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Barcelona’s Bus Story Explains Why Battery-Electric Vehicles Are Growing Fast & Hydrogen Vehicles Not

The experience of Barcelona’s leading transit agency, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB), provides an excellent comparison of the key difference between battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered vehicles, a difference that exists today and will exist indefinitely.

TMB has been a member of Europe’s Hydrogen Bus Alliance for years. In the past, it has even trialled hydrogen-powered buses. Through its testing, it found that hydrogen buses were about 12x more expensive than conventional/diesel buses — too expensive right now to be considered for use in TMB’s (or anyone else’s) fleet.

Now, TMB is trialling a BYD electric bus (the short video at the top is from inside the bus). The bus is supposed to run for 16 hrs a day, two 8-hour shifts. BYD’s bus was the only bus that met the specifications that TMB put out for this trial program. In its first summer (~4 months) running, it was running ~14 hrs a day. The pilot program should last for 2 years in total.

The battery system in the bus is supposed to last about 7.5 years. So, TMB would need to change the battery system just once over the 15-year service lifetime of the bus if this turns out to be accurate. If so, the lifetime cost will be about the same as that of conventional buses.

Naturally, if battery costs come down and/or fuel costs go up, electric buses could become the cheaper option. However, if the battery systems don’t live up to specifications, the buses could be a bit more expensive. Though, with so much research and development occurring, as well as considerable cost drops that come with increased manufacturing, the expectation leans towards the former rather than the latter. Furthermore, if someone decided to tax diesel buses to account for the health costs they impose on the city’s residents, I imagine BYD’s electric option would come at on top by a long shot.

I think this bus comparison is an excellent example of the key difference that exists today between hydrogen-powered and battery-electric vehicles (cars included). And many contend that this difference will remain forever. The difference, of course, is that hydrogen vehicles are enormously expensive, while battery-electric vehicles are more or less comparable to conventional vehicles when looking at lifetime costs… without even including the tremendous health and pollution costs that come with diesel- or gasoline-powered vehicles.

Of course, electric vehicles are zero emissions vehicles, but if you are curious about the electricity split of Barcelona that powers these buses, the following is a general estimate of the average electricity consumption split in Barcelona today:

  • 25% wind
  • 20% nuclear
  • 5% PV
  • 30% natural gas
  • 20% coal

That makes for some quite clean electricity.

If the BYD bus lives up to expectations, what would be the reasons for not switching to electric buses!?

  • Martin M Thomsen

    I was with you at this test in Barcelona and was amazed about how fare BYD has gone with this first bus. I will follow the test of 2 busses in Copenhagen that has just started and look forward to see how they preform over the next two years.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Ha, look at that. :D I was actually on the hybrid bus, but jumped on this one at the end to get a quick feel & video. :D Is Copenhagen trialling the same bus?

      • Martin M Thomsen

        Yes, it is 2 BYD busses in Copenhagen like the once in Barcelona. BYD only has one model yet :-)

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          That’s what I thought. Thanks! Please let us know if you see any interesting news from that trial (or others).