Interview: Heliox and First Bus power UK’s largest fast-charging depot

First Bus Caledonia Bus Depot and Heliox have made history by installing the UK’s largest fast-charging e-bus site to date. Heliox installed a total of 80 Rapid 150kW Modular (160 DC outlets) chargers and two 40kW Mobile chargers. The depot is fully capable of simultaneously charging 162 vehicles with a total installed power of 12MW.

Here, Property Project Manager at First Bus, David Seaton shares his insights on the project, working with Heliox, and the benefits of electric transport for cities and residents.

Q: First Bus is the driving force behind the construction of the UK’s largest e-bus depot, in Glasgow. David, can you share some details about the significance of the project? What was behind First Bus’ decision to work with Heliox and go fully electric?

Glasgow is the newest and biggest depot we've got in our portfolio. That was the main reason behind our decision to electrify our bus fleet there. It also happened to tie-in with COP26, which was an advantage. It was the very start of the business’ journey to electrify our fleet, and the beginning of our work with Heliox.

We started by publishing a tender and, in the end, Heliox secured it by offering us a long-term solution for our charging needs, including a service level agreement.

The project has been a huge investment. That’s why we were seeking future-proof charging infrastructure that can run for several years. Heliox offered us a warranty that covers a long period of time and an extensive usage of the product, so that was the main driving force behind our decision to work with them and our collaboration.

Q: Could you share some details about your experience working with Heliox?

It went very well. Certainly considering that the Glasgow project was the first time we collaborated with Heliox. It was also the first time that a Heliox product was installed in Scotland, and it all went very smoothly. Heliox brought a lot of knowledge and expertise to help us to improve the existing charging infrastructure and also incorporate ideas for future projects. It started as a good collaborative working relationship that resulted in a great partnership.

Q: What is the charging model for First Bus fleet?

For now, the standard charging model is to keep the charging on site at the depot during the night when the buses are back in the depot at the end of the day. This can be from seven or eight o'clock at night through to three or four in the morning.

Our plan for the near futures is for the chargers to be used to charge our bus fleet during the night, and then during the day they would be utilised for companies that use EV fleets. This could be companies such as Amazon, DPD, and UPS, who could lease the chargers to charge their delivery trucks.

Q: Installation of the first phase of the project took place just in time for the grand opening during COP26. Are there plans in place for additional charging installations or infrastructure?

We are in the process of upgrading the power supply. This means we'll be able to have a fully ready future-proof depot that will give us the ability to charge around 350-400 buses a day. We've also got six more charging sites in progress. Two of which are in Scotland, and four are in England, where we're rolling out more buses. That will give us an additional 300 vehicles over the next 18 to 24 months.

Q: First Bus plans a green transformation to a fully zero emission e-bus fleet by 2035. Why is it important to First Bus to prioritise green e-transport?

It’s important for the business to consider green transport. There has been extreme weather all over Europe over the past three or four months, the rain in Pakistan, and other climate change-driven events that drive home the importance of moving away from ICE vehicles and decarbonising transport. The drive to combat climate change and try and reduce emissions, by going to a fleet of zero tailpipe emission vehicles, helps motivate us on that journey that we've all got to go on.

Q: As a pubic transport service, how has the project been received by the local residents?

I think it's very well received. It's still in the relatively early days. It has been live for ten months or so now. But in terms of customer feedback it has been well received, especially by the local and national politicians who helped fund it and get it to the final stages.

The public has also been positive about the site. They look at the new vehicles and how they’re quiet, they’re modern and they’re zero emissions. So they see that as a big tick in their box.

Q: What you consider the most important advice for other PTOs when they are starting the electric journey?

There are two important decisions that you need to make in the beginning of a project. The first is to choose your bus manufacturer, and the second is all the infrastructure that will support your fleet. This includes the cables, transformers, chargers, amount of power you need. Once you choose a bus supplier and decide on the size of the battery, you then need to choose your chargers based on your fleet size. You need to consider how quickly you want to charge, and that in turn will indicate the amount of power you will need to run your operation.

In terms of the costs, the transition to an all electric fleet can be costly in some cases. Here in Scotland, we are quite lucky because there is funding available from government to support the costs of infrastructure. We also worked with Scottish Power, the local grid operator in Glasgow, who also provided financing to upgrade to the local network. So, if there's funding available, then I would recommend that other operators use it.

Q: Finally, why should other PTOs work with Heliox?

Heliox is a good collaborative partner, who can think outside of the box. A partner that can take onboard comments and feedback and incorporate them into your charging setup and your software platforms is essential. Because it's not just about looking at a charger as a bit of kit that is bolted to the ground. There's more work going on in the background on the software side, and the work that's been done through telecoms and video calls for months in advance. In this regard, all the communication with Heliox has been phenomenal. It's just that whole benefit of the partnership working smoothly, it's the way it should be with everything.

Heliox also has a very good TCO model, which is total cost ownership. I would say, based on the market testing, it's beyond what others are offering and competitors have got a lot of catching up to do to match Heliox.

Find out how Heliox can help get you started on your journey to a fully electric fleet

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