By 2030, 84% of new buses may be electric

BYD electric bus photo
CC BY 2.0 Fernando Garcia 49

Remember when electric cars were the next big thing?

Whether it's Tesla's supercharger ambitions or news that 20% of Americans think their next car will be electric, the conversation about electrifying transportation tends to focus on private passenger vehicles.

But there are other EVs on the road. And buses may actually be becoming the frontline of this fight.

From Oslo ordering 42 electric buses (Cleantechnica) to a city of 11.9 million switching to a 100% electric bus fleet (yours truly), it seems to me that major electric bus acquisitions—well beyond what might be considered an experimental or demonstration projects—are increasingly becoming commonplace.

A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance would seem to back this impression. While Bloomberg NEF predicts decent growth in electric car sales (28% of new cars by 2030, 55% by 2040), these numbers are decidedly conservative compared to some of the more bullish predictions that are out there. When it comes to buses, however, the report sees electric drivetrains claiming a whopping 84% of all new vehicle sales by 2030. And the reason for this shift is pretty simple:

Money.

And specifically, the fact that electric buses will have lower cost of ownership than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts within the next year or so:

The advance of e-buses will be even more rapid than for electric cars, according to BNEF’s analysis. It shows electric buses in almost all charging configurations having a lower total cost of ownership than conventional municipal buses by 2019. There are already over 300,000 e-buses on the road in China, and electric models are on track to dominate the global market by the late 2020s.

As I argued in my post about electrifying road freight, there's a case to be made that fleet managers will be more driven by the pure financial equation than your average private citizen—who, after all, is rarely a rational actor when it comes to the finances of transportation. The same holds true for bus operators.

What will be interesting to see is whether bus electrification then drives further, non-linear changes in the rest of the transportation sector. On the one hand, it may put (some) downward pressure on oil prices—making gas powered cars more viable. On the other hand, by putting another dent in oil demand, it might hasten the overall societal trend toward alternatives—including private electric cars. And then, finally, there's the possibility that cleaner, more modern, efficient electric buses may be more attractive to riders—potentially driving greater adoption—thus undermining the idea of car ownership all together.

Watch this space.

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