The bus wars are over and electricity has won — thanks to a big boost from China.
In fact, when it comes to electric bus purchases, China is outpacing the United States by an astounding 421,000 to 300 as of the end of 2018.
Thanks to China’s massive investment in and support for electric buses, electrics are now racing past a 50% share of new bus sales worldwide, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg NEF (BNEF).
For decades, cities and countries have been trying to replace dirty diesel buses, which not only emit staggering amounts of urban air pollution and greenhouse gases, but they also routinely break down and need major repairs.
Cities around the world have tried buses running on a variety of cleaner alternatives to diesel, including natural gas, hydrogen, biodiesel, and electricity. But in recent years, it has become overwhelmingly clear that nothing can compete with electricity for the highest efficiency and performance along with lowest emissions and lifetime cost, including fuel and maintenance.
“Everything that has an urban drive cycle will ultimately be an electric vehicle,” Ryan Popple, the president and CEO of Proterra, the leading U.S. electric bus company, explained to ThinkProgress back in 2016.
But electric buses aren’t just winning because they have no tailpipe emissions. They are also so efficient they have one-fourth the per-mile fueling cost of regular diesel buses and the other alternatives — even running on renewable power, thanks to the rapid price drops of solar and wind power.
In addition, electric buses have considerably lower maintenance costs, as many studies have shown. So over the 10- to 12-year lifetime of a typical urban transport bus, an electric bus can save $400,000 in total operational costs compared to a typical diesel.
Back in 2016, a new electric bus only cost some $300,000 more than a diesel, so total lifetime savings could be as much as $100,000. But battery prices have been dropping so rapidly that the differential in upfront cost is now closer to $200,000.
Plummeting battery prices to make electric cars cheaper than gas cars in 3 years
The net lifetime savings from electric buses is thus growing rapidly. In China, subsidies and stringent pollution regulations have pushed more and more cities to switch over to electrics entirely. Shenzen, the first Chinese city to switch to all electric buses, finished the transition in 2017 with the help of China’s $150,000-a-bus subsidy and a city-wide effort to accelerate the process. Today, the megacity of 13 million people has 16,000 electric buses.
Now Beijing is requiring major cities to establish deadlines to replace all diesel buses with electric ones. The UK Guardian reported in December that “more than 30 Chinese cities have made plans to achieve 100% electrified public transit by 2020,” including such megacities as Guangzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Shandong.How remarkable is China’s rapid adoption of electric buses? Electric vehicles (EVs) of every kind will displace a total of 350,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel this year, BNEF projects. Three-fourths of that displaced fuel will be from electric buses, 99% of which are in China…