A deep dive into how PowerON’s turnkey charging solution put EV infrastructure into Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport to support their electric shuttle fleet
Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport is one step closer to offering another zero-emission way for passengers to make their flights.
Last month the airport unveiled the new charging infrastructure to support their six Vicinity Lightning electric shuttle buses arriving in 2024.
The charging infrastructure was architected, built and managed by PowerON Energy Solutions, a turnkey ZEV charging solutions provider and subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
“I’m really proud to say that this project was delivered ahead of schedule and under budget. It’s a testament to the skill and the effort of the team at PowerON and all our partners that this project was delivered so well,” said Keegan Tully, managing director at OPG, during the unveiling ceremony.
“Ontario Power Generation has the vision of electrifying life in one generation and this project demonstrates that it’s possible.”
The electric shuttle buses will be operated by Nieuport Aviation (owner and operator of the Billy Bishop passenger terminal) and run between the airport and Union Station in downtown Toronto. They are estimated to eliminate 2,100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
“The aviation industry, like many others is undergone a significant transformation in recent years. We find ourselves at a critical juncture where environmental responsibility and technological innovation intersect. Billy Bishop Airport has proven its readiness to meet this challenge,” said Warren Askew, vice president of Airports at PortsToronto. (PortsToronto is the owner and operator of Billy Bishop Airport.)
A challenging undertaking
The Billy Bishop Airport is a complex property.
There are multiple stakeholders spanning the private sector and government; half the airport infrastructure is situated on the mainland while the other half is on an island 121 metres offshore; and flights and passengers need uninterrupted access to the airport 365 days of the year.
Factoring all of that in, the logistics involved in getting commercial charging infrastructure installed is not a simple task.
“I’d say it was a 7/10 difficulty. Maybe 8/10. Walking through and understanding that the way that the fleet operates is critical,” says Tully.
“It takes a lot of collaboration and really digging in under the bowels of the airport. There’s an incredible amount of subsurface electrical infrastructure on both sides and it was very complex. We really needed all stakeholders to be there to figure out what was possible and how to do this as cost effectively as possible.”
PowerON’s head of electrification and Billy Bishop Airport electrification project lead, Derek Oppedisano, agrees.
Aside from working in a very tight footprint both on and off the island, there are multiple stakeholders involved with the airport so one square metre of property could have two, if not three entities involved. This meant multiple layers of approvals, permits and negotiations.
“That charger over there — it took 12 months just to get the permits to dig under the walkway to lay the cables,” says Oppedisano, by way of example.
“Half the land under the sidewalk is city property and the airport rules said we weren’t allowed to obstruct access to the building. We had to work overnight when the airport was shutdown, which meant about five to six hours to get the job done.”
Every fleet’s operating routines and therefore charging needs are unique.
What PowerON and the Billy Bishop landed on for the electric shuttle buses was a combination of chargers strategically located on the mainland and on the island were the ideal way to manage the fleet.
“So, you have a fast charger [curbside] for opportunities whenever the buses are idle,” explains Tully. “And then, over on the island, some overnight DC chargers that top the busses up to start the day.”
Elsewhere in the city at the shuttle’s maintenance depot there will be a handful more chargers to power the fleet vehicles before or after their inspections.
But, with chargers, there were other engineering problems to solve. These included questions like where to put large pieces of charging infrastructure and how to run cables from A to B — over 100 feet apart — without putting a shovel in the ground because airport access couldn’t be impeded.
But adversity often inspires innovation and a large part of the successes of the Billy Bishop Airport electrification project are due to the creative problem solving the PowerON team used.
While the plug for the mainland DC curbside charger may see paltry to support a fleet of six heavy-duty vehicles, it’s deliberately right sized.
First, the charger port for the curbside DC fast charger had to be beside the bus lane at the front of the airport pavilion. But this created a problem of where to put the actual charging station.
Though a person walking by would never know, the main power cabinet is located about 50 feet away and several metres below ground, sitting alongside the elevators that give passengers access to the airport’s pedestrian tunnel on a “hidden” half floor, says Oppedisano.
“That’s a massive piece of equipment, so we had to figure out where to put it. At first we looked at locating it in another building beside the pavilion, but putting it inside the building below ground was easier.”
With that creative solution, the electric shuttle buses will be able to get a 60 per cent charge in 45 minutes from the one 150kW fast charger. These top-up charges will happen exactly during the time of the drivers’ lunch breaks.
Play to a project’s strengths
One of the great strengths of the Billy Bishop Airport project is that the mainland pavilion and the island terminal run on two different electric panels.
Not by design, but a happy accident — and much to everyone’s benefit in this situation — both panels had existing capacity to support EV charging infrastructure, which meant PowerON was able to avoid applying to the utility to get more grid infrastructure installed to support the EV chargers.
However, if the mainland pavilion is a busy intake hub, the island terminal is a frenzy.
Billy Bishop is Canada’s sixth busiest airport and sees 2.8 million passengers every year. The airport not only has passengers to manage it also must make sure access to the airport is always unimpeded for emergency safety vehicles, fuelling trucks and, of course, the airplanes.
A massive construction project to lay cables across the property was out of the question.
Like on the mainland, the main power cabinet for the 150kW charger sits below ground in the mechanical room and feeds the charging station above ground, avoiding the need for difficult and disruptive trenching.
“We had a boring machine to tunnel underground and from the building, under the parking lot, to where we wanted the stations to be. Then we would be able to pull the cables through the conduit. Due to the age of the property there was existing infrastructure underground that we had to scan for to ensure we didn’t run into prior to and during the directional drilling exercise.”
It was a highly precise and technical undertaking, but it worked.
Then came another curveball.
“Stolport is a family-run company that owns and operates the parking lot at Billy Bishop airport,” explains Oppedisano.
“After initial conversations started with the airport, a synergy immerged with Stolport, as they wanted to expand their parking offerings to include EV charging. Designs were then altered to accommodate for four new Level 2 EV chargers, which are now operational and open to Stolport customers on the Island.”
Outcomes and next steps
The six electric shuttle buses for Billy Bishop Airport will be delivered in early 2024.
In total, Billy Bishop Airport now has five commercial DC fast charging stations and four public Level 2 chargers.
PowerON commissioned artwork by Indigenous student artist Roma Maré for the main terminal electric bus charger at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. The artwork recognizes the infrastructure’s location on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, in a city that is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
The project cost came in under budget from the original plan.
And PowerON, for its part, has gathered many new learnings at Billy Bishop to apply to future projects its involved in.
But the chargers are likely not be the final step of the airport’s electrification plans nor, perhaps, their partnership with PowerON.
“Some of the things that we’re looking to embark upon at the airport is around fleet. So, for the PortsToronto’s fleet we see some opportunity with electrifying some of our light fleet vehicles or pickup trucks. There’s even the ability to electrify some of our aircraft, rescue, firefighting trucks,” hints Askew.
“And so, as we start to plan ahead for the future, these are the investments that we will be looking to make as the timing of the technology develops for us to do so.”