Over 100 companies have expressed interest in tendering for the ACT's government's new multimillion-dollar electric bus fleet, with the formal process expected to start within the next six months.
ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel said the interest shown by potential tenderers gave the government "confidence [in] getting the right solution to successfully transition our fleet to zero emissions".
The government has set aside $114 million to upgrade its Woden depot and transition 90 electric buses but its priority was to phase out the oldest of its fleet first - 34 old orange Renault diesel models which pre-dated European emission standards and were the highest diesel particulate emitters.
"We expect that the first of 90 battery electric buses will help to reduce the fleet's emissions by over 20 per cent, or around 7000 tonnes of CO2 a year," Mr Steel said.
"These [first 34] electric buses will be procured via a short-term lease, providing a modern, disability-accessible fleet to support Canberra's bus operations while we build the infrastructure needed to grow our zero-emissions fleet."
A latest-specification European diesel bus costs around $550,000. An electric bus costs around 15 to 20 per cent more but according to Nexport, which this week was delivering 10 of of its BYD electric buses to Transport NSW and a further two to Queensland, the cost-saving accumulated quickly.
Nexport chief executive Luke Todd said cost savings on a diesel bus could run out to around $50,000 per year "because some of those old diesel buses use a lot of fuel".
The BYD V2 model he will be pitching to the ACT government had the advantage and flexibility of being charged using both DC (direct current) and AC (alternating current). Most of its competitors did not offer this charging flexibility.
BYD is China's largest electric bus manufacturer and supplies to fleets all over the world.
One of the critical elements to the government's open tender is the ability of the supplier to not only produce the most mature battery technology available but potentially value-add to the ACT economy and provide jobs.
Nexport planned to build a state-of-the-art fully sustainable manufacturing hub at Moss Vale, in the Southern Highlands, in the next two years to shore up its bus supply to the NSW government but as part of its tender package to the ACT, was already investigating establishing a "satellite" hub within the territory.
"From our perspective, supplying the buses would be just part of the package. We would want to set up a satellite support and after-sales operation within the ACT," Mr Todd said.
"Obviously there are elements to manufacturing an electric bus which we can't do in Australia because it costs billions of dollars of investment to build a battery factory.
"But aside from importing the batteries, the [battery] management system and the chassis, there are the manufacturing and fabrication skills and expertise here to do the rest so we would end up with a significant local content in the delivered product."
The ACT government was not yet committed to an operational lease or a financial lease. However, all the buses for the ACT would need a wheelchair-accessible flat-floor design.
Unlike electric cars, buses have an in-service "life" of between 20 to 25 years. One of the biggest issues for the government in any multimillion-dollar commitment such as this is that battery technology is rapidly improving and even at part-way through a bus's in-service "life", the technology carried on board may be almost obsolete.
For any tenderer aiming to win the long-term contract, a couple of battery "swaps" - swapping out the old battery pack and replacing it with newer technology as it becomes available - ideally would need to be part of the supply deal.
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