I subscribe to the electronic newsletter of the Rocky Mountain Institute (rmi.org), which is a well-known, U.S.-based non-profit organization dedicated to researching, consulting, and educating in the field of sustainability, with a special focus on profitable innovations for energy and resource efficiency. A recent issue contains a summary of an excellent report on Shenzhen’s path to global leadership in electric logistics vehicles. Shenzhen has clearly taken on a role I have been proposing for Macau for several years. We seem to be losing a race that was ours to win!
Among other pollutants, the internal combustion engine (ICE) is globally responsible for about 15% of man-made atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, and thus it is a major contributor to global warming. Eliminating ICEs is a key goal in decarbonizing mankind’s future and this largely means using electric motors in vehicles. As they are a major part of the global vehicle fleet, it is a good idea to start by electrifying buses, taxis and logistics vehicles.
Through an array of deliberate local government policies and other initiatives, the city of Shenzhen in Southern China was able to increase its fleet of electric logistics vehicles, vans and light/medium trucks from 300 to approximately 62,000 between 2015 and 2018. Their long-term aim is to completely electrify Shenzhen’s transportation systems.
Shenzhen achieved these results by providing subsidies for vehicles and charging infrastructure, mandating the number of charging stations for public vehicle to be available in different districts, and reducing electricity prices for recharging and regulating charging service fees. It also nurtured the market to ensure the availability of suitable electric vehicles (about 45 brands are competing in the market) and the emergence of leasing companies to provide vehicles, recharging and maintenance services to logistics companies.
The Shenzhen government has also been very proactive in collecting huge volumes of data about their initiatives and making this data widely available; including their successes and their failures. They want their city to become a reference to help other cities to follow similar and even better paths to transportation electrification. No doubt, they aim to be a source for equipment and consulting expertise for these other cities.
As well as affordable vehicle availability, recharging infrastructure is a key issue, and here Shenzhen has had some missteps that they are in the process of rectifying. In their initial planning Shenzhen assumed that most demand would be for slow overnight vehicle recharging at the outskirts of the city. It turns out, naturally enough, that logistics companies want to do their recharging in the city where they make most of their deliveries, and they favor rapid recharging during the daytime. Rapid recharging puts significant extra demands on the electricity distribution network and drivers need places to relax (such as restaurants) if they are recharging their vehicles during slow daytime periods. They have also found that vehicle recharging infrastructure can be unreliable and drivers need to know about the status and availability of recharging spots before driving to them. Finally, they have experienced many problems with ICE delivery vans occupying recharging spots because they are cheap parking spaces.
While you may argue about the autocratic way that the Chinese cities are run, it is difficult to fault their achievements. (Also, in my experience, local governments in many places seem to rule by fiat, and not really consider the voice of its residents.) In the case of Shenzhen, the city government has a long history of demonstrating the depth and sophistication of its vision and its clear focus on improving its residents’ quality of life. One can only wish we had such capable government in Macau.