ASEAN Smart Cities Spark an Electric Bus Revolution

Electrifying public bus fleets is a net zero action that many cities have in their power to take now – but the instability of the grid in these districts can cause delays in implementing chargers. To address this in Jakarta and Singapore, innovation districts involving local residents and businesses grew from what was, at first, a single-depot public sector project.

Jakarta and Singapore tested and shared information on electric bus charging on depots in city centre districts to make decisions on the stability of the grid and installation of solar in the district around major depots. They collaborated with each other through the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) and produced guides for replication through the C40 Cities Finance Facility. Examples of lessons learnt included how some types of chargepoints enable energy demand to be distributed between neighbouring areas instead of costly upgrades to service chargers at depots, and when co-investment in solar can save money for the city’s bus companies and create capacity in the local electricity network. 

The ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) is a collaborative platform where cities from ten ASEAN member states work towards the common goal of smart and sustainable urban development. The ASEAN Smart Cities Framework is a non-binding method that facilitates the development of smart cities in each ASCN city in a way that is unique to its needs, potential, and local and cultural environment.  

ASCN was established by Singapore in 2018 – a city often cited as a pathfinder for smart city technologies and financing, having been awarded the City of the Year by the 2018 Smart City Expo World Congress. The ASCN enables member cities to collaborate on a voluntary basis with external partners to access more extensive technical know-how using the Smart City Planning Framework. These partners include multilateral financial institutions, brought on board via Singapore’s deep financing and fundraising network. Additional key areas of cooperation and knowledge sharing come from partners that specialise in citizen participation, digital infrastructure, and evaluation and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Selen, Jakarta | Indonesia:  

In the district of Selen, Jakarta, one of the pilot battery charging stations for their new electric bus fleet of 30 buses was installed. Using data from the C40 City Finance Facility, these buses use around 10MWh of electricity per year, and around 7% of this electricity, without any management, would be demanded at peak times – the equivalent of compressing an entire Jakartan household’s daily electricity use into an hour.  TransJakarta’s “Charging Station Project” limited demand from the grid through use of solar power as municipal bus stations are ideal places for rooftop solar generation, and helped eliminate some peak time demand from the chargers (09:00 – 10:00 and 16:00 –18:00).

Bedok, Singapore 

Singapore has already purchased and put into service 60 electric buses. Further electric buses will be introduced with the help of the operational and technical learnings from this initial rollout. Chargers that enable opportunity charging between the end and start of trips have been placed in Bedok Integrated Transport Hub as part of LTA’s electrification programme. To enable opportunity charging, two overhead pantograph chargers were installed at Bedok. Each 450 kW charger allows electric buses to be quickly recharged in less than ten minutes via an automated rooftop connection. More bus depots will gradually be built and put into service by 2030 to accommodate the growing fleet of electric buses. 

Learning between cities 

The ASEAN Network enabled research and development partnerships between Singapore, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur on developing electric bus networks, rooftop solar at bus depots, and maintenance of the infrastructure. The cities hosted 1:1 meetings and webinars covering respective parts of their energy transitions, sharing key learnings such as their approach to electric charging in the transport network, and managing grid capacity during peak times in dry and rainy seasons.  

Both Jakarta and Singapore grappled with the decision to offer only overnight charging, or to combine overnight charging with opportunity charging. Opportunity charging is a charging strategy where charging points are installed at the end of a bus service, and battery power is topped up before operating the service in reverse. It typically uses fast charging units (rated above 150kW). The outcome for each city was different – Singapore focused more on procurement of fast chargers for opportunity charging, Jakarta for overnight charging. The criteria they used is listed in the C40 Cities Finance Facility guide below. 

Jakarta started developing best practice guidelines for both international and national audiences beyond the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. With the help of the C40 Cities Finance Facility, the city produced Zero-Emission Bus Charging Systems: Insights from Jakarta. The C40 Cities Finance Facility (CFF) is disseminating this work through peer-to-peer exchanges, city-led learning and training events. By 2025, the CFF is expected to leverage USD 1 billion in climate finance and cut over 2.5 million tonnes of GHG emissions in 30 cities throughout the globe. 

Jakarta also started to transfer knowledge developed via ASCN to their domestic smart cities network.  These insights proved valuable to the national government in Indonesia because the country has many nickel deposits, and are considering restricting foreign access to the mineral to preserve domestic EV battery production. Jakarta influenced national policy on the charging of electric bus fleets through meetings with civil servants drafting the national energy transition masterplan for Indonesia. 

The C40 Cities Finance Facility guide found that: 

  • Cities need to analyse bus technology and the necessary charging methods as a whole. It is not always the case that smaller batteries are needed for shorter routes while larger batteries are needed for longer ones. In Jakarta, they found there was a large effect of travel demand between the end of routes and depots – often over 20km. 
  • It may be simpler for operators to assess deployment and assure accurate, high-quality data for analysis and decision-making if a strategy involves replacing all buses on a specific route with zero-emission vehicles, rather than spreading out the replacement across numerous routes. In Jakarta, this was done on the 1P and 1R routes in Senen.  
  • To create the best charging strategy, it is important to analyse the relationship between operational needs, such as cooling demand, loading, distance, and battery range. In Jakarta, even the longest routes needed more than the largest battery size, meaning smaller sizes with both overnight and opportunity charging were more cost-effective. 
  • The local grid capacity as well as capacity upgrades must be taken into account when deciding on the optimal charging infrastructure and schemes. In Jakarta, opportunity chargers enable energy demand to be distributed between different local grids instead of a costly upgrade to cope with high demand for only overnight charging. 
  • In order to lower energy costs, bus terminals are frequently the perfect place to install distributed renewable energy generation, such as rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. In Jakarta, this both lowers the costs of operational energy and  capacity upgrades. 

This case study was produced for Connected Places Catapult by Centre for Net Zero.