Uruguay’s Public Transport Goes Electric

Uruguay plans to gradually replace oil-based fuels with electric energy in its public transport system, and is currently assessing the costs and benefits of the shift. Tests indicate that the running costs of electric buses can be six- to eight-fold lower than for diesel buses.

For the last two years, studies have been under way on the potential benefits of adding electric vehicles to the public transport fleet in Montevideo, where half the country’s 3.3 million people live.

In late 2013, performance and range trials were carried out on an E6 model car and a K9 model bus made by the Chinese company BYD. The economic analysis of the performance of the electric vehicles, carried out by the city government, was positive. But mechanisms must be designed to face the initial investment and redefine the scope of subsidies and taxes.

The overall economic advantage of an electric bus over one running on diesel is 1.7 to one, according to this study, which took into account costs of purchase, maintenance and operation of different types of vehicles under the present subsidies and taxes.

Electric motors expend six times less energy than diesel motors. But there is a state subsidy of 65 percent on diesel fuel for buses, so unless the subsidy structure is changed, bus companies will not find it profitable to switch to electricity.

The initiative is part of Uruguay’s energy policy, which aims for half of the country’s energy mix to be made up of renewable sources by 2015, much of that wind energy.

The electric vehicles in question function with a bank of lithium iron phosphate batteries, which are biodegradable and do not include heavy metals. When fully charged, the cars and buses have ranges of 300 and 250 kilometres, respectively.

Charging them takes a 10-kilowatt power source, while Uruguayan homes are usually supplied with two to six kilowatts of power.

Electric vehicles cost up to five times more than those using conventional fuels in Uruguay. An electric bus costs 500,000 dollars and a car 60,000 dollars. But operating and maintenance costs are only 10 percent of those for diesel motors.

Source: Inés Acosta | IPS News