Electrification of Transport: A Challenge for Urbanised Latin America

Iêda de Oliveira sits at the wheel of one of the buses manufactured by the company she heads, Eletra, a pioneer in electric and hybrid buses in Brazil. She regrets that Brazil, due to a lack of adequate public policies, has lost the foreign market for buses and part of the domestic market to China, after having been a major exporter of buses to Latin America and other regions. CREDIT: Courtesy of Eletra

Iêda de Oliveira sits at the wheel of one of the buses
manufactured by the company she heads, Eletra, a pioneer in
electric and hybrid buses in Brazil. She regrets that Brazil, due
to a lack of adequate public policies, has lost the foreign market
for buses and part of the domestic market to China, after having
been a major exporter of buses to Latin America and other regions.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Eletra

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 13 2020 (IPS)

Electric transport, still limited in Latin America despite its
urban benefits, could expand during the post-pandemic economic
recovery, says Adalberto Maluf, president of the Brazilian
Association of Electric Vehicles (ABVE).

If there are major investments in the necessary reactivation of
the economy, they should form part of “a transition towards a
green economy, in an agenda for the future,” as some European
countries have already decided, said Maluf, who is also director in
Brazil of the Chinese company BYD, the world’s largest
manufacturer of 100
percent electric vehicles
.

“The transition to electric mobility powered by clean energy
is beginning to generate growing interest among governments, and
also among citizens,” notes the report “Electric
Mobility 2019: Status and Opportunities for Regional Collaboration
in Latin America and the Caribbean
,” released in Spanish on
Jul. 2 by UN
Environment
.

This is reflected in “the emergence of different civil society
groups dedicated to this sector and made up of enthusiasts, early
adopters and entrepreneurs,” according to the report, which
points to a bigger push in public transport in the 20 countries
studied.

In a region that has rapidly urbanised, with 80 percent of the
population living in urban areas, and where the number of large
cities has climbed, electric vehicles are improving the
environment, transportation, quality of life and collective health,
in addition to opening up new economic possibilities and generating
jobs and technological innovations.

Transportation is responsible for 22 percent of the region’s
emissions of short-lived climate pollutants and 15 percent of
greenhouse gases, according to the report by the regional office of
the agency also known as the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP).

The electrification of 100 percent of urban transport would
prevent 180,117 deaths from 2019 to 2050 in Mexico City, 207,672 in
Buenos Aires and 13,003 in Santiago, by eliminating the gases and
particulate matter emitted by conventional vehicles, the report
estimates.

The efficiency of electricity, far superior to that of fossil
fuels in vehicles, offers a great economic advantage in the medium
term.

A bus manufactured by BYD, a Chinese company founded in 1995 that soon became a powerhouse in the production of rechargeable batteries, electric buses and cars and solar panels. In Brazil, the firm set up shop in the city of Campinas, 100 kilometres from São Paulo. Its production is focused on clean energy and transport. CREDIT: Courtesy of BYD Brazil

A bus manufactured by BYD, a Chinese company founded in 1995
that soon became a powerhouse in the production of rechargeable
batteries, electric buses and cars and solar panels. In Brazil, the
firm set up shop in the city of Campinas, 100 kilometres from São
Paulo. Its production is focused on clean energy and transport.
CREDIT: Courtesy of BYD Brazil

The electric vehicle is more expensive because of the battery,
which can cost nearly half of the total for a bus that can run 200
kilometers without recharging, said Iêda de Oliveira, executive
director of Eletra, an electric bus company founded in 1988 in São
Bernardo do Campo, near the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo.

The price difference, she told IPS from that city by phone, is
recovered in a few years from savings in energy and maintenance,
since electric motors have fewer parts and wear out less.

The economic advantages are accentuated in countries that, like
Chile, depend on imported oil and therefore suffer the effects of
international price swings and exchange rate fluctuations.

Chile stands out in the electrification of its urban transport.
Santiago’s Metropolitan Mobility Network had 386 electric buses
by the end of 2019. There will be almost 800 by the end of 2020.
BYD (Build Your Dreams) is the largest supplier of electric buses
in Chile, Maluf told IPS by telephone from São Paulo.

Furthermore, Chile has set a goal to electrify its entire public
transport fleet and 40 percent of private transport by 2050, as
part of the National Electromobility Strategy approved in 2016.

Colombia also stands out, with 483 electric buses in operation
or on order in Bogotá and another 90 in the cities of Cali and
Medellín as of late 2019. The national goal for 2030 is to have
600,000 electric vehicles of all types, according to the UNEP
report.

Costa Rica and Panama are other countries in the region that
have adopted national electric mobility plans. Argentina, Mexico
and Paraguay are in the process of hammering out their own
strategies.

The Dual Bus is an innovation developed by the Brazilian company Eletra, which has the advantage of adding more flexibility to the electric bus, which can operate in two configurations: as a hybrid or trolleybus (with electricity supplied by overhead wires) and hybrid or pure electric (battery). In the hybrid, the electricity is generated internally by a diesel engine. CREDIT: Courtesy of Eletra

The Dual Bus is an innovation developed by the Brazilian company
Eletra, which has the advantage of adding more flexibility to the
electric bus, which can operate in two configurations: as a hybrid
or trolleybus (with electricity supplied by overhead wires) and
hybrid or pure electric (battery). In the hybrid, the electricity
is generated internally by a diesel engine. CREDIT: Courtesy of
Eletra

Brazil, which could lead this process even as a manufacturer of
electric vehicles, “lags behind” in electrification, said
Maluf, adding that “BYD sold 1045 buses in Latin America in 2019,
only four percent of which went to Brazil.”

“Chile is a case in point; it was already a major importer of
conventional buses from the Brazilian industry,” said Oliveira,
who leads ABVE’s Heavy Vehicle Group, in addition to heading
Eletra. “Because of its shortsightedness, Brazil lost the Latin
American market to China.

“We need a public policy on electric transport, which is not
only an environmental but also an economic question, because Brazil
could be a leader, given our large fleet, our national spare parts
industry, and our national technology,” she said.

Clear goals, available financing, more favourable taxation that
takes into account environmental, social and health benefits,
incentives for local battery production and the expansion of
recharging infrastructure should form part of this policy, Oliveira
said.

Relying on imported batteries proved to be a trap. Suddenly they
became outrageously expensive due to the 35 percent devaluation of
the Brazilian currency, the real, this year, she pointed out.

In her view, the race for higher-capacity batteries is not the
only path to take. Another option is to create more charging
stations and use smaller batteries. “Expanding the infrastructure
and using smaller batteries makes more sense, if you can charge
them more often,” Oliveira said.

Adalberto Maluf, president of the Brazilian Association of Electric Vehicles and director of marketing and sustainability at BYD Brazil, a subsidiary of the Chinese company that is the world's largest producer of electric buses and one of the largest makers of solar batteries and panels, hopes that public environmental and health awareness in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will drive the electrification of transportation, especially urban transport. CREDIT: Courtesy of Adalberto Maluf

Adalberto Maluf, president of the Brazilian Association of
Electric Vehicles and director of marketing and sustainability at
BYD Brazil, a subsidiary of the Chinese company that is the
world’s largest producer of electric buses and one of the largest
makers of solar batteries and panels, hopes that public
environmental and health awareness in the wake of the COVID-19
pandemic will drive the electrification of transportation,
especially urban transport. CREDIT: Courtesy of Adalberto Maluf

Maluf asserted that claiming there are not enough charging
stations to argue against increasing the number of electric
vehicles in Brazil is no longer justified. There are at least two
electric vehicle routes, one on the country’s busiest highway
between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and there are scattered
charging stations elsewhere.

In addition, batteries can be charged quickly today, in half an
hour, and in just 15 minutes 70 percent of capacity can be reached,
he said.

Unfamiliarity with technology is the main factor curbing the
spread of electromobility, Maluf said.

There is also resistance and political pressure from entrenched
interests in the transportation industry, such as the traditional
automotive industry, ethanol producers, fuel distributors and urban
bus companies.

Nevertheless, electrification is progressing in different areas.
Electric motorcycles, bicycles and scooters are mushrooming in
cities that are adapting to new modalities.

Cargo transport is also gradually adhering to the new trend. The
“retrofitting” of trucks to replace diesel engines with
electric motors is Eletra’s new booming business.

In Brazil, hybrid electric vehicles predominate.

The UN Environment report recognises only 2045 electric vehicles
registered in Brazil up to October 2019. But it only counts plug-in
electric vehicles and excludes hybrids that run on an internal
combustion engine and an electric motor that uses energy stored in
batteries, which account for more than 90 percent of the
electrified fleet.

ABVE statistics count a total of 30,092 electric vehicles
registered from 2012 to June 2020. The number of vehicles
registered rose threefold in 2019 from the previous year, to
11,858. Hybrids represented 95.4 percent of the total in 2018.

A diversity of options is the best route, given local needs and
advantages, Oliveira argued. Adding a small battery to a
trolleybus, for example, gives it flexibility that reduces the
operating cost, she said.

New business models also promote solutions. Car-sharing, rental
vehicles, electric generators, and associating energy distributors
to urban transport are a few alternatives.

The Chilean model that separates the owner of the buses from
their operators is interesting, as it attracts investment funds for
the purchase of vehicles on a large scale, at lower costs, and
facilitates solutions to conflicts, Maluf said.

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Electrification of Transport: A Challenge for Urbanised Latin
America
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Electrification of Transport: A Challenge for Urbanised
Latin America