Jorge Suárez
Commercial Manager of Electromobility and Urban Transportation
View from the Top

Pioneers Supercharge the Electromobility Market

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 12:47

Q: How committed is Volvo to the development of electric and hybrid technology?

A: Volvo has engaged in electromobility since the early 1970s, making us industry pioneers. During the 1990s, even before environmental awareness topped the agenda, Volvo developed its first hybrid system, the Environmental Concept Bus. As energy and environmental perceptions began shifting, especially after the Kyoto Protocol, the push for these products led to innovations in transportation and energy consumption. Hybrids were the first generation of products in electromobility, recovering energy during braking and storing it in the vehicle’s battery. This technology required vehicles to operate under stop-andgo conditions, making buses and delivery trucks the two major targets for electromobility. The biggest challenge has been extending battery life, while achieving a balance between the vehicle’s weight and its power storage. Rising demand pushed Volvo Buses, with the help of the Swedish Energy Agency, to embark on hybrid vehicle development.

Q: To what extent have Mexican authorities supported Volvo in the implementation of this type of technology in Mexico City?

A: Cities must have multidisciplinary teams that understand our technology, bus operations, infrastructure and rolling stock. We have to work closely with the city government, which has not been an easy task as these types of matters must be consulted with seven departments, whose opinions are rarely the same across the board.

We have a consortium with ABB and a planning consultancy, IDOM, to develop a bus line in downtown Mexico City. The city government has shown interest in this, though we must still build a case and be open to alternative procedures and technology. The Metrobús runs a highly competent operation, so we are flattered that they have shown interest in our products. Mexico City is one of the most important cities in Latin America for us and we want cities to implement these solutions because they want to improve quality of life and the environment. Solutions need to balance out both sustainability and profitability.

In 2015, Volvo signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mexico City’s government to advance electromobility in the city. We expect that our hybrid technology will be the first to be implemented, once operators and users become accustomed to the idea of innovative technology providing a better service, takes care of the environment and minimizes noise pollution.

Q: What are the challenges related to charging station infrastructure and how have you overcome them?

A: Our biggest challenge so far has been building the infrastructure as it depends heavily on the city, its design and its legislation. Supercapacitors, an emerging technology, have the advantage of potentiating energy but they lack retention capacity and have very short life spans. Therefore, multiple supercapacitors would be needed at each high-powered station for every bus.

As a solution, Volvo installed high-powered batteries in its hybrid vehicles adapted to store 5kWh. Our electric hybrids are adapted with 9kWh batteries, while our purely electric vehicles have four batteries of the same capacity. The average bus route in Mexico City is 15km long, short enough for buses to reach the end terminal to charge for three to six minutes while passengers board at the terminal. We also decided that rather than selling the batteries, we would sell their usage. Volvo provides all the necessary maintenance and replacements. The Volvo package includes a high-performance hybrid bus, a battery and maintenance contract, as well as our telematics service.

Collaborating with Siemens and ABB led us to develop a charging station encompassing a transformer connected to the high power line. Since a pantograph is only needed for the charging process, we minimize costs and risks by installing them at each station, rather than on each bus. This allows us to minimize infrastructure investment. The synchronization between bus and terminal presents the biggest challenge, apart from deciding the location of the charging stations. Their weight and size have to be considered in advance, in addition to any special permits and terminal design requirements.