As UN climate talks near, Chile goes for electric transport

John Bartlett –
Electric and diesel buses pass in turn along one of the main avenues in Chile’s capital Santiago, sweeping past the national football stadium and up towards the Andean mountains. The differences are stark. Bright red electric buses glide serenely by, while their old diesel-powered, smoke-belching counterparts grind to a halt with a thunderous clatter.
“I use the new electric buses a lot. They’re much quieter,” said 26-year-old university student Camilo Miranda. “People often overlook noise pollution in a city where air quality has always been the main concern.” Santiago, a city of 5.6 million people, has positioned itself as a global leader in the use of electric buses, as the South American nation pushes forward with ambitious plans to adopt cleaner energy and cut emissions from public transport.
With 386 electric buses, accounting for 6 per cent of the city’s fleet, Santiago has by far the largest fleet outside of global front-runner China, according to the World Resources Institute, a US-based think-tank.
The first 100 electric buses bought from China hit the Chilean capital’s streets just over a year ago, and the government plans to introduce them in other cities, although it has not said where.
Worldwide, cities account for about three-quarters of carbon emissions and consume more than two-thirds of energy, meaning their success or failure in cutting emissions will have a big impact on whether global warming stays within agreed limits. Chile will be keen to highlight Santiago’s use of electric buses when the city hosts this year’s UN climate conference (COP25) in December.
In June, the government unveiled a more ambitious climate action plan that included targets to shut all coal power plants by 2040 and become a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb global warming. In Santiago, it is also hoped the zero-emission buses can help the battle to improve poor air quality, which sees a dense smog settle over the city on most cold winter days.
“Ahead of the COP25, we want to reinforce the image of Chile as a country that has mobilised new public transport technologies with a focus on clean solutions,” Chile’s Transport Minister Gloria Hutt said. “Our aim is to have all public transport in Chile electric-powered by the year 2040,” she said.
She added that the government’s focus was on expanding the use of electric energy in public transport, with no subsidies or tax breaks in the pipeline to promote the use of electric cars.
The running cost per kilometre of Santiago’s Chinese-made electric buses is around 70 pesos ($0.10), a 230-peso decrease on the rate for a diesel vehicle. But the cost of a journey to the passenger remains the same.
The electric buses have a range of around 250 km, meaning they can make three or four return journeys on city routes without needing to recharge at the terminal. They also have motion chargers which means they can top up while
going downhill.
The electric buses are purchased by the Chilean state and then leased to local private operators including MetBus.
“There’s been an important commitment to electro-mobility in Chile, and (the technology) is here to stay,” said Karla Zapata, director of Enel X Chile, the Italian energy subsidiary that provides power for the bus network.
There are already 60 charging points for electric cars across the capital, but they are not yet widely used due to a lack of government incentives and
regulation, Zapata said.
Social attitudes need to change and prices must fall for Chileans to embrace a shift to electric-powered cars, she said.
“What we need to work on is motivating people to change from diesel to electric cars,” Zapata said. — Reuters