Östersund’s electric buses: A sustainable transport system for the future
17 JANUARY 2019
The grayling, the trout and the osprey are back in Billsta stream, where three small-scale power plants produce local renewable energy for Östersund’s electric buses. This small city in the middle of Sweden, located some 560 kilometres north of the capital Stockholm, is developing a sustainable transport system for the future that is partner-driven and combines ecological, economic and social sustainability.
For the locals, the reborn wildlife in Billsta stream is the icing on the cake. First and foremost, they are proud of being at the forefront of developing sustainable transport systems for the future. The electrical bus project in Östersund shows that you can combine public transport with modern environmental requirements, efficient renewable hydropower and high natural values. In partnership and cooperation with different stakeholders, a solution has been developed that benefits nature, energy production and transport.
The beginning of something greater
Line 6 in Östersund is a newly established 14-kilometre long main bus route that runs from Torvalla, south of the city, through the city centre and to the newly built Brittsbo district in the north. The route is operated by Nettbuss, with electric buses from Scania.
Line 6 in Östersund is a newly instated 14-kilometre long main bus route that runs from Torvalla, south of the city, through the centre and to the newly built Brittsbo district in the north. This route is operated by Nettbuss, with electric buses from Scania.
Since Line 6 began its operations in March 2018, three electric buses have rolled 120,000 kilometres. More than 300,000 travellers have commuted silently to and from their jobs – with zero emission.
“In the beginning of 2019, we will add another three of Scania’s electric buses to Line 6. Our plan is to open another electric bus route at Frösön, where Östersund’s Airport is located”, says Anne Sörensson, Climate Coordinator and Project Manager for the electric bus project in Östersund .“This is only the beginning of something greater,” she adds.
“We are also exploring the possibility of using electric buses at the two world championships that Östersund and Åre will host in the beginning of 2019: The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 5-17 February, and IBU World Championships Biathlon 7-17 March. It takes a great deal of planning, as well as adding mobile charging stations at the airport and in Åre. Offering fossil free transport during these major events would be amazing”.
The electric buses are an important piece of the puzzle in electrifying the entire transport sector in Östersund.
“We invested early in charging infrastructure for electric cars and have now moved to electric buses. We see electrification as an important part of Östersund’s mission to be fossil fuel free in 2030. It is a very ambitious target”, Anne Sörensson continues.
“Sustainable transport is about moving people and goods while contributing to economic and social development without risking the environment or people’s health and safety. We are approaching a tipping point, where new technology, new business models and sustainable transport are taking off across the board,” she says.
“We invested early in charging infrastructure for electric cars and have now moved to electric buses”
In Östersund, the transition to fully fossil fuel free transport is driven by a partnership between the municipality, companies, organisations, regional and national authorities.
Since 2015, municipalities and county councils in Sweden can seek funding from The Swedish Transport Administration to promote sustainability through urban environment agreements. The ideal application should take a holistic approach to promoting sustainable urban environments and sustainable travel.
Charging infrastructure for electric buses may be included in the city’s environmental agreements, if they are a part of a larger solution with other public transport facilities, such as dedicated bus routes with bus stops and signal systems.
How the project started
In the first round of applications in 2015, Östersund’s municipality was granted co-financing for an electric bus line. One of the reciprocal requirements was that it should be completed by 2018.
To find suitable vehicles, it was natural for the project group to visit the Scania headquarters in Södertälje. With close to 100 per cent of the existing city bus lines and extensive regional testing of new vehicles and solutions, Scania was already very much present in the Östersund municipality.
They eventually selected the model Scania Citywide Low Floor, which was introduced at the world’s largest bus fair Busworld in Kortrijk, Belgium, at the end of 2017.
“The vehicles have worked flawlessly over a span of 60 degrees“
After seven months of operational experience, Anne Sörensson is extremely satisfied with the electric bus system, claiming that it has fulfilled all of their requirements.
“We began last winter when it was minus 30 degrees Celsius and we have operated in 30 degrees Celsius weather over the summer. The vehicles have worked flawlessly over a span of 60 degrees!”
“And it has been rewarding to see how satisfied the locals are. Their only complaint is that now the old buses are too loud”, adds Anne Sörensson.
The energy expert: “Change will be fast”
In the municipally owned energy company Jämtkraft’s head office at Kyrkgatan in Östersund, the company’s newly appointed CEO Erik Brandsma is settling in.
He is a Forest Engineer trained in the Netherlands and Canada. He has a solid background in energy issues from international power companies and sustainable development projects within the UN and the OECD. As General Director of The Swedish Energy Agency for the past six years, he has worked with energy systems development and electrification of transport.
Erik Brandsma gladly talks about synergies in the transition that the energy and transport sectors are in the middle of, and he is impressed by the cooperation in the electric bus project in Östersund. The project is being carried out in collaboration with Scania and Östersund Municipality, Krokom Municipality, Jämtkraft, Nettbuss, Länstrafiken (the public transport organisation in Jämtland county), The Swedish Transport Administration, Region Jämtland Härjedalen and ABB.
“This is a partnership where all parties contribute with different perspectives. We provide expertise within energy and transmission, and we also contribute by delivering local renewable energy into this system. Scania provides know-how and products, and the municipality works as a marketplace that keeps it all together.“
Not a one man show
“This is how innovation will drive the transformation that we need in our different sectors”, he says and clarifies:
“In the transport and energy sectors, we have realised that this is not a one man show. We need to work together to find new innovative ideas and solutions that support and grow society. Our partnership in Östersund is an example of how we have succeeded in creating a solution together that helps. This project is a model for further development of new business ideas.”
“We are examining how future cities will look”
“We have two different actors from two industries that collectively contribute to an offer that we have built from scratch. We are examining how future cities will look. There are so many aspects that play a part in this, ranging from quality of life to climate change, and how to use the city wisely. That´s what I find so unique about this project.”
We must reach our climate goals
Erik Brandsma sees electrification as an important – although not the only – solution for the shift in the transport sector.
“There are biofuels and other aspects that could be addressed. But electrification with renewable green energy is a prerequisite for us to meet our climate targets in the Paris Agreement.”
And he is convinced that the electrification of the transport sector will be fast.
“For every new forecast we make, we estimate that it will go even faster. Frankly, it needs to be fast, because we must reach our climate goals. We also see a demand that increases much faster than we thought. Cities want clean, quiet and efficient transport. This is exactly what the partners in the electrical bus project can offer.”
When the trout came back
Fifty kilometres south of Östersund’s city centre, Claes-Göran Bergh gazes down at the Billsta stream. Here, the hydroelectric power supplying energy to Scania’s electric buses in Östersund coexists with high ecological values.
In 1964 Bergh joined Jämtkraft’s predecessor Östersunds Elektriska AB – on the first day of his working life. He started by washing analogue electric meters with gasoline. Soon he advanced to building high voltage lines. After five years of environmental studies, his career took a new direction. Now, he is Environmental Manager at Jämtkraft, and is passionate about sustainable overall solutions.
He points at the wooden tunnel that leads the water down to the turbine in one of Billsta stream’s three small-scale power plants. He explains that it matters how the electricity is produced when operating buses in local traffic.
“Fossil-produced electricity, using for example coal, has a major impact on the climate, while the electricity that we produce in the Billsta stream is renewable and fully carbon neutral. It is more the kind of electricity requested by the community, and that you want when working with transport.”
The Billsta stream runs from Lake Näkten, down to Storsjön, the fifth largest lake by water surface in Sweden. In the 19th century, the lake was surrounded by rich wildlife. But 100 years ago, when a saw and mill were built, and timber was transported on the water, it lost its natural current.
Fast forward to today, and the project “Förbifart Billsta” (Bypass Billsta). In an unconventional cooperation with Jämtkraft, The County Administrative Board of Jämtland, The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and the fisheries area of Storsjön-Berg, the small hydroelectric stations in the Billsta river were built. Three fish ladders were created to bypass the power plants, a dam was removed, and the waterways could eventually be reopened for fish migration.
Like turning on a switch
“What´s incredible is that the Billsta stream was closed for 100 years, but the genetics in the fish in Storsjön still remained. When the power plants were rebuilt, and the stream was reopened, it was like turning on a switch! Immediately, the grayling began to move up the river to play. Suddenly, hundreds of large trout – some weighing up to 10 kilograms – were climbing up the bypass channels.”
Even the eel are back, and osprey have been seen around the Billsta river.
“It is like all these species took a pause for 100 years”
Claes-Göran Bergh smiles happily and concludes: “It is like all these species took a pause for 100 years. Now we are able to operate the public transport system in Östersund with renewable electricity, while increasing biodiversity. There is a huge spectrum of benefits with this project, and they all lead to a more sustainable society.”
With the electric bus project, Jämtkraft reaches the inhabitants in Östersund doubly, as the energy company’s customers consume electricity at home as well.
“As we use renewable electricity in multiple systems, Jämtkraft and our customers can reduce fossil energy consumption very effectively. Scania’s electric buses obviously contribute in a good way to a more profitable deal for us in this production of renewable electricity.”
Watch the trout move up the Billsta river
- Current data from fish counting stations around Sweden is presented at fiskdata.se. When the fish pass the counter in for example the Billsta river, time, direction, speed and size of the fish are recorded. At the same time, a shadow image is created that allows you to distinguish whether the registered object is a fish or not.
- The fish counting stations are also equipped with underwater cameras that record every object. With the video, it is possible to determine the species of the fish with high accuracy.
- Watch the giant trout move upstream in the Billsta river here.
A tour with “Potter” on Line 6
Line 6 between Torvalla and Brittsbo is one of the busiest bus routes in Östersund, with about 100 departures a day. After the line was rescheduled and electrified, several new residential areas now have access to the city buses, enabling them to choose the bus instead of cars.
The line is just over 14-kilometres long and runs from Torvalla in south-eastern Östersund, through the city centre and past the hospital, to the new large residential area Brittsbo in the north. During peak hours, the bus runs every 15 minutes and the line is covered by a total of seven buses. The line has more than 800,000 passengers per year and is operational 16 hours a day. Each Line 6 bus covers 330 kilometres a day. Part of the route has dedicated bus lanes.
At the end stations in Brittsbo and Torvalla Centrum, the buses are charged for 6-8 minutes using pantographs, before returning to the other end station where they are recharged again. A full charge gives the buses enough range for a return trip. Therefore, the buses can continue driving even if one of the charging stations is out of service, or if there is no time to charge the bus.
In Brittsbo, the pantograph has just charged the batteries, when Petra boards the bus with her stroller and daughter Lina. Petra appreciates the open space and the low and flat floors, as it makes her travel easy and convenient.
Lina is sleeping and as soon as Petra takes a seat, she plugs in her phone in one of the power sockets to charge it, and to surf while going downtown.
“To be honest, I don’t see this as a bus”, she says.
“The drive is so quiet and smooth that the 20 minutes to downtown feel more like some sort of… waiting or resting-room.”
The buses were all given individual names
The first three electric buses were all given individual names. “Tor-Britt” is named after the two end stations Torvalla and Brittsbo, “Jorm” after a regional mountain troll. “Potter” is of course named after the British soccer coach Graham Potter, who propelled Östersund FC to Europa League and international fame, before he was recruited to the English Championship Club Swansea.
“What Potter did for soccer in Östersund was almost magical. Perhaps this electric bus and the other ones can make an even greater footprint”, says Petra.
At Kyrkparken’s bus stop in the centre of Östersund, Karin gets off “Potter” to go to her home at Odenbacken. She has made this trip five days a week over the past six months, and now she finds it hard to remember riding a regular bus.
Appealing interior and practical features
“I work in the service sector in the city centre, and my days are usually quite hectic. It is lovely to step on the electric bus to go home, so smooth and silent. Sometimes, I would like the trip home to be longer,” she adds.
The design of the electric buses has been determined by travellers’ wishes for an appealing interior with practical features on board. The buses have extra wide doorways with low inlets, allowing quick and smooth loading and disembarkment.
“They are so incredibly quiet!”
Line 6 used to be a rough ride, according to the bus driver Janne Monteiro. Every shift felt like an eternity. “It was busy, crowded, and the 14-kilometre long route felt even longer with many stops on the way”.
But it all changed with the electric buses.
“Above all, they are so incredibly quiet! You do not feel the same fatigue when driving them. It is a different drive all together”, he says, and gives an example:
“Two and a half hours in an older bus … you really feel it. But driving an electric bus for the same amount of time, I could easily take another lap without a break.”
The setting around the driver’s seat is very similar to a regular Scania Citywide, although the instrument panel is a bit different. For example, the tachometer has been replaced by an instrument showing the charging status of the batteries. When the bus arrives at the charging station, Janne Monteiro only needs to pull the handbrake, make sure that the bus is placed correctly, and that the electrical outlet on the roof is connected to the pantograph for the charging to take place. The entire charging process takes no longer than 6-7 minutes.
Every bus driver in Östersund has been positive so far. They value the quietness and absence of vibrations, but also the quick response when starting and accelerating. In fact, acceleration is throttled electronically, which keeps the wheels from losing traction or passengers from being injured, but also saves energy.
Janne Monteiro knows many of his passengers well and he finds them satisfied with the new city buses.
“Most people I have talked to enjoy Scania’s electric buses. Quiet and comfortable. I even know of people who wanted to go for another round – 28 kilometres – just for the joy of it!”
A concert hall on wheels
- To further highlight the non-existent noise level of the electric buses, the theatre group Estrad Norr was invited to perform as on-board entertainment, offering different performances like opera, dance, scenic readings and music improvisations. They also produced a video clip where Estrad Norr performs the lead theme of the Phantom of the Opera.
A success story
Nettbuss Stadsbussarna operate nine lines in Östersund with a total of 30 yellow Scania buses. A key person in the electrical bus project is Håkan Olofsson, Traffic Planner and System Operator at the company.
Nettbuss is Scandinavia’s second largest bus company, with businesses in Norway and Sweden. In the autumn of 2017, the electric bus project started in Östersund, and in December that same year, the first timetable for electric bus traffic was created. In March 2018, the first electric buses from Scania were delivered and operated.
“This has been a very positive experience. Our employees believe that it has worked very well. The electric buses actually work better than our well-run diesel buses, even when it comes to torque, acceleration, stability, brakes and more”, he says.
Planning routes for electric buses instead of regular diesel buses puts other demands on Håkan Olofsson. Charging stations and charging time on the two ends of the bus line have an impact on timetables.
“Generally, the transition to electrical vehicles has been wonderful. Our drivers have been very interested in this project, they have embraced it and really want it to be success.”
Theoretical training for 100 drivers
When starting the new bus route, Scania held theoretical training for 100 drivers, as they all needed skills in operating electrical buses. When in regular service, appointed instructors from Nettbuss Stadsbussarna joined the first trips. If additional help was needed, Scania’s experts were available on site.
“We are positively surprised at how smooth the introduction of these new buses has worked, with this new technology. The first three buses have been in traffic for about 40 hours a day with temperatures ranging from minus 30 degrees Celsius in the winter – and more snow than ever – to 30 degrees Celsius in the summer.”
The Nettbuss’ city bus model is called Citywide LF 4×2 and is equipped with a 130-kW electric motor powered by 110 kWh lithium ion batteries. Additional vehicles will be launched in early 2019, which will have more powerful electric motors and even larger batteries.
Energy saving measures
Electric buses also have Electronic Stability Control (ESP), which you usually do not find on city buses.
Both heat and air conditioning consume a lot of energy and keeping energy consumption down is particularly important for electrical buses. Composite flooring, additional roof insulation and LED lighting are examples of energy saving measures inside the buses.