Mobility Portal, Spain
Date: April 25, 2024
Inés Platini
By Inés Platini

Pantograph yes or no: Dhemax presents the best options for electric bus charging

Andrés Barentin, CEO of Dhemax, shares with Mobility Portal Group the company's experience in the electrification of electric bus fleets. What are the key aspects to consider when making this transition?

The pantograph may be the solution in some cases, and probably is in several, but it’s like fishing and buying a tank to hunt flies,” says Andrés Barentin, CEO of Dhemax to Mobility Portal Group.

Why is this?

According to the specialist, this type of charging, widely used in Spain for electric buses, is effective “for what it was designed for, which is opportunity charging.”

Currently, this system is characterized by supplying a large amount of energy in a short time, without the need for human intervention or waiting by the driver, which facilitates charging at the beginning or end of the workday.

For example, it provides power to the bus for three hours and then remains unused.

The pantographs operate at a power of 100 kilowatts (kW), which means the maximum charging time per vehicle ranges from two to three hours.

Additionally, they are technically prepared to work in the future with a maximum power of 450 kW.

Fleet of electric buses managed by Dhemax.

The current pantograph is designed for a different operation, where a lot of power needs to be distributed in a short time, but in this case, it is being used to supply low power over a specified period of time,” he explains.

How can this system be made effective for bus charging?

According to the CEO of Dhemax, this would be achieved through a lighter, more compact, and economical version of the equipment.

In this regard, he states that it is likely that at some point, an automated charging standard will appear with a price around 10,000 dollars, compared to the 40,000 euros or 50,000 euros it currently costs.

Dhemax is studying a similar system with dispensers, where an operator is responsible for distributing the energy.

Specifically, the split architecture consists of a large central power source with multiple dispensers connected to the buses, which are managed by a person.

Andrés Barentin, CEO of Dhemax.

This type of infrastructure is more economical.

“All buses are parked and being charged, the only task is for someone, either the driver or another person, to connect the vehicles at the beginning of the day or as they arrive,” details the CEO.

This person, in addition to handling the connection, acts as a technician in case of failures in the charging yard.

This is another challenge mentioned by Barentin regarding the pantograph, as it can sometimes fail, requiring personnel to be in charge of daily problem-solving.

So why do operators continue to opt for the pantograph?

The main reason, according to the expert, lies in the difficulties in Europe in obtaining human resources.

The charging yard must have operators on shifts, supervisors, among other roles, which increases the staff.

Due to the shortage of suitable personnel to perform these operations, “today the pantograph is being chosen.”

How does Dhemax plan to address this issue?

The Chilean company is developing a new type of canopy, similar to the pantograph, but with ultra-lightweight dispensers installed on the roof.

“A large, expensive, heavy, and less sustainable system becomes something smaller, cheaper, sustainable, maintaining the same operational characteristics,” he emphasizes.

This approach aims to provide a more efficient and green solution than the current pantograph, especially considering its application in electric vehicles, which are ultimately cheaper to operate than combustion ones.

“This is because it is more efficient since the energy requirement per kilometer traveled is lower,” adds Andrés Barentin.

In this regard, the CEO emphasizes that “continuing to move in this direction without examining other alternatives may result in unnecessary spending.”

Therefore, he recommends conducting a cost analysis and comparing it with other charging options, especially considering that the available subsidies “will not be eternal.”

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