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Siemens shares EV charging insights

With experience and knowledge in the electric bus charging infrastructure sector, Siemens Australia sat down with ABC to discuss the details operators should know when transitioning to zero-emissions depots

Electrification of transportation is one of the main pathways to achieving net zero emissions. The electric vehicle (EV) industry continues to grow exponentially and, in tandem, so does the supporting infrastructure to help the adoption of electrified transportation. Siemens has had a long history in this space. In fact, between 1905 and 1909, in Berlin, Siemens was building various versions of electric cars itself, including a van, a minibus and four-seat convertible that was used as a hotel taxi.

Today, governments across the world – from Nuremberg to Netherlands and Canada to China – are working with Siemens to electrify their bus transport fleets so they can meet their emission reduction targets. Whilst opportunities are aplenty, there are several considerations.

Siemens electric vehicle charging infrastructure lead Olivia Laskowski sat down with ABC to share the company’s insights into bus operators’ considerations and choices when transitioning their fleets to zero-emissions vehicles. 

ABC: Looking at the current bus and coach industry, what are the different types of stakeholders in the market and how does Siemens fit into that?

OL: Bus and coach companies in most instances have multiple stakeholders who all have a role in electrification of their fleets.

First up, you have the technology suppliers of the vehicles and charging and grid infrastructure, and this is where Siemens fits in. Many bus operators choose to purchase directly from suppliers. As a leading technology company focused on industry, infrastructure and transport, we offer technology and service for the charging industry. Siemens also supplies and maintains our equipment. We provide the Sicharge UC charging infrastructure for electric bus depots, and DepotFinity charging management software, along with medium voltage equipment such as transformers, switchgear, and microgrid solutions to manage onsite solar and battery storage.

Next, there are the electrical and civil contractors who manage the onsite work. Some will have internal design houses that can plan the optimal cable and equipment placement design to minimise interruption to the depot, reduce costs and maximise parking space.

Consultants could also be another group of stakeholders who map out how the transition to electric fleets impacts bus depot layouts and summarise technology options available in the market. Consultants may also assist with mapping how route, climate, and other variables impact the consumption of the vehicle battery.

There are also many turnkey solution providers in the market that wrap up all of the above; project managing the selection of suppliers, design and electrical and civil upgrades.

Finally, operators sometimes rely on financiers who can provide options such as Build Own Operate Maintain (BOOM) models or infrastructure leasing at a $/kW cost. Many of the financiers in the market are also turnkey solution providers.

Bus operators have a wealth of choices; from well-established Australian businesses with strengths in managing large power upgrades across multiple industries, through to global companies bringing international experience in electric bus depots – and even homegrown start-ups.

ABC: Australia’s bus and coach industry is certainly a testing ground for the nation when it comes to transitioning to zero-emissions charging infrastructure. For operators looking to make the leap to new energy, what are the first considerations they need to factor in when bringing electric buses into their fleet?

OL: Implementation and adoption of new technologies in any industry takes time, effort and a bit of learning on the go. The electric charging industry for large part is no different. What we’ve found in Australia is that many bus operators start small and look to scale over time. They may have a mix of diesel and electric buses operating out of one depot for a number of years and need infrastructure that will scale with them as their fleet transitions towards fully electric. Regardless of how big or small the starting point, proper planning upfront with the end goal in mind is vital to avoid costly repetition of electrical and civil upgrades.

One consideration is: what is the most cost-effective point to change connection to the electricity network from a low voltage customer to a medium voltage customer? Another is: should the bus operator privately own the grid connection equipment onsite (including transformers, switchgear and more) or ask the electrical distributor to perform that upgrade on the public network? Strategies to scale infrastructure with minimal sunk cost should always be at the forefront of an operator’s mind.

Siemens’ charging infrastructure is built with scalability and flexibility in mind. Our Sicharge UC chargers for electric buses and trucks have a power range from 100kW to 600kW, with ground and overhead plug-in options, as well as pantograph and hood. Up to five buses can connect to a single charging station via the slimline dispensers. Many operators we work with take advantage of this feature to scale their fleet quickly without needing to upgrade their switchboards. For example, they may have a fleet of 10 electric buses charged with five Sicharge UC chargers with two dispensers each. Over time they can charge up to 50 electric buses with the same Sicharge UC chargers by adding additional dispensers with no impact on the size of their grid connection infrastructure.

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ABC: Olivia, Siemens has been well involved in electric charging infrastructure in the industry for quite some time. What are the key challenges that you’ve seen operators face and how can they overcome them?

OL: Operators face three key challenges: cost, time and space.

The cost relates to the initial capital outlay, especially for the depot infrastructure, and how the capital investment is funded. A battery is far more efficient than a combustion engine, and electricity is cheaper than diesel. However, the amount of power an electric bus depot needs still takes most bus operators by surprise. As a quick rule of thumb, a 1.25MVA transformer would be sufficient for a fleet of between 20 to 30 electric buses. It is not uncommon for traditional depots to have an existing transformer of less than 500kVA. Additional capital investment in solar and battery may assist in offsetting operating costs. However, the investment might not always stack up, so energy sourcing scenario planning at the start is key to the process of electrification.

Charging management software, with smart load management, supports a simple and inexpensive way to reduce the electricity bill. Staggering and adjusting the charging power over the available time reduces peak demand and enables operators to charge within the windows of the cheapest electricity. The savings in electricity expenditure can be significant – between 20 to 50 per cent..

Siemens DepotFinity software is the most widely used charging management backend in the Australian and New Zealand markets. A one-year free trial of DepotFinity Connect is part of purchasing all Sicharge UC chargers. This allows bus operators to understand the features and benefits to their business.

Time is also a factor. The period to upgrade a transformer is typically 12 months. Additionally, charger and vehicle lead times are increasing due to global component supply and freight constraints. We identified the need to have product on the shelf in Australia early on. We manage a local stock of Sicharge UC ourselves as well as through our distributor Yurika.

Finally, space is a factor for all large bus depots – how do you install significant quantities of infrastructure without consuming valuable parking spots? Siemens Sicharge UC is designed to minimise the footprint in the parking lot, with slimline Dispensers installed up to 100m from the primary Charging Centre. Multiple overhead solutions are also available. I will be travelling across Europe in September to document some of the latest overhead solutions and bring the learnings back to share with ABC magazine, so watch this space to learn how to save space!

ABC: As we’re both aware, it’s certainly not just small operators that are beginning to see the benefits of installing electric charging infrastructure. If very large depots are looking towards a full-scale zero-emissions transmission, what do they need to consider?

OL: For sizeable electric bus fleets or even small but fully electric depots, charging and grid infrastructure becomes critical infrastructure. The need to plan for contingencies in the event of a power supply or charger failure becomes very real. Sites like these should consider backup power options, including battery storage or even diesel generators. In addition, the quantity of charging infrastructure installed should be designed with inbuilt redundancy in mind. There should be sufficient chargers available at any time to meet the operational needs of the depot, including if a charger is out of service. 

The other factor for larger sites is the need for greater sophistication in charging management software. Small depots will be quite happy with software that provides real-time information about the charger availability and status of charging buses, historical analytics of prior charging sessions, and a basic level of smart charging to reduce electricity expenditure. However, larger depots need more grunt.

Siemens DepotFinity Control Module provides a day ahead plan of charger schedules following the fleet schedule, mapping where buses will park and how long they will charge for. But things don’t always go according to plan! Buses are delayed, taken out of service and parked in the wrong spot. DepotFinity Control adapts the plan in real time over the course of a day to accommodate for the unexpected to ensure buses can still meet their next scheduled route. This is all done with one goal in mind – to minimise the electricity bill. DepotFinity Control will continually and dynamically optimise the charging plan to minimise peak demand and chase the cheapest time-of-use tariff. 

ABC: One thing I often hear from operators is that the transitioning process for electrifying depots goes much further than the initial set-up. From Siemens’ perspective, how vital is service for operators of electric bus depot infrastructure?

OL: The electric bus industry is still relatively new in Australia. Bus operators are often focused on the technology and the bus and charging infrastructure. The service topic can become an oversight. However, I firmly believe service will become the differentiating factor for technology suppliers, particularly in the bus industry.

To be honest, the service network capable of fully supporting the emerging customer base at scale is still developing and will grow in tandem with the industry. This is an important part of our business already and we have a 24/7 hotline, an existing team of national service technicians, and dedicated application engineers to perform system integration work and diagnostics. Plus, we hold a stock of spare parts in the country.


But this is a growing area for us too. We are aware that this is not enough. We are building an inhouse service team and partner network that can meet the fast response and resolution times traditionally expected in the bus industry, as well as the expertise to develop solutions for local needs. It’s a journey we’re already on, and we aim to stay in pole position.

ABC: Is Australia’s journey to zero emission buses unique in any way compared to the international market?

OL: Over the past three years, our engineers across Australia and New Zealand have been integrating our Sicharge UC charger with numerous different electric bus models.

Due to a unique local mix of available buses and chargers, to date, Australia or New Zealand have often been the very first location globally where Sicharge UC has met a particular electric bus model.

Until very recently, all available electric buses in Australia and New Zealand were either Asian or homegrown brands. The first opportunity to integrate with a Siemens charger out of Europe was right here!

ABC: Australia’s industry may be adapting quickly, but there are plenty of advancements being made globally. What do you see happening overseas that we may be able to learn from?

OL: The electric vehicle transport revolution is here, and the speed at which buses and passenger vehicles are making this transition is increasing rapidly. Following behind are the light and heavy truck, marine and aviation industries.

The transition of these vehicles to electric relies on advances in new charging infrastructure solutions.

Our Megawatt Charging System (MCS) standard is due to be released in 2024. MCS is a step change in technology from kW charging to MW charging through a cable. Currently, this level of power can only be delivered through a pantograph.

The other very exciting future is rethinking the real possibility of what an electric bus depot is. Business opportunities for mixed-use depots exist in two ways.

Multiple fleets could pay to use the available charging infrastructure, be it passenger, truck or bus fleets, creating a parallel revenue stream and greater utilisation of assets.

In addition, given the lack of emissions and noise, landowners can now think about developing the space above existing quiet, zero emission electric bus depots for various industrial, commercial or even residential needs.

One thing is for sure, the future is exciting!

It’s been a pleasure Olivia. Thank you for chatting with me about the current state of the electric bus depot market.

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