In a world first, Chinese city of 12 million people converts all its 16,000 buses to be fully electric. If China is to meet its pledge to be net zero by 2060, such initiatives will be essential, despite the enormous upfront costs.
Shenzhen, in southeastern China, is a modern metropolis that links Hong Kong to China’s mainland, and is now the world’s first city to deliver the full electrification of its bus fleet. Besides the fact that they’re quieter, the city’s 16,000 electric buses emit around 48 per cent less carbon dioxide and much fewer pollutants. They’re also cheaper to fuel and, with their streamlined engines, easier to maintain.
Shenzhen Bus Group, the largest of the three bus companies in the city, estimates that an electric bus costs approximately $98,000 annually, compared to $112,000 for a diesel bus.
As they seek to curb carbon emissions, global municipal leaders are pledging to replace all or part of their city’s fleets with e-buses. Apart from the more expensive upfront costs, there's also the issue of infrastructure. E-buses need to be charged approximately every 200km, and chargers are expensive. “Buying the buses is one thing, but electrification requires you to change your whole business model and network,” says Joseph Ma, deputy general manager at Shenzhen Bus Group.
Despite the hurdles, the good news that e-bus numbers are rising, particularly across South America. Santiago, Chile has the largest fleet outside China; California and New York are moving towards an all-electric public bus fleet by 2040; and the number of e-bus registrations across western Europe tripled in 2019. Pune became the first Indian city to adopt e-buses in 2019, spearheading a national transformation.
Several programmes have been set up to help cities overcome the upfront capital cost of e-buses, and the prices will also become more affordable with higher order volumes. “We’re looking at a world where almost all of our buses will eventually be electrified,” Ryan Sclar, a research associate for the World Resources Institute’s global electric mobility team, says. “Even beyond the environment, it increasingly makes good financial sense in the long-run.”
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