Beijing Not Keen On Electric Vehicles

In the year 2011, Beijing introduced a car license lottery scheme in a move to reduce pollution and ease traffic congestion. Three ...

In the year 2011, Beijing introduced a car license lottery scheme in a move to reduce pollution and ease traffic congestion. Three years down the road, the air in the city is still a threat to public health even as the lottery gets more stringent; from 240 000 licenses last year to 150 000 this year, and the number will continue to shrink to just 90 000 in 2017. As we have pointed out before, Beijing, as well as several other major Chinese cities, finds itself in this situation largely due to the archaic heating system which burns fossil fuel (Read It's Smog Season In China, Therefore It's Time To Stop The Cows Farting And The Chinese From Eating Meat!).

The Beijing government has been trying to coax more drivers to turn to electric or natural gas vehicles, and has even allocated 20 000 licenses for EVs to encourage them to make the change, but it seems that the Chinese would rather wait than drive an EV. According to the South China Morning Post, only 1701 applications have been received for new EVs, less than 10% of the quota allocated. On the other hand, applications for conventional petrol and diesel-guzzling vehicles neared 1.9 million.

Although EVs are still powered by electricity generated by coal, which would still indirectly contribute to air pollution, the reason that the Chinese are lackadaisical about EVs has less to do with the environment and more to do with the lack of charging infrastructure. There are about 500 charging stations across the city which are often thronged with long lines, a vexing issue for the 1000 electric taxi drivers on the Beijing roads who have been rather vocal about it. On top of inconvenience, there is the general belief that EVs perform poorly compared to their petrol-powered counterparts and of course there is range anxiety.
Still, the local government is unperturbed. They aim to double the number of charging stations by the end of this year, and to cover the suburban areas by 2017. Early this year, they even introduced financial incentives worth up to USD10 000 for new EV owners; the US government offers a federal tax credit of only USD7500.

What about the coal problem then? China has committed to reducing the percentage of coal in its primary energy mix to less than 65% by 2017, but usage will still increase in absolute terms. Last year, the city approved 15 large coal mining projects which will contribute to 860 million tonnes production capacity over the period of 2011 to 2015. The fact is that with the growing economy, the country is hungry for more energy and the alternative sources, like nuclear and hydro powers, are not being developed fast enough. At the end of the day, coal is still the fastest and cheapest source of energy. So, whatever good that comes out of reducing petrol and diesel vehicles in the country can be expected to be severely diminished by more coal burning activities.

What are the good Chinese people to do then? Well, this is Ai Weiwei’s, China’s famous artist and political critic, cynical answer:



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