Winnipeg plans to add 110 zero-emission buses to its transit fleet by 2027

Winnipeg Transit wants a fully zero-emissions transit fleet by 2040, taking advantage of Manitoba’s abundant hydroelectricity and reaping the benefits of significant financial and environmental savings by passing

By 2027, the City of Winnipeg plans to have 110 hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles to replace standard diesel buses on city streets. This transition represents approximately 15% of Winnipeg’s existing fleet, with each Zero Emission Bus (ZEB) eliminating 62 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Winnipeg’s first batch of ZEBs could be in service by 2023 or 2024, if all goes well, with more to be deployed in the coming years as the city expands the infrastructure needed to support a full transition to zero emissions.

Erin Cooke, project manager for Winnipeg Transit’s bus electrification program, said Electric autonomy Canada in an interview that the gradual rollout of Winnipeg Transit will give the city time to make the most efficient shift to zero-emission buses.

“Once you start looking at the scales of hundreds of buses, it gets incredibly complicated, so taking the time to do this full rollout plan will be beneficial to rapidly developing this technology,” she says.

Last year, the city applied for the $33 billion Investing in Canada’s Infrastructure program. Program to help finance the first purchases of 110 buses. If successful, federal funding will cover up to 40% of the cost of the zero-emission buses, the Province of Manitoba will cover 30% and the City of Winnipeg will cover the remainder.

Cooke says it usually takes about a year for the application process to go through the necessary steps, so there could be a decision on that funding soon. “We’re still hoping to see the buses in 2023, but there have been a lot of supply chain issues with bus manufacturers, so it could be early 2024,” she says.

A Winnipeg Transit bus at a Southwest Transitway station. Photo: Winnipeg Transitway

Power delivery challenges

On paper, Winnipeg Transit’s transition to zero-emission buses makes sense given Manitoba’s abundant hydroelectric power. However, this process is not without its challenges. Most important, according to Cooke, was getting charging infrastructure.

“We have a clean network, we don’t have usage fees, so it’s operationally easy to estimate costs,” Cooke says.

“The challenge has been on the utility side and power supply to our existing garages. We need a new transmission line purchased in our garage and on our side we need a substation and all the other charging infrastructure. This is a major project.

Winnipeg could benefit from the federal government’s 2022 budget, which has earmarked funds to help with network modernization projects. Although federal support likely won’t cover the full upgrades needed, it could help keep costs manageable. But it will take some time before the application process is set up to apply for funding, which will require another potentially long waiting period.

Hydrogen and battery mix

cooke tells Electric autonomy approximately two-thirds of new buses will run on electric batteries and the remaining 30% will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, as this mix offers the best range and refueling time options. Some electric buses are now able to travel up to 350 kilometers per charge and fully recharge in three hours. This would allow for twice-daily deployment, which comes close to the 500 km range of diesel buses, but there are still routes in Winnipeg that require longer haul power.

“About 30% of our journeys are really too long to run on battery electric, and that’s where we see hydrogen as a viable option,” Cooke says.

Hydrogen fuel cell buses can be fueled in 5-10 minutes and offer a range of 500 km or more. However, hydrogen is an expensive fuel to import. As a result, Winnipeg Transit also plans to launch a pilot project for an on-site hydrogen electrolyser and dispenser to support fuel cell vehicles.

“Manitoba has very low electricity costs and we have a clean electricity grid, so we can [produce] hydrogen on site for nearly a quarter of the cost of its current delivery,” says Cooke.

The hydrogen fuel pilot program will run in parallel with the first buses in service and will produce approximately 500 kilograms of fuel per day.

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