WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Many cities around the world, including London, are struggling with high pollution levels which affect the health of their citizens, Beijing’s new mandate will help alleviate it
Many people think that taxis are a bane, and depending on where you live many of them are poorly made and cough out tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, polluting the air around them. Then again, the same can be said of many of the cars on today’s roads. Now Beijing’s authorities, whose air is clogged with smog so think people have to wear masks to protect themselves from it, have decided enough is enough and they’ve announced a plan to replace all of their 67,000 fossil fuel guzzling taxi’s with electric ones.
The changeover won’t happen right away of course, and the switch over, which is a mandate that all new taxi’s entering service have to be electric, will likely take ten years to fully realise but it’s a good start. The project is expected to cost taxi operators $1.3 billion before it is complete, and in China the entry level fossil fuel cars cost about $10,000, whereas the equivalent electric cars cost twice as much. And if you’re a taxi operator then that’s probably going to smart. But the law is the law.
China is paying the price for its rapid economic expansion, most of which has been powered by electricity generated in coal fired power stations, and in another clean energy push the government recently cancelled the development of over a hundred coal fired power stations in favour of nuclear and renewables. The situation in recent times has gotten so bad that during the recent Olympic games in Beijing, it ordered many factories to shut down for weeks and banned buses and vehicles from its streets. The plan worked, as millions of Beijing residents saw the sun for the first time in months, but it came at a huge economic cost.
A study in 2015 found that air pollution was responsible for up to 4,000 premature deaths a day throughout China. Last month, government officials ordered a local company called Air Matters to stop reporting pollution levels that exceed the government’s official air quality index of 500 – after all there’s no better way to pretend a problem doesn’t exist than by officially ignoring it.
The plan to electrify Beijing’s taxi fleet has one drawback, however. There are not enough charging stations for the hundreds of electric taxis already in service in the capital city and drivers often have to wait hours to get access to a charger.
“There are 200 electric taxis on the streets of Tongzhou in Beijing, but only about 100 are on the road, while the other 100 are waiting to be charged,” a driver told business newspaper Caixin.
However, that said, given China’s push towards embracing clean energy, that’s a situation that will likely sort itself out over time and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if we see them announce ambitious plans for new electric vehicle charging corridors, just as the US announced recently. In the meantime though we also have new electric vehicle polymers and supercapacitor battery technologies that can be charged in seconds not hours on the horizon so I expect many of the barriers that exist to eventually fall by the wayside, and if it brings cleaner air to the people of China then surely that’s got to be a good thing?