At the National Meetings of Public Transport (RNTP), the urban mobility fair-forum which opened in Toulouse on Tuesday, September 28, the stars are the buses. But not just any. No diesel on the horizon. On the other hand, appear in majesty vehicles running on gas, on electric battery, or on hydrogen. No doubt, the time has come for the energy transition for French bus fleets.
Yes, but what transition? The transport manager of any community today faces an abyss of perplexity. Which solution to choose to renew the buses in the network without polluting the environment? Cornelian choice. The decision will involve millions of euros of investment, commit for fifteen years the agglomeration in a technology which should neither be a financial pit nor an ecological impasse.
The stakes are high. According to the Union des transports publics (UTP), the employers’ union of the sector, the French fleet of buses of 12 meters and more represents 16,000 vehicles, 70% diesel, including 27% of old very polluting buses (Euro 2 standards to 4 while the Euro 6 standard is in force for new vehicles). That is to say a potential renewal market between 1 and 3 billion euros.
Complicate the equation
Since 2020, the law requires all communities to buy at least 50% of low-emission vehicles. But the price scale is not the same for all modes. When a new diesel bus costs a little more than 250,000 euros, its natural gas or biogas equivalent is approaching 300,000, a battery electric bus exceeds 450,000 euros and a hydrogen bus reaches 650,000 euros.
To complicate the equation, every energy has its flaws. Gas engines are increasingly singled out as very polluting. A study published on September 27 by the NGO Transport & Environment compared a heavy-duty natural gas vehicle (NGV) to its diesel equivalent and concluded that, regarding ultrafine particles, NGV is worse than diesel.
“Including the aid, we buy each hydrogen bus only 50,000 euros more expensive than a diesel” Crescent Marault, mayor (LR) of Auxerre
On the electrical side, the bill for vehicles and charging stations, questions of battery recycling, the impact on the electricity network are making decision-makers hesitate. As for hydrogen (H₂), its additional cost is considerable for the moment, not to mention the stratospheric price of vehicles. A 1 megawatt station with an electrolyser is 6 to 7 million euros, and the cost of fuel, if we want it to be carbon-free, is now double that of diesel. In addition, the energy efficiency is very poor: for 100 kWh of electrical energy produced by a wind turbine, the vehicle receives only 30.
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