Public transportation companies in the Netherlands are increasingly overhauling their fleets: making the transition from diesel and natural gas-powered to electric buses. Regional and inner-city transport specifically lend themselves to electrification. After all, buses drive on fixed and usually quite short routes.
Nevertheless, electric transportation always requires a very reliable charging infrastructure. Nobody wants to wait for a bus that takes too much time to charge or one that has broken down due to dead batteries. Croonwolter&dros cooperates with Heliox, a company that specializes in fast-charging solutions for electric vehicles. In projects the two companies take on together, Croonwolter&dros takes on the role of systems integrator. The TBI-owned company is responsible for all connections between charging stations and the energy grid. Currently, Heliox and Croonwolter&Dros are cooperating on a project at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. In a matter of months, the airport area will have 100 buses running solely on electricity. Totally emissions-free and quiet.
Cooperation in the energy transition
The Schiphol project is the largest of its kind in Europe. “We use ‘Intelligence through technology’ as our tagline. We want to be at the absolute forefront of technological developments. The energy transition is one of the greatest technological developments of our time,” says Patric Vranckx, regional manager Utility Projects South East at Croonwolter&dros. The first contact between the two companies was established during a project for Transdev, electrifying public transportation in the city of Eindhoven. “The project in Eindhoven was the first of its kind in the Netherlands. With Heliox being responsible for the charging stations, and local bus OEM VDL supplying the buses, the project still needed a third party that could supply and manages the uninterrupted connection with the energy grid and the communication with the utility companies. Because of our expertise, our design and implementation capacity, and our size, Croonwolter&dros joined the existing combination of two. Right from the start, we got along very well as a triumvirate.”
Jaap Schuddemat, CEO of Heliox, confirms: “We were pleased with the cooperation on the Eindhoven project. There is one thing that is an absolute key with these kinds of installations: the uptime needs to be extraordinarily high. This means that both the charging equipment and the charging infrastructure must be very high quality. Both have a big impact on the charging speed of the buses. We took on this challenge full of confidence on the back of the results of the Eindhoven project. Even if this project was twice the size of Eindhoven.”
Heliox is erecting more than a hundred charging docks in four different locations. In total, the infrastructure will comprise 23 450kW high-speed chargers, that can charge a bus in 5-10 minutes each. By using the roof-mounted pantographs, the buses connect with a charging cover that is connected to the high-speed chargers. This way, the buses can charge during the waiting time for their next departure. Furthermore, the infrastructure comprises 86 30kW depot chargers for charging the buses during the night. This happened at a slower pace since there is no rush during the night. “We are talking about considerable-sized installations,” Schuddemat continues. “Heliox creates the equipment, while Croonwolter&dros takes care of not only the technical design but also the entire infrastructure for the charging docks and the connecting of the charging covers.”
Even though at the Schiphol project, Croonwolter&dros’ prime responsibility is connecting the energy grid to the Heliox charging stations and charging covers, there is more to this than meets the eye. Vranckx: “We’re heavily involved in the construction process, the design of all the pipework, the communication lines, distribution stations, safety measures, and the overall development. We are also responsible for the relationships with the utilities. In this aspect, Pierre van Driel plays a vital and central role. He oversees maintaining all contacts on a technical and commercial level with all the parties involved, including the energy companies.”
Strengthening each other
The cooperation between both parties opens a world of new possibilities. Schuddemat: “By cooperating, we each get stronger. Our knowledge and expertise are complementary. On every new project, we’re able to speed up our way of working, while maintaining the highest levels in terms of both quality and accuracy.” This is confirmed by Vranckx: “We have a very good understanding as to how we cooperate and are able to lift each other up. Through our involvement in these projects, we manage to obtain a certain position as a company. In the utility sector, we are already – among others – quite well-known as a technical service provider for hospitals, school buildings, offices, and healthcare institutions. Now, we are gaining a similar track-record in the zero-emissions transition.”
For two companies to work together as one, having a shared outlook on the future is an absolute requirement. When asked for their expectations for the future, both indicate that the Schiphol project is a mere glimpse of what is yet to come. As a specific example, Vranckx points to the future of freight transport: “For the time being, long-distance transportation is the domain of conventional diesel trucks. However, in the urban fringe, we will see the rise of transit hubs. Freight will be transferred from large truck-trailer combinations to smaller, electrified freighters.” The world of container transfer in ports is another great example of where there will be major changes happening in the near future. “In ports, much of the transport is a matter of very short routes from a to b, picking up a container to drop it off a couple of hundred yards down the docks. This world will see the first signs of electrification, as the transport between the ships and the conventional diesel trucks, taking the goods to transit hubs, is electrified. These conventional trucks travel out to the backcountry to the transit hubs surrounding the cities. With electric transportation taking the cargo further into the city,” Schuddemat concludes. “All this will make cities more livable. With fewer emissions, fewer fumes, less noise."