Anne Freiberger is a Senior Research Associate at IKEM and heads the EUniSproject to advance the mobility transition.. In an interview, she spoke with us about the importance of public transport in rural areas and how vehicle batteries can be used to provide system services in the distribution network.
EUniS stands for ‘Development and Implementation of a Sustainable and Innovative System Integration Concept for the Sector Coupling of Transport and Electricity’. That’s a mouthful! What’s the project about?
The goal of the EUniS project is to contribute to the decarbonisation of transport. We’re investigating how electromobility in public transport can link the energy and transport sectors. With our project partners, we’re developing a concept for an integrated depot that can be used by the Ludwigslust-Parchim mbh transport company (VLP). The concept should not only supply electricity to the e-buses, but also enable the bus batteries to serve as storage for ancillary services in the distribution network.
Ludwigslust-Parchim is a district in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. Why is the project being conducted there?
Especially in rural areas, public transport is essential as a service of general interest and as a means for people to participate in society. That’s why it’s so important to strengthen local public transport systems in these regions, for example by implementing innovative ideas and new operational concepts In this specific case, practical considerations also play a role: the school transport system lends itself especially well to electric vehicle operation, since the batteries have a long enough range to complete bus routes and the fixed downtimes offer ample opportunities for controlled charging.
What is IKEM’s role in the project?
Legal issues are extremely important in a project like EUniS. Energy and transport are complex fields of law in their own right, and linking the two sectors doesn’t make things any easier! IKEM is conducting legal research on energy and municipal law, as well as on topics related to digitalisation. Stakeholders also need to know what tasks they’ll be responsible for in the context of electrification and the integration of e-buses into existing infrastructure. IKEM is developing target scenarios that clarify the new roles that public transport and distribution network operators will play and the relationships they’ll have with other stakeholders.
You mentioned that the legal framework presents certain challenges What barriers have you identified?
Municipal transport companies are also becoming active in the energy sector through applications that involve bidirectional charging. In doing so, they’re operating in regulatory gray areas, to some extent. For such concepts to be successfully deployed, legislators will need to ensure legal certainty, for example by enacting energy legislation that distributes competences clearly and that enables vehicle batteries to function as storage and as feeders in the low- and medium-voltage grids. It would also be helpful to eliminate the electricity tax for mobile storage systems and to reduce grid charges for such applications. And the technical standards for communication interfaces will need to be further developed for bidirectional charging.
Is it worthwhile to switch to electromobility in rural public transport?
There’s no denying that the transition to electric buses carries high upfront investment costs for fleet operators. There are various funding programmes available at the federal and state level to help with the cost. In EUniS, we’re also developing business models that can reduce operating costs to below the level of diesel buses through revenue generated from bidirectional charging. For example, business models could combine different concepts – providing system services, optimising grid charges, offering a backup power supply during outages and emergencies, and providing flexibility on the wholesale electricity market.
What are the next steps in the project?
Our project partner eMIS Deutschland GmbH is using the project results to advise other public transport operators on the acquisition of electric buses and to support these operators in submitting funding applications, carrying out the tendering process, and commissioning the buses and charging infrastructure. VLP is aiming for a complete conversion to electric buses in the long term.
Are the results transferable to other areas?
Yes, because the concept of offering vehicle batteries on the energy market for system services isn’t limited to public transport. Parcel or postal service providers and waste disposer also generally operate with a charging infrastructure at a depot, fixed downtimes and a reliable schedule. All fleet operators will be able to build on the blueprint that EUniS is developing, even if it includes some specific features for municipal transport operators.