School may be out but we’re still talking school buses. Canada is at a critical juncture when it comes to planning for sustainable transportation. One of the primary road blocks on the journey to net zero is the ability to achieve digital transition for an energy-efficient public transportation system while reducing carbon emissions. As such, the Canadian government aims to put 5,000 electric public and school buses on the road by the end of 2025 via the $2.75 billion Zero Emission Transit Fund.

According to Clean Energy Canada, electrifying bus fleets will help transit agencies save on fuel and maintenance costs. With zero-tailpipe emissions, it will create healthier communities and get Canada on a path to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. However, to accelerate the deployment of electric transit buses in the country, we must consider the digital infrastructure and skills that will enable the electrification of the new transport fleet.

With this in mind, Environment Journal recently engaged Michael Habouri, a national mobility segment leader at Schneider Electric Canada, to provide us insights into the current landscape of sustainable transportation in Canada, the potential challenges faced in transitioning to electric fleets, and the strategies and practical steps for enhancing charging infrastructure to expedite electrification.

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Michael Habouri, National Mobility Segment Leader, Schneider Electric Canada. Credit: SEC.

What is your role at Schneider Electric Canada and what motivated you to become involved in the industry?

As the National Mobility Segment Leader at Schneider Electric Canada, my role involves leading initiatives to advance sustainable transportation solutions, and focusing on the electrification of transit systems and fleets. My motivation stems from a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and the desire to contribute to a greener, more efficient transportation sector. The potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality through innovative technology drives my passion for this industry.

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How would you describe the current landscape of sustainable transportation in Canada?

Canada is at a pivotal point in its journey towards sustainable transportation, with significant strides being made towards electrifying public and school bus fleets. The Canadian government’s Zero Emission Transit Fund aims to put 5,000 electric buses on the road by the end of 2025, highlighting a strong commitment to reducing carbon emissions and promoting energy-efficient public transportation. This transition is expected to help transit agencies save on fuel and maintenance costs while contributing to healthier communities with zero-tailpipe emissions. Ultimately, these efforts align with Canada’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

However, to successfully accelerate the deployment of electric transit buses, it is crucial to address the digital infrastructure and skill development necessary for this transformation. Transit authorities are actively acquiring charging infrastructures and buses as long lead items, and large transit authorities are increasingly adopting the Energy as a Service (EaaS) model. This approach leverages private sector expertise and financing to support the electrification of transportation fleets, ensuring a smoother and more efficient transition towards a sustainable future.

What are the main challenges facing the transition to electric fleets? Would you say it’s the current infrastructure, uncertain costs, or other obstacles that are holding us back or a combination thereof?

Transit authorities face several significant challenges when considering the switch to electric buses, with upfront costs being a primary barrier. The initial price of an electric bus is about twice that of a comparable diesel bus. However, the bus purchase is just a fraction of the total costs associated with fleet electrification. Authorities must also invest in charging infrastructure, depot construction or retrofits, and the necessary civil and electrical work for grid connections, all of which add up to substantial expenses.

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Another critical concern is the limited availability of renewable energy to power the electrification programs. Utilities often have restricted capacities and cannot meet the energy demands required for large-scale electrification within the government’s timelines.

Additionally, it is essential to educate transit authorities on the importance of planning scalable solutions from the start. The private sector can play a crucial role in designing systems that can grow to meet future needs, ensuring a more sustainable and efficient transition to electric buses.

How are companies such as Schneider Electric overcoming the challenges to optimizing fleet transport?

Schneider Electric is at the forefront of tackling these challenges by developing comprehensive solutions that integrate charging infrastructure with smart energy management systems. We focus on creating scalable and efficient charging networks that can be easily expanded as demand grows. Through partnerships and collaborations, we aim to reduce costs and increase the accessibility of electric fleet solutions. Additionally, our commitment to innovation ensures that we continuously improve our technologies to meet the evolving needs of the market.

It’s important to continue addressing the challenges of electric fleet transport by adopting an infrastructure-first approach. To support the increase in electric buses, it is crucial to develop comprehensive charging infrastructure, “electric-ready” bus depots, new data and IT systems, and backup power and energy management systems. We provide turn-key solutions and consulting services to help design and build this essential infrastructure. This includes integrating renewable energy solutions, such as solar panels and batteries, through advanced Energy Management Solutions.

Furthermore, smart grids play a pivotal role in the electrification of Canada’s transit fleets. By intelligently managing electricity distribution, smart grids optimize charging schedules for electric vehicles. Lastly, the integration with IoT (Internet of Things) solutions allows these grids to dynamically adjust the electricity supply, ensuring reliable power for charging stations.

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What specific policies and strategies would help move the needle sufficiently?

To expedite electrification, we must adopt an infrastructure-first approach. This involves developing comprehensive charging infrastructure, “electric-ready” bus depots, advanced data and IT systems, and robust backup power and energy management systems. These foundational elements are essential for scaling up the number of electric buses in Canada.

Educating transit authorities on the importance of scalability is crucial. The private sector can assist by providing consultative services and financing to design scalable solutions from the start. Additionally, policies that incentivize renewable energy integration, such as solar panels and battery storage, are vital. Addressing the current limitations of utility capacities to deliver the required energy on time is another key challenge. Strategic public-private partnerships can help overcome these limitations by leveraging innovative energy management solutions and smart grid technologies.

Connie Vitello is editor of Environment Journal. Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to connie@actualmedia.ca.

Featured image credit: Getty Images

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