Taking charge

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.
ABB has supplied the first opportunity charging station for buses in the UK on Volvo’s UK electric bus tour

Martin Hale, ABB EV Infrastructure – UK and Ireland, talks to Jade Smith about the technology behind opportunity charging and ABB’s recent support to Volvo’s UK electric bus tour

ABB provides electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation and power grids, serving customers in utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure globally. ABB has supplied the first opportunity charging station for buses in the UK on Volvo’s UK electric bus tour, which utilises Volvo’s first right hand drive 7900e fully electric single deck bus.

The pilot was launched in Manchester on September 22, and will be in the city for eight weeks. Operated by First Manchester for Transport for Greater Manchester, the single deck vehicle is operating on the Metroshuttle 2 route – a free-to-use service that provides access to key locations across the city.

The zero-emission, fully electric bus will be recharged on the route, taking between three to six minutes via the OppCharge pantograph from ABB. Installed at Shudehill Interchange, this is the first time the system has been used in the UK, giving flexibility and the possibility of 24-hour continuous operation.
Martin Hale at ABB is responsible for EV charging infrastructure at ABB for the UK and Ireland. He went into detail on what his side of the business has recently been doing.


Martin began by outlining what ABB does: “ABB is a supplier in DC fast charging, with a global installed base of more than 6,000 chargers since 2010. To date, ABB has installed 15 OppCharge systems across the world, enabling more than 150 electric buses to be charged. Our OpCharge stations are based Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and the UK.

“OppCharge is an open interface for the automated charging of both single and double-deck electric buses, from any manufacturer, using a pantograph on the infrastructure to connect the bus to the charging point.”[wlm_nonmember][…]

Are you enjoying this feature? Why not subscribe to continue reading?

Subscribe for 4 issues/weeks from only £2.99
Or login if you are already a subscriber

By subscribing you will benefit from:

  • Operator & Supplier Profiles
  • Face-to-Face Interviews
  • Lastest News
  • Test Drives and Reviews
  • Legal Updates
  • Route Focus
  • Industry Insider Opinions
  • Passenger Perspective
  • Vehicle Launches
  • and much more!

OppCharge pantograph

The new charging station based in Shudehill Interchange in Manchester can charge a bus’ batteries in three to six minutes while passengers board and alight, Martin explained. It has potential to enable 24-hour bus operation – rather than buses having to return to the depot to refuel or charge their batteries overnight.

Martin went into more detail about how the OppCharge system works: “The equipment in Manchester is an AC-DC converter. It normally uses grid power and cabinets of 150kW each convert the AC grid power to DC to charge the buses’ batteries. The converters are connected to a mast which has a pantograph through which the power is transferred to the DC batteries on the vehicle.” Martin explained that the clever part of the technology is the computer software ‘handshake’ between the charging infrastructure and the vehicle. “When a bus arrives at the pantograph, there’s a WiFi connection and protocol that goes between the vehicle and the charger to test everything works,” he said. “If everything is safe the pantograph automatically descends, connects to the vehicle and starts charging. Once it is finished it ensures it is safe to disconnect and goes back up again. Only after that process is complete is the driver allowed to go.

“The charging infrastructure used on this tour is unique – the charging arm is totally portable and is connected to 300kW worth of chargers. It can be easily removed and plugged in elsewhere in a few hours.

“The pantograph can be hung almost anywhere and only weighs the equivalent of a couple of people. It can be put under a canopy, in a shopping centre, inside an airport terminal – the possibilities are limitless.”

In terms of monitoring the system, ABB does everything remotely, requiring little to no involvement from the operator: “All our charging technologies are connected to our network operations centre via the Cloud. We monitor everything that’s happening in real time and can look back if something has not happened correctly, analyse exactly how it’s happened by monitoring all the components in the charging technology to see if something isn’t working quite right, and from there we can diagnose and look into the solution. 60% of issues we can fix remotely: we can even reconfigure hardware for a short-term fix.

“For example, if one of the power modules in the AC-DC converter has an issue, we can remotely switch that off and let the charger work on the remaining power modules to continue charging. With a 300kW system there is still five out of six power modules to utilise, so charging can still take place. An engineer can then be physically sent out to the site to swap out the power module, which takes a matter of minutes.

“The Cloud is a secure way of working and is scalable. If more ways of improving how we work are discovered, we won’t have to carry out complex, expensive and time-consuming software solutions, we can just utilise the scalability of the Cloud. We meet all the necessary international standards for that.”

Photography – Nick Harrison

Why opportunity charging?

“The key benefit to installing the pantograph on the infrastructure and not on the bus is that one charging arm can charge many vehicles,” Martin said. “Those vehicles are also simpler and cost less to build and operate. One arm in a city could charge every bus on all the routes because it only takes three to six minutes to charge each vehicle.

“The more power there is and the longer the vehicle is charging for, the more the batteries are filled. There could be 150kW and charging takes longer and the vehicle has a reduced range, or 450kW to charge much quicker and charge larger batteries for a longer range. The aim of this system is to get the power back in the vehicle in the most efficient and timely manner.”

Martin said that what has generally been preferred by the bus industry thus far is to have a large battery in the vehicle which is charged overnight for around eight hours.

“An overnight bus will typically have a 350kWh battery which is enormous,” he continued. “All that weight and space has to be carried around with the vehicle, which wastes energy, money and space. The bus on the Volvo tour has a 79kWh battery, which weighs significantly less than an overnight battery.

“If an operator has 100 vehicles in a depot, someone has to plug all them in and get all that power in overnight so they can operate the following morning. That’s not achievable in the long-run: it’s asking one area to do too much energy-wise.

“If there is a much smaller on-board battery which is topped up with enough energy to cover 10-20 miles on a route anywhere where the bus sits for a few minutes, that has the potential to occur all day, every day, 365 days a year without any demand on the depot or one particular location. One OppCharge arm has the ability to charge all vehicles. And it can be located at a location that suits power availability and/or lay over periods, typically at the end of a route.

“A lot of money and resources is being put into overnight charging in the UK, because it is believed to be the ideal solution due to the range that is available, but there are other options out there. This solution can be more efficient and sustainable.

“Many manufacturers are buying into this technology. They see the value in this system which utilizes smaller batteries, is a more efficient use of available power, with 24/7 operation, no demands on the depot and very small infrastructure requirements.”

Martin said that he recognised that London is concerned about street furniture, and went on to say that the OppCharge pantograph can be hung and hidden anywhere – on a bus stop, for example.

“What the bus depots are being asked to do in London is not sustainable in the long-run, as there’s not enough power in London to charge all those vehicles for an all-day operation,” he continued. “There could be charging infrastructure based at the depot to kick things off and balance the batteries, but not filling multiple 350kWh batteries every night.”

Fast-moving technology

“This technology is really exciting,” Martin enthused. “It’s cleaner than diesel – a passenger in Manchester who has breathing problems said it was noticeably easier for him to breathe on the electric bus. The council members who travelled on the bus said what a nice experience it was. It’s also a much easier driving experience as the controls are simpler to use.

“ABB has been working on this technology since 2010 but we’re not the only company doing the integration of charging solutions globally – this is an open international standard. Being a global player, we are preferred by vehicle manufacturers to help with vehicle development but all we’ve done with the buses is to scale up the work we’ve been successfully doing with cars.

“The world is buying into this standard; it is not an ABB solution. We are the best at it and we have all sorts of ways we operate that are different to everyone else, which we’ve learnt from the car world. This gives us an incredible operational up time, using remote ability by diagnosing and fixing problems remotely.

“Scania, MAN, VDL, Ebusco, Van Hool, Volvo, Novabus, New Flyer and Solaris Bus & Coach are among the manufacturers who have bought into this but we see more joining all the time. It’s going at a pace which everyone should look out for.”
More information on the charging standard can be found at https://www.oppcharge.org/

The clever part of the technology is the computer software ‘handshake’ between the charging infrastructure and the vehicle

Other applications

Martin said that Manchester’s County Council was very impressed by the technology when they were given a demonstration on the route in Manchester at Shudehill Interchange.

“They’re looking at ideas to potentially install a pantograph inside the building,” he said. “One could even be placed in hospitals while passengers are disembarking a bus or even for the ambulances. This technology has the potential to be used on any vehicle and the same pantograph could be used for a variety of vehicles.

“An autonomous lorry with a 120mile range could pull into a service station and after 10 minutes of charging it could have a further 120mile range. Those figures are of course dependant on the size of the battery, the amount of power and how long it’s there. For example, in Manchester we’re charging the bus in three minutes and generating enough power to do a further 12miles.

“In the car world, last year’s Renault ZOE had about a 100mile range. This year’s has a 250mile range with the battery taking up a similar-sized space. The energy density has effectively doubled. The cost has come down as well.

“Manufacturers have had a challenge with these projects as they’ve scoped them and then they’ve had to revaluate them every week to see how efficient they can make their solution. It’s such a fast-moving subject.

“The only difference between what we’re doing with cars and with larger vehicles is instead of having a plug and socket there is the OppCharge pantograph and the hand shake is over WiFi rather than the cable. A lot of reliability comes from that – we have over 5,000 of these charging stations for cars around the world now and we have 15 charging arms for buses, charging over 150 vehicles. Volvo has just taken an order for 200 electric vehicles, so it’s really building momentum now.”

Where to next?

Following the Manchester trial, the Volvo 7900e will be moving around the country to other cities, towns and airports. Please visit https://new.abb.com/ for more information.