Air pollution remains one of the most serious issues facing the world today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is responsible for as many as 6.5 million premature deaths every year. In 2016, China was deemed the world’s deadliest country for air pollution, with more than 1 million deaths (followed by India with more than 600,000 and Russia with nearly 150,000).
In response to this health risk, Chinese manufacturer BYD aims to fully replace internal combustion vehicles with pure electric alternatives across all categories, freeing China and indeed the world from vehicular emissions. In April 2016, BYD rolled out its 10,000th electric bus. To date, fully electric buses are operating in over 200 cities, in 48 countries worldwide.
We sat down with Wang Chuanfu, President and Chairman of BYD Co Ltd, to discuss the impact of electric mobility on public transport and the future of the sector.
How is the shift away from fossil fuels manifesting in public transport?
Electrified public transport is definitely becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Regions such as the US, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and South America are all seriously considering introducing alternatives to fossil fuels for their public transport. In 2015 in China there were more than 36,000 new energy [partially or fully powered by electricity] public transport buses on the streets, accounting for 5% of the total number of new energy vehicles on the roads nationwide. China is the biggest market for electric vehicles, in part due to public concern over air pollution, government support policy, and growing overall acceptance of this alternative.
Do fluctuations in oil prices impact your business?
Not so much on electric vehicle promotion in domestic China, because the Chinese government has established a protection system to stabilise prices: if those for global crude oil drop below $40(€38)/barrel, the system is triggered and they don’t drop any further. Yet in the international market, we do think the impact is visible. Nevertheless, the electric bus will remain popular.
Do you think government policy and city authorities should play a role in introducing electric bus fleets?
In the current phase, commitments by Chinese central and local governments to introduce electric vehicles are extremely significant. A number of supporting policies, such as subsidies, are now in place to stimulate the market. To date, most electric bus fleets in China are charged at night, rather than at peak times, to avoid their electricity demand becoming a major burden on the grid. But as electric fleets grow on the roads in the near future, governments must definitely consider expanding and upgrading the grid to meet the rising energy demand. Right now, governments are investing massively in building charging infrastructures and encouraging the private sector to get involved.
What are the current challenges for the uptake of electric buses?
The barriers to uptake aren’t as high as one might think. All stakeholders need to pay attention to the lack of charging infrastructure. There are financial solutions too for solving the problem of the initial purchasing costs. From BYD’s point of view, the biggest challenge is battery capacity. Our Iron Phosphate battery plant, the largest in the world, has annual capacity of 10GWh, yet still cannot meet the booming demand. But there is good news. We are improving capacity all the time.
All stakeholders need to pay attention to the lack of charging infrastructure
What are the long-term implications of the energy shift for public transport?
At BYD we consider cleaner propulsion technologies a very good opportunity for public transport over the long term. Yes, the initial purchasing price of the electric bus is higher than for a diesel, but as time goes on, the cost gap between the two will offset the initial investment. Additionally, electric buses don’t require frequent maintenance. All in all, the operational costs of an electric bus fleet are around 30% that of a diesel. Transport agencies can save money out of this cost gap.
All in all, the operational costs of an electric bus fleet are around 30% that of a diesel
Is the trend today towards deployment of electric buses on a massive scale?
Yes, many countries are now introducing electric bus fleets, as opposed to vehicles in single digit units – a sure sign that electrified public transport is starting to boom. According to the Chinese government, by 2020 there will be 200,000 new energy public transport buses in cities nationwide; in 2015 there were 36,000. This huge leap indicates huge market potential. Electric mobility is truly the future.
This is a shortened version of an article published in Public Transport Trends 2017, UITP’s flagship publication released every two years. Read the full interview – and many more – in Public Transport Trends 2017!
Don’t forget to register to participate in Busworld International Bus Conference, 23-24 October 2017, and join UITP R&I Day: ZeEUS and other Bus Projects on 25 October, where electric buses will be the hot topic of the day!