China is about to make a really big bet on electric cars (100 billion yuan!)
Any way you slice it, a hundred billion yuan is a lot of moolah (equivalent to about 16.3 billion US dollars at today's exchange rate). That's the amount that China is supposedly about to invest into electric vehicles and the infrastructure to support them, like public charging stations, according to "two people familiar with the matter", says Bloomberg.
If true, this is great news. While we wish that most people would simply walk, bike, or take mass transit, the fact remains that there are lots of cars and trucks on the road, and as long as that's the case, going electric is the best option.
This big investment by China would be great because it would help break the logjam and get things started. There's always been a chicken-egg problem with electric vehicles; you need charging stations before people feel comfortable buying EVs, but if nobody has EVs, nobody is building charging stations; EV makers need to make enough units to amortize their costs and offer affordable EVs, but if EVs aren't affordable, they don't sell in large numbers.
But kickstarting things, China could hasten the transition to less polluting vehicles, deal with its terrible pollution problems, and maybe even foster a new industry (so far, China isn't a leader in electric vehicles, despite all the hype about BYD a few years ago).
Flickr/CC BY 2.0
We'll have to wait for the new policy to be officially announced for more details, but hopefully they take a common sense approach and simple create incentives for a network of fast-charging stations around the biggest population centers and also include some incentives to make electric vehicles more attractive than more pollution gasoline and diesel models.
The map above shows coal pollution in China. That's the other thing that has to be done in parallel with cleaning up the transportation sector; the power grid in China is very dirty - similar to what it used to be in the US a few decades ago - and electric vehicles will only yield the biggest environmental improvements if their are charged with clean electricity. They're still an improvement if charged from dirty sources, if only because electric motors are so much more efficient than internal combustion engines and emissions are moved away from where people live, but it remains a huge problem.
Thankfully, China seems to be getting the message and making moves in the right direction. They didn't have a choice, with environmental issues now the #1 cause of social unrest in the country.
One encouraging recent piece of news: China wants 70,000 megawatts of solar by 2017, triple what they currently have. 2017 isn't that far away. A few more doublings and triplings over the coming years, and China will have an extremely large amount of solar capacity!