region International, the President recalled how Volvo began to closely study the ideal transport solutions for the future in the mid 2000s. It concluded that the future would have to be 'electric'. “It’s the most energy efficient way to drive a vehicle. Also the need to create a sustainable environment, reduce emissions... Based on this we as a group started on investing in electro-mobility. Within the group, the buses have been pioneer.”

Agnevall was here last week for the 8th Volvo Nobel MemorialSeminar 2017 on 'Public Transport: A Case for Disruptive Intervention Now!'. Detailing the company's work on electro mobility, he said there were three basic dimensions: The first step is to create the most sustainable environment and energy efficiency. “What we have learned is that the electric bus is very silent and emission free. It’s a new tool in the public transport box, because you can bring it closer to people. No one wants to have a bus stop in front of for instance a window, but noiseless buses can be brought to areas where they were not brought in before. They can also be brought indoors. In the future you will also see electric buses entering shopping malls, hospitals, apartment buildings.”

As a second step, he said, it would change urban planning and as a third step the electric device would have to be placed within the city’s power system. “How can you leverage that component in a city’s power system to develop smart grid solutions. It will also have impact on the power system of the city.”

Agnevall also elaborated on the three green bus products that Volvo offers. The hybrid diesel currently running in Navi Mumbai has the option of an electric motor battery which uses breaking energy to charge with a fuel saving of 30-40 per cent. The second offering is the electric hybrid or plug in hybrid. It has the same drive line but a bigger battery energised at charging stations. The third product is the ideal full electric that has no diesel component, which means it is fully dependent on charging infrastructure. The batteries here are very costly.

Agnevall felt that India would have to start with the first hybrid product as it lacked the charging infrastructure. It could move to more efficient technology in the future when the ecosystem was ready for it. “At Volvo we are ready to provide the full system including the charging infrastructure through partners Siemens and ABB. We are prepared to offer batteries per kilometre. Batteries will have to replaced after some time of driving the bus. To lower this technical risk, we are ready to offer a fixed cost per kilometer for the battery,” he said.

Going back to the current hybrid pilot project in Navi Mumbai, Passey deliberated on the feedback. “We have received a positive response, not only from the customer but also from the central government in supporting hybrid technology for piloting in India.

“We have been in electro mobility for a long time and we have 1000s of hybrids across the world but the experience is that all new technology brings its benefits but with challenges. So by putting pilot hybrid buses we are looking at the energy efficiency benefit which is at 30-40 per cent in comparison to a full electric bus.”

For a company that professes to “develop tomorrow's solutions today” this, of course, is not the last word on its pilots. It is in discussion with other cities for similar experiments. So, look out for more hybrid buses on city roads.

Published on January 17, 2017
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