Should buses use solar panels?

Buses are an efficient mode of public transport as it carries lots of people. It is much more efficient than cars. A bus runs many miles every year on highways and urban areas.

Buses driven with diesel fuel leave an unfathomable negative impact with its nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emission. This dilemma can be fully addressed by installing solar panels on top of the bus.

Buses going zero emission with solar energy is a win-win solution for bus company and the environment. It is the best and cheapest shortcut to a greener profile.

When equipped with solar panels, even diesel engine buses can become greener and efficient.  With this people will have more access to climate friendly travel.

A solar bus or solar-charged bus is a bus which is powered mainly by solar energySolar panels with photovoltaic cells are attached on the vehicle’s roof. It converts the sun’s energy directly into electric energy to be used by the engine

A city bus would use approximately 7,500 gallons of fuel every year. The average annual cost for fuel would be around $19,600. The total cost to run a city bus for a year is $250,000.

The average cost to build a solar powered city bus would much lesser compared to the cost of building a city bus. A city bus would cost around $40,000. This has triggered many to implement the idea of solar buses.

The idea of utilising solar energy to power buses were first introduced in 2013 in Adelaide. Those buses were without solar panels. It was world’s first 100% solar powered bus.

Tindo, the solar electric bus was then recharged by a solar panel system installed on top of the Adelaide Central Bus Station. The battery of the bus needs to be charged before setting out on routes in the town.

Off late Brisbane has been trialling on an electric bus that runs on 100 per cent solar power. It is developed by transport operator Transdev.

Solar panel installation is done on the depot’s roof. 250 solar panels were installed this way. It charges 10 Tesla Powerwall at the depot and the buses gets recharged from there. The on-board battery allows it to travel up to 300 kilometres without a recharge.

The idea of solar powering buses has been used by many countries in many different ways.

With the idea of reducing the dependency on the bus depot for recharging, the innovators have come up with the idea of installing solar panels on the roof of the bus.

With the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2030, FlixBus has launched buses equipped with solar panels. Ultra-thin and lightweight solar mats are installed on the roof of the FlixBus.

These solar mats keep the battery charged. The alternator need not charge it using fuel. This bus runs twice a week from Dortmund to London. It assures a reduction of 7 per cent in diesel consumption.

All the onboard equipment like USB ports, sockets, air conditioning, wi-fi and a media entertainment system are powered with solar energy.

The bus saved an average of 1.7 litres of diesel per 100 km, thus saving around 10 litres a day. The solar panels are expected to produce more energy during summer.

Based on the results of this pilot study they plan to implement this for more buses.

Go-Ahead Group has successfully operated 18 buses with solar panels in Britain for more than a year. Such buses made a savings of 1.4litres of diesel per bus per year and has reduced about 3.7 tonnes of carbon emissions per bus.

The success of their trial in Britain gave them an idea to implement this plan in Singapore. The assumption was that it would be more effective in the climate of Singapore.

On a trial basis, bus operator Go-Ahead Singapore has installed ultra-thin solar panels on the roofs of two of its buses. These buses are the first of its kind in Singapore.

Flexible, lightweight, ultra-thin panels were chosen instead of conventional solar panels. The 1.6mm-thick panels convert solar energy into electricity to charge the buses’ batteries.

This reduces the load on the vehicle’s alternator. It helps in saving fuel and reduces carbon emission.

In a 6 months trial, the company would get an evaluation of the buses’ performance and effectiveness in using solar energy to reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption.

Based on the findings from the current trial Go-Ahead Singapore will be installing solar panels on other buses too. It could save thousands of dollars that are currently spent on fuel.

The stored energy can be used at night or when the weather is not capable of generating power. In case the stored energy gets exhausted the buses can stop at bus charging stations.

The government of Australia is committed to transitioning public transport to cleaner, low-emission technologies. Solar powered buses are an apt way of doing it.

Solar power is the best hope for a clean, green sustainable future. Buses with solar panels reduce operational costs and noxious gases, thereby decarbonising the public transport.

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Benjamin Beal