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Singapore trials solar-powered buses

Bus rides in Singapore could soon be partially powered by the sun. A Singapore-based bus firm has installed ultra-thin solar panels on the roofs of two of its buses, which will run on Service 15. This is the first time such solar panels have been installed on buses here. The 1.6mm-thick panels will convert solar energy into electricity to charge the buses’ batteries. This reduces the load on the vehicle’s alternator, and in turn, saves fuel and reduces carbon emissions.

The whole setup weighs less than 20kg – very negligible compared to the weight of the bus, so it will not cancel out the fuel savings, said the developers. The ultra-thin panels were chosen instead of conventional solar panels due to their lightweight and flexible nature. The two buses with solar panels conform to the Euro 6 emissions standard for diesel vehicles.

The panels are part of a trial to evaluate the buses’ performance and effectiveness in using solar energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption. The panels will initially be inspected every week for two months, after which the inspection schedule will be reviewed.

The use of these panels has resulted in savings of 1,400L of diesel per bus per year, the transport operator said.  This translates into reductions of about 3.7 tonnes of carbon emissions per bus. It was based on the success of their trial in Southampton that they have decided to bring the idea to Singapore, and they think the solar panels should be even more effective in the climate in the country.

The buses underwent rigorous safety assessments by the Land Transport Authority before being approved for public road trials. Service 15 – one of the routes where an electric bus was tested about four years ago – is a 33km route starting from Pasir Ris bus interchange and plying areas such as Tampines and Marine Parade.

The firm had considered conducting the trial on shorter routes such as feeder services but decided on a longer route to better test the system. The buses began operating and will run for six months until the end of September. They added that they may expand the installation of solar panels to other buses, including electric ones, depending on findings from the current trial.

Accordingly, as part of Singapore’s 2040 Land Transport Master Plan, diesel buses will be phased out and replaced with cleaner energy models, including diesel-electric hybrids and fully electric buses. The firm believes that buses are a very efficient form of public transport – they carry lots of people much more efficiently than cars. By fitting the solar panels, it can make diesel buses even more green and efficient.

Moreover, as reported by OpenGov Asia, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) has signed a cooperation agreement with a manufacturing firm to collaborate on a research and development programme for autonomous electric buses.

The programme is part of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore’s drive to create new solutions for tomorrow’s sustainable public transport. Smart Urban Mobility, by leveraging data and digital technologies, including artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, to further enhance the public transport commute, is one of the key strategic Smart Nation projects. The planned deployment of self-driving buses in several areas of the country by 2022 has been announced.

NTU President Professor Subra Suresh, said, “Industry-academic connections are key in nurturing an environment which promotes innovation, research excellence, and technological change for a better tomorrow. NTU takes pride in its strong industry connections, and this partnership will pave the way for future mobility solutions by developing and testing autonomous buses right here on campus. These solutions will further strengthen Singapore’s vision of embracing autonomous vehicle technologies and enhance public transportation.”

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