Is a 100% electric public transportation system possible in Chile? Three years ago the answer would have been pessimistic. Except for China, no country in the world has large electric powered fleets in their cities. But as of today, the projections in Santiago are promising: halfway through December, 2018, the city will experience a quantum leap at a world scale, by means of the incorporation of 100 electric powered buses to its network. A story that began as an idea exactly 3 years ago, and which, thanks to a successful private-public alliance, has now become a reality.
Electric mobility drivers
One of the first initiatives developed towards driving the widespread use of electric mobility in our country was launched in 2016, when Enel Chile, along with the Municipality of Santiago, put its first electric bus into circulation, offering free rides through the historical center of the city, passing by the Palacio de la Moneda, the Estación Mapocho and the Cerro Santa Lucia, very attractive points for Santiago dwellers as well as for tourists.
But this was only a first approach to what would be the introduction of electric mobility as a viable solution for the public transportation system. In the first half of 2017, two electric buses entered service, that, operated by the MetBus company on line 516, run through the main arteries of the municipalities of Maipú, Pudahuel, Lo Prado, Estación Central, Santiago, Ñuñoa, Peñalolén and Providencia.
Their users have recognized the difference with the traditional buses: the electric buses have cushioned seats, Wi-Fi connection, air conditioning, mobile phone chargers, very low noise levels and zero emissions of polluting gases. In fact, after an eight month period of their service start up, the initiative was assessed through a survey carried out by the Ministry of Transportation, in which users qualified the service rendered by these buses with an average grade of 6.3 out of a maximum of 7.
One year after its implementation, the assessment from a technical standpoint has been positive as well. Each bus has reached travelling up to 238 km daily, while as a whole they have added 345,000 BIP! card validations. Their energy use efficiency is three times that of the conventional buses, which are diesel operated. In terms of operational costs, their benefits are also outstanding: each electric bus requires $70 per kilometer travelled, much lower than the average $300 it costs with fuel.
From Nanjing to Santiago
However, in order for us in Chile to be able to take advantage of the multiple benefits of electric mobility, we have to look at Asia. There, the employees of the BYD factory in Nanjing, China, are more than used to producing electric buses. Only for the city of Shenzhen they have built more than 14 thousand machines. It is there that the 100 red and white buses that will run through Santiago were produced.
According to information delivered by BYD, the construction took 60 days and required 936 workers. The process was looked into closely by the representatives of BYD Chile, Metbus, the Ministry of Transportation of the Chilean Government, Enel Chile and Enel X, who travelled to Nanjing and Shenzhen to learn about the production process of the electric vehicles in China. All of them are part of the public – private alliance that enabled taking the 100 electric buses to Chile, the largest leap in electric mobility in the country, where Enel X played a key role in its financing.
“We have begun our adventure in Santiago, in Chile we find development opportunities that we have presented to our holding in Italy and now we are at the stage of replicating, expanding and possibly taking them to those Latin American countries where we are present”, asserted Simone Tripepi, Enel X manager for Latin America, who was part of the delegation visiting the BYD plant.
A promising future
But the fact of these 100 buses beginning to provide service in Chile is not enough. The modernization of the infrastructure is vital and for this purpose, Enel has arranged for the construction of the first electric terminal in the municipality of Peñalolén, which includes 63 charging points for buses and solar parking spaces, structures designed to support photovoltaic panels that generate electric power through renewable sources, enabling to contribute both to the consumption and operation of the buses, as well as to the electric terminal as well. Also, there will be 37 additional charging points available in the other electric terminal which is undergoing construction in Maipú.
The technology of these electric terminals includes smart charging management controls, unique in the world, which will have the ability to manage, effectively and in real time, the power supply of the buses, optimizing their power consumption.
All of these advances in the public transportation system open the gates to the creation of the first “electric roadway corridor” in Latin America. The objective is for Avenida Grecia to have 100% electric routes in lines 507, 516 and 519 – all operated by MetBus – becoming a permanent environmental hub for the city and contributing towards the improvement of the living standards of its user.