• NigelB

The Chinese don't do things by half. Shenzhen is the latest example.


Shenzhen is a major city in the Guangdong Province in southern China, with its borders against Hong Kong. It houses about 13 million residents and it has a vibrant local economy, and is also ranked one of the top 10 cities to visit by Lonely Planet. The city was opened to foreign investment and has thrived, and is home to major tech companies like Tencent, and automotive leaders like BYD. The name of the city dates back to the 1400’, but they have unearthed tools dating back to 5,000BC in the area. And its revolution hasn’t been that long in the making - back in the 10970s it was actually a fishing village with 30,000 sleepy residents. I wonder what they think about Shenzen now?


Shenzen now houses the largest fleet of electric buses in the world. There are 16,000 electric buses, so you need to be careful when you step out onto the street. No more hissing and diesel rattles, these have been replaced with silence and regenerative brakes mean there is substantially less brake noise also. Not only is air pollution an issue, there was also the issue of overheated diesel buses emitting additional heat into the city environment, adding to an issue known as urban heat island. This was particularly uncomfortable in the heart of summer when temperatures can hit early 30’s and higher in the heart of the city. 16,000 diesel buses create a whole lot of air pollution, but they also create a whole lot of wasted heat they drop into the city as they travel around it. Of course this doesn’t happen with an EV, which can be a bit of a challenge for those people driving small battery EVs is the winter (using the heater sucks a bit of range).


How did they achieve this? Well they got a bit of help (read a lot of help) from central and local Government, encouraging them to move into EV buses. Around 50% of the capital cost of the bus is subsidised, with the company receiving additional bonuses when they drive them a certain range each year. This encourages both uptake and utilisation, and ensures that the cost of the fares for citizens is kept at an acceptable level to encourage them to use public transport. How very progressive. But the Shenzen local government didn’t stop there. In 2018 they also mandated that all 22,000 taxis were to become electric. And they have achieved this goal in 2019. Now this sounds like a leadership position within China, and a shining light for both other Chinese cities and the rest of the world. But no. Taiyuan, in the country’s north which has a population of just over 4 million, has had only electric taxis since 2016.


So what is the benefit to the city as a result of taking diesel buses and petrol/diesel taxis off the road? Well removing the buses took about 440,000 tonnes of C02e off the road and cut their fuel bill by more than half. The taxis going electric took another 850,000 tonnes of C02e off the road, a grand total combined of 1.29m tonnes of C02 off the road, and that still allows for the coal emitted to generate the electricity.


Going all electric in Shenzen with Government subsidies is a really smart thing because it provides the technology companies which live in the city with scale to grow their businesses and take on the rest of the world. That is just really really smart. Here in NZ with have this saying that we are technology takers, but that’s just because I believe we don’t have anyone taking a highly strategic perspective like the Chinese.


Now going electric for the vehicles was far far easier than developing the infrastructure to fuel them . This has been much more difficult, and is also something that is going to be a challenge for us here in NZ and Australia. When the shift steps up a gear will we be able to keep up? I’m not so sure.


But in the meantime, Shenzen and the rest of China will push ahead aggressively into the future. Personally, I’m putting Shenzen on my list of cities to visit, having spent time in Shanghai with my family last year. I recommend you stop in and check it out as well.

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