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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

He’s Upset about Electric Buses

Electric bus in Krakow, Poland. Image: Solaris.

George Harvey

There are some things that get me a bit upset. One of them is reading about electric buses (e-buses), and I am just itching to tell you why. Reports about the numbers of e-buses in the U.S. come up from time to time. Last October, for example, a report on e-bus market trends, “North America Electric Bus Market – Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2020 – 2025),” put the number of them in the U.S. at about 650 (http://bit.ly/US-e-buses). The number is increasing at a compound average growth rate of 26.76%, which means we might have a total U.S. fleet of over 2,000 in just under five years.

Let’s consider how that compares with other countries. In August, shortly before that report was released, a story appeared at CleanTechnica about a transit company in Panama that had placed an order for 195 buses (http://bit.ly/Panama-e-bus). Because the country had Paris Accord goals, 35 of these buses were to be electric, and the rest would be powered conventionally. Getting wind of this, Chinese bus maker BYD gave the transit company two buses to test. After extensive testing, the transit company canceled the order for conventional buses and replaced it with an order for e-buses. The reason was that though e-buses cost a good deal more up front, they were so cheap to run that conventional buses made no sense.

In December, another article appeared about e-buses, this time in Columbia. This time, the article said that the city of Bogota was getting 470 e-buses (http://bit.ly/Bogota-e-buses). Again, cost was a factor in going electric. Nevertheless, the buses are not cheaply equipped. They have TV, Wi-Fi, and USB ports so passengers can charge cell phones and more.

These are just two orders. The news has other large orders for e-buses come up regularly, with deliveries all over the world. But I picked these two as examples because these two orders, from two authorities in Latin America, are for a total number of buses that exceeds the number in the “greatest country on Earth.” They are really great buses, and the purchases were made because their economics was sound. What does that say?

There are over 16,300 e-buses in Shenzhen. When I ask people whether they know where that is, very few say they do. (It is a city just north of Hong Kong.) There are over 500,000 e-buses in China, which has been developing the use of e-buses over the last five years. Electric buses are taking a powerful position in the world markets, and the United States does not even have its toe in the water.

I think it is time we free ourselves of the sort of thinking that holds back electric vehicles. A little study of the e-buses and their advantages helps with this.

Chicago started testing e-buses in 2014. It found that they saved about $54,000 per year in fuel and maintenance costs, which means that their initial high cost would be covered over their service lives (http://bit.ly/Chicago-bus-fleet). That, however, was 2014. The high cost of e-buses was due to the high cost of the batteries needed to run them, and that cost has been in steep decline. Since Chicago got its first e-buses, battery prices have dropped from $592 per kilowatt-hour to $137, according to an article in arstechnica (http://bit.ly/Falling-battery-costs). The price of batteries is expected to continue falling quickly for years to come, as technology improves. And with the cost declines, e-buses are constantly getting more attractive economically. Estimates are that within five years, their initial costs will fall below those of conventionally powered buses, and at that point, buying a bus powered by gasoline or diesel oil will be a lose-lose situation.

The switch to electric vehicles of all sorts is inevitably on its way, because of economics that do not even have to figure in such social costs as healthcare associated with pollution and climate change.

There are not many material barriers to overcome, the major one being a need for charging stations. We should ask ourselves why we cling to inferior, obsolete technologies in this country. My best guess is that companies whose business plans depend on fossil fuels are polluting our political system as well as our air.

As we go to press, we have learned that Bogotá, the capital of the South American country of Columbia, has recently ordered 1,402 electric buses from BYD. So a single South American city has more electric buses on order than there are in the entire United States.

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