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A Green Dream
UK Town Deploys Electric Buses

Residents of a northwestern suburb of London will be riding electric buses about town for the next few years—vehicles that will use the same technology used in electronic toothbrushes to recharge wirelessly. As the FT reports, the experiment in Milton Keynes is expected to help prove the viability—or folly—of electric buses as a form of public transportation:

Eight vehicles carried passengers regularly along a 15-mile route, a demanding task for electric buses because of the duration and higher speed required. Their performance will be assessed over five years with the aim of using the data to demonstrate that electric buses make not just environmental but also economic sense.

From a green perspective, this could be great news. While the electricity the buses run on will still have to come from somewhere (and likely incur associated emissions), generating electricity at a power plant is a far more efficient process than propelling a car with an internal combustion engine.

But hurdles remain for electric vehicles. Maybe the biggest has to do with how long they can keep a charge, and therefore how extensive their range is. Companies like Tesla are working on building out recharging stations in the US, but the appeal of constantly having to stop and plug in (even Elon Musk’s EVs have ranges substantially smaller than their gas-guzzling counterparts) is understandably low. Interestingly, this limitation makes electric buses a potentially fruitful target for EV manufacturers. City buses have short, defined routes—in Milton Keynes the route is just 15 miles long—and the consistency of travel makes it easier to plan for recharging. The fact that the fleet is to be recharged wirelessly makes it seem like this could actually work. We’ll be watching.

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  • Darren Watson

    Since when has Milton Keynes been part of London

  • Andrew Allison

    “generating electricity at a power plant is a far more efficient process than propelling a car with an internal combustion engine” is arrant nonsense.
    In fact, the internal combustion engine is more efficient than steam generation ( Furthermore, the transmission losses associated with delivering the electricity, it’s conversion to wireless energy, the reconversion to electricity and the conversion of that into kinetic energy make the comparison even worse. The inescapable fact is that electric vehicles are far, far worse for the environment than internal combustion.

    • Evan Seitchik

      Something tells me I’m about to hear that you’re not the type to put much stock in numbers produced by small minded federal bureaucrats, but according to the EPA this is a misconception.

      In terms of “wall to wheel” vs. “tank to wheel” efficiency EVs have the clear edge. The EPA estimates that a gallon of gas is equivalent to 33kWh of electricity, which gives the Chevy Volt 93mpg equivalent for example.

      It’s true that there are “upstream” costs to electric generation like transmission and conversion, but I think it’s a stretch to suggest that these are comparable to pulling crude out of the ground, transporting it, refining it, and transporting it again.

      • Andrew Allison

        Would that I could believe that the EPA collectively has a mind. The oil, or worse yet coal, used to produced electricity has the same extraction cost regardless of use. The distribution cost of petroleum for ICEs is irrelevant in a discussion of greenhouse gas emission.

        The Laws of Thermodynamics are quite clear that each conversion results in a loss. Oil-to-steam-to mechanical-to-electricity, less transmission losses, then AC-to-DC-to-chemical-to-DC-to mechanical versus oil-to-mechanical is no contest.

  • Fat_Man

    Like electric cars, electric buses are not new technology. They displaced in most areas by diesel because the latter is more flexible.

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