A brighter future on the horizon?

A brighter future on the horizon?

2020 was a challenging year, to say the least, but it did deliver some positive outcomes for the environment. European electric bus sales increased to more than 2 000 units last year, and there were some interesting developments closer to home as well.

The European electric bus market is poised to register a compound annual growth rate of over 20% from 2020 till 2025, according to an Indian-based market intelligence and advisory firm, Mordor Intelligence.

“The urban bus fleets in Europe should largely transition to electric power by 2030,” it states in its piece “Europe Electric Bus Market – Growth, Trends, Covid-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021 – 2026)”. The report adds that this is supported by the proposed e-bus target of 75% of all buses sold in Europe by that year. “Over the past five years the number of electric buses in Europe has increased from around 200 to 2 200 vehicles.”

Denmark leads the way when it comes to putting zero-emission urban buses on the streets in Europe, with 78% of new vehicles being electric, according to the latest data from the green NGO, the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E).

In Luxembourg and the Netherlands about two-thirds of new buses are zero-emission vehicles. T&E says other EU countries now have a chance to catch up by including emissions-free buses in the Covid recovery plans that they must submit to the European Commission by the end of April.

In Sweden, Norway and Finland, respectively 26%, 24%, and 23% of urban buses registered in 2019 were zero-emission (electric or hydrogen). Worryingly, Italy, Poland, Germany, the UK, Spain and France, which buy 70% of the urban buses sold in Europe, lag behind. In 2019, less than 10% of their newly registered urban buses were electric or hydrogen.

Germany took a significant step forward in 2020, though, and is now financing 80% of the higher purchase cost of e-buses. And Poland announced that in cities with populations of 100 000 or more, all public transport will be fully electric by 2030, allocating €290 million to support this objective.

But more member states need to step up, and T&E highlights that the EU’s €750 billion Covid recovery fund is a clear way to finance e-bus deployment. This will be essential for the countries at the bottom of the table: Austria and Ireland registered no zero-emission urban buses in 2019, while Switzerland and Greece had less than 4% of new buses that were emissions free.

James Nix, freight manager at T&E, says: “Urban bus fleets drive millions of kilometres every year. If we want to decarbonise our cities, these vehicles must become emissions free as soon as possible. Nordic states, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are showing how to put e-buses on the road. Other countries, especially those buying a lot of buses, like Italy, Spain and France, and those at the very start of the transition, such as Austria, need to step it up.”

T&E also identified five key steps to get e-buses on the road, starting with political leadership and financial support. For example, the Dutch government specified in 2016 that all newly procured buses must be zero-emission from 2025, and from 2030, all buses in use must be zero-emission. And as part of the public procurement process, bus contracts should be awarded only to operators meeting or exceeding these targets.

Nix adds: “Zero-emission urban buses help us combat air pollution, tackle climate change, reduce noise and incur cheaper total costs than diesel buses over their lifetimes. EU member states must ensure the Covid recovery plans they are currently writing fund the replacement of fossil buses with zero-emission ones.”

Sadly, it will take some time and a lot of effort before South Africa’s public transport industry can follow suit, but there are those that are doing their part. Cape Town’s largest bus company, Golden Arrow Bus Services, has installed solar panels at its central engineering complex, Multimech, as part of its ongoing sustainability and carbon-footprint reduction initiatives.

The switch to renewable energy has been so successful that this large industrial site has reduced its electricity account by 71% over the last three years. This achievement is the culmination of a multi-year collaboration between Golden Arrow, New Southern Energy and the City of Cape Town.

The first phase of the project, which began in 2017, comprised a small installation of solar panels on Multimech’s roof. During the second and third phases of the project the number of panels was increased to almost 2 500 with the capacity to generate approximately 1 200 kWh per year.

The final installation was completed during October, 2019, and since then the site has consumed only 46% of the electricity generated by the system and exported the balance to the City of Cape Town for use elsewhere. As a net exporter of electricity, Multimech is now classified as a green facility.

A solar system of this nature has an estimated lifespan of 20 to 25 years and projections indicate financial savings exceeding R80 million over its lifespan.

This project has provided an impetus for future projects and innovations, says Gideon Neethling, Golden Arrow company engineer. “Sustainable energy generation is a key part of Golden Arrow’s future; we believe that this is not only an ethically but also financially sound investment and we are excited to see how we can expand these initiatives in future.”

Such projects include the recently completed upgrading of the lighting at the company’s largest depot, Arrowgate, and the installation of a solar car port which will generate close to 295 000 kWh per year.

“This project is a perfect example of a phased approach that enables a facility to work towards a more sustainable future over time. The collaboration with the City of Cape Town means that it will benefit people throughout the city for many years to come,” says David Masureik, CEO of New Southern Energy.

The future is definitely looking bright both in South Africa and abroad.

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