Shenzhen, a Chinese city that runs only on electric buses

Shenzhen (China) (AFP) – Shenzhen, a large technology city in southern China, has a population of 18 million and has a 100% electric public bus network, a laboratory for energy transformation.

In 2017, Shenzhen was the first major city in the world to opt for all-electric buses that transport users quietly and without CO2 emissions.

The city, which borders Hong Kong and is home to many tech companies, has also electrified most of its taxis.

Currently, China is the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases and is 60% dependent on it for electricity production. But the Asian giant is also the country that invests the most in renewable energy.

Building on Shenzhen’s policy, other Chinese cities have announced a goal to have clean transportation by 2025.

A month before COP28 in Dubai, the case of this city shows that it is possible to electrify public transport quickly, which contrasts with the slowness of Western countries.

Percentage development of bus sales in China from 2018 according to the fuel they use © Laurence Saubadu, Olivia Bugault / AFP

Buses contribute less to global warming than cars and trucks. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates a potential reduction in bus emissions of 5% in a carbon-neutral scenario in 2050.

In addition, electric buses immediately improve the quality of the air that the city dwellers breathe.

China is currently the global exception in this regard. According to 2021 data from the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), the country accounts for more than 90% of the world’s electric buses and trucks.

The transformation “wasn’t done overnight” but required “many years of planning and enormous infrastructure work,” electric vehicle expert Elliot Richards told AFP.

Buses sold in China and the European Union in 2022 by type of fuel used in percentage © Sophie Ramis, Olivia Bugault / AFP

Richards focuses on the constraints that exist in the rest of the world to reproduce the Chinese experience, including constraints on public spending and barriers to building appropriate infrastructure in old and saturated cities.

“Easy to use”

At a Shenzhen bus park, driver Ou Zhenjian says he has seen “a big difference” since switching to electric vehicles.

According to this man with 18 years of experience, the buses are “really comfortable (…), easy to drive and environmentally friendly. They don’t make noise and are great to drive.”

“Today we can say that our electric buses have the same performance as diesel buses,” Shenzhen Bus Network Deputy Director Ethan Ma told AFP.

At similar performance, the lifetime emissions of an electric bus (including its manufacture and its battery) are 52% lower than those of a diesel bus, according to a specific World Bank case study of Shenzhen. .

Electric buses parked at the Antuoshan charging station in the Chinese city of Shenzhen on October 18, 2023. © Héctor Retamal / AFP

This carbon footprint takes into account that half of Shenzhen’s electricity is generated from coal. In total, city electric buses will save 194,000 tons of CO2 per year.

A political bet

The World Bank says in its study that this change “depends not only on technology, but also on political will”.

Drivers charge their electric vehicles at the Antuoshan station in Shenzhen, China on October 18, 2023. © Héctor Retamal / AFP

The country has invested heavily in this area, leading to the emergence of major electric car companies such as Shenzhen-based car manufacturer BYD, the world leader in the segment.

A situation to which the European Union responded by launching an investigation into alleged illegal state aid that would allow Chinese manufacturers to keep prices artificially low in order to gain market share.

In Guangdong, of which Shenzhen province is a part, a dozen cities have already opted for 100% electric bus fleets. The capital Beijing and Shanghai are on the way.

However, China’s electricity generation is 60% dependent on coal. But as the case of Shenzhen shows, the use of buses powered exclusively by coal electricity results in lower emissions than diesel buses, according to David Fishman, an energy consultant at the Lantau Group.

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