Despite China’s Mainly Coal Power Electric Buses Halve CO2 Bus Emissions Overall

China has a massive push to electrify or eliminate air pollution from all of their buses, cars, trucks and cars as fast as possible. Vehicle exhaust emissions contributed to between 13.5 and 52.1 percent all of major pollutants in 15 heavily contaminated cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. They cause several environmental problems, including dust haze, acid rain and photochemical smog.

China has the Most Cars, Buses in the World and Will Have Three Times as Many Trucks as the USA

In 2017, China had about 310 million motor vehicles which is up 5.1 percent compared to 2016, which has resulted in an increase of combined air pollution due to coal burning and vehicle exhaust emission. China is adding about 25 million cars, trucks, buses and taxis in 2018. China is the world’s largest motor vehicle market, in both production and sales, for nine consecutive years. China has three times the heavy trucks as the USA. China now has more cars than the USA. China is adding over half of the worlds electric cars and 99% of the electric buses.

In 2016 in China, coal-generated power accounted for 72% of all power sources. Electric cars and even buses must use the electrical grid to charge thus electrical power being 72% coal means coal is charging the buses. However, a large number of electric buses mean there are batteries at utility scale for taking more renewable power from solar and wind. Solar charges during the day and you need a lot of batteries to use it over the night. Buses would constantly charge as they move along their route. They are not the best for smoothing out the electricity that is available.

Coal powered electricity with electric buses is still an improvement over diesel buses. The coal plants in China are now far away from cities. The electric buses are more efficient in energy use overall. Over 70% less the power is used. The overall CO2 emissions are halved. All of the air pollution is removed from the cities. There is zero soot and other pollutants in the city. Any air pollution is at the power plant which can have 99% efficient air pollution control systems. China has turned on the air pollution control systems despite the 20% cost impact.

There is the statement that there are 3 million buses in the world. I have not found a country by country breakdown of buses. I also assume that more buses are being added. At least more buses in China as China continues to urbanize and China is doubling the public transportation system in its major cities. The public transportation doubling is new and expanded subway systems. However, this would go hand in hand with an expansion of the bus networks. Therefore, it seems reasonable to believe that the bus network in China will double in China from 2017 by 2025 or 2030. Shenzhen did achieve 100% electric buses. There were over 16000 electric buses in Shenzhen alone in 2017. This is nearly double Londons total bus count. So the new electric buses are not just part of the bus network expansion but are displacing old buses. Old buses would be the most polluting.

Every 1000 electric buses displaces 500 barrels of oil per day. 680,000 buses would be 340,000 barrels of oil per day. This is not a large part of China’s roughly 13 million barrels per day of oil usage. However, it is about 10% of China 3.5 million barrels per day of oil production. It makes a dent in China’s oil dependence. The level of oil production might be about the 20th place oil production for a country.

China has about 25% of all cars. I believe they have a larger share of the buses. I think it is about 35% of the world’s buses and could conceivably rise to 50% of the worlds buses. Therefore, about 1 million buses in China in 2017 is my estimate but I estimate that China is adding on the order of 50,000-80,000 buses every year. China will have in the range of 1.5 million to 2 million buses by 2030. I can see that part of the national plan would be to get more public transportation density. Singapore’s city future transportation plan is a mix of self-driving cars, self-driving buses and public subway transportation. I would believe this would be followed in the close to one hundred Chinese cities of comparable size or larger than Singapore that China will have by 2025.

Forecast of Buses to 2030

China is getting in the range of 100,000 electric buses every year. They had 385,000 electric buses in 2017 and should have about 480,000 electric buses in 2018 and will easily have 600,000 electric buses by 2020. There is a widely reported statement is that China is adding about 9,500 electric buses every 5 week or China is adding more electric buses than all the buses in London every five weeks. This would mean about 98800 buses per year. Assuming the trend of the last 3-4 years is being followed then China will have 580,000 electric buses in 2019 and 680,000 in 2020. I have not been able to find a report on the total number of buses in China and how many buses are being added. There is an 89-page report on China’s transportation plans in regards to addressing pollution.

The world is on track to 1.2 million electric buses by 2025. This is 99% China. The 3 million bus count for the world in 2017 will not stay static. A city even a city in China cannot build subway fast enough for urban expansion. Buses have to be used as part of network either for a fast stopgap or even to shuttle the last few miles in urban sprawl. China has urban sprawl. China is heading to 70% urban and a lot of that urban is in megacities.

I estimate 2 million electric buses in China by 2030. This will offset 1 million barrels of oil per day.

Air Pollution Fix With Cities Prioritized

China’s priority is fixing air pollution in cities with transportation improvement. China is also building 1-2% more city every year. You might think well 1-2% those are small numbers. In China’s case, that means adding an equivalent of a Los Angeles of city every year or two. Fixing air pollution in cities will give back 7% of GDP from air pollution damage. It will improve health and reduce health care costs.

In 2017, China’s automobiles emitted around 436 million tonnes of pollutants, including 333 million tonnes of carbon monoxide (CO), 57.4 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide (NOx), 40.7 million tonnes of hydrocarbon (HC) and 5 million tonnes of particulate matter (PM).

The total amount of emissions of the four pollutants from motor vehicles was down 2.5 percent from the previous year. So despite adding 5% more vehicles every year, China has been able to reduce air pollution from vehicles.

China’s electricity is still mostly produced by coal power and coal is by far the most polluting source. However, China has activated the modern air pollution mitigation systems on the coal plants. Most of the coal plants are new and have all modern air pollution control. Modern pollution control can reduce air pollutants by about 99%. Previously operators at the coal plants did not use the pollution control because it increases costs by about 20%. Now China’s regulators are forcing the controls to be on as they need to address the emissions. They always needed to address the emissions but the complaints the middle class in the cities were being sacrificed for development.

New energy vehicles include pure electric vehicles, extended-range electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles, among others. Companies are offering different types of electric buses to meet market demand, and the industry has developed rapidly, with the production and sales volume of new energy vehicles increasing 101 times increase in the last five years.

In 2015, the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology jointly issued a stipulation that the proportion of new energy buses to be added and replaced in Chinese cities must be divided proportionally: 80% in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Jiangsu Zhejiang, Shandong, Guangdong and Hainan; 65% in Anhui, Jiangxi, Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Fujian; 30% in other provinces (regions and cities). At the same time, national and local governments have introduced a series of subsidy incentives and tax reductions to encourage and promote the development of new energy vehicles.

The subsidy for large- and medium-sized fuel cell bus is 500,000 yuan. This about US$70,000 for each bus.

China has a Two Phased Approach on Trucks

China has the most trucks in the world and since they add three times as many trucks as the USA, they must have in the range of 50-65% of the world’s trucks. If they don’t have that they will. The two-phased approach is clean up all emissions on the diesel trucks and then focus on battery short range trucks. The priority on batteries now is the buses and cars. China will also work on the overall energy efficiency of trucks.

China is already enforcing the highest European level 6 air pollution emission controls on trucks. China has most of the world’s trucks. China is adding three times as many trucks as the USA every year. China is the factory for the world. All of the fridges, electronics, furniture that they are building has to be moved from factories to ships for internal or external customers. Only 20% is exported on average.

China has a lot of small operators of trucks and they overload them to maximize how much they can get. The trucks have been cheaper domestically produced trucks. They were more polluting. China will have all large trucks modified for emission controls. The trucks are a massive source of air pollution. Cleaning up the trucks completely with diesel pollution control and some electrification by 2030 will positively impact China’s air pollution, China city air quality, World Air pollution and world warming.

Particulates, soot, black carbon are similar and have overlap. They are the bits of leftover stuff from not cleanly burning fossil fuels. They are also unburnt from slash and burn agriculture. Any fire that is not properly managed makes black carbon, soot and particulates. It takes a lot of work for clean burn or to filter what is left and prevent it from becoming air pollution.

Soot and black carbon are twenty times cheaper and faster to manage than CO2 fixes. There is overlap between fixing those issues of black carbon and CO2. There is over about half of degree of warming that could be prevented and rolled back by cleaning up transportation. Transportation is 20-30% of the soot and black carbon problem globally. China’s massive move on buses, trucks, electric cars and taxis could address close to half of the world transportation pollution which is about 5-12% of world particulate pollution. This could improve global warming by 0.1 degrees. Fixing all soot and black carbon globally is a 0.5 to 0.8-degree reduction in warming. It is the fastest and most impactful way to actually bend the temperature trend. The other major parts are stopping slash and burn to go to slash and char and to get soot free cooking and heating in the developed world. Soot free cooking is the biggest. Plus fixing soot and black carbon first saves up to 7 million lives per year. China’s part of addressing air pollution in cities with transportation and fixing soot free cooking in rural areas and heating in northern cities will save on the order of 1 million lives per year.

There is also the electrification of regular passenger cars, ride-sharing and self-driving taxis. China is on pace to 25% of all new cars in 2025 being electric cars. It is conceivable that nearly all new cars in China could be electric self-driving cars by 2030. There are limiting factors. There is the supply chain for batteries and other components and the factories to put the batteries and cars together. It is not just batteries for all new electric cars. It is electric batteries for cars, buses, trucks, utility-scale storage, planes, drones and more. There is the nuance of where batteries have the most or best impact compared to alternatives. Batteries are scaling for a 17X increase by 2030. This is still not nearly enough. Therefore, prioritization must be performed.

Million of lives per year saved within 20 years for 20 times less cost than CO2 fixes. More temperature effect cheaper and 40 years faster than CO2. This is the actual trillion dollar environmental fix in action. Not the insane and impractical call to get off of fossil fuels which would leave 4 billion in poverty and slow the saving of millions of lives per year. This is the true scale and level of action now. If the world wants this to go five times or ten times faster with real impact then this needs to be replicated across India and Asia and into Africa and there needs to be mass production of factory or adapted shipyard mass production of molten salt or other nuclear reactors. Replace all coal burners with high temperature (700 degree celsius) nuclear. Temperatures that match the coal plants being replaced. The grid is there already for the coal plant. You would not be upending and building new grid and infrastructure out in remote areas for massive solar. The supply chains stay in place. Moving or building new grid will take you a hundred years and would be a stupid and uninformed plan. What I am suggesting is faster, cheaper, more effective and would actually work.

Overall air pollution and climate control in China is also happening. That is another article. I have an article from October which needs to be updated and expanded.

15 thoughts on “Despite China’s Mainly Coal Power Electric Buses Halve CO2 Bus Emissions Overall”

  1. “Over 70% less the power is used.”

    “the power” is ambiguous. Honest CO2 accounting* would take into account the heat value of coal vs heat value of diesel as delivered to kinetic energy of the vehicle.

    *I’m not a big IPCC fan — I am a big intellectual honesty fan.

  2. Electric motors are close to fully efficient, but the loop from generator (98%) to distribution lines (95%?) to transformers (98%) to local distribution (98%) to household DC inverter (90-95%) to battery chemical energy (95%) back to electricity (95%) and then electric motor (95%) through transmission (95%) to the wheel has many steps. They are mostly extremely efficient steps but you have to add them up.

  3. I think buses have some features that can be leveraged to improve the recharge situation.

    1. Fixed geometry and fixed routes while being either government owned or a company with close working relationship with the government means that you can definitely have sections of the route where you are running along underneath power lines trolleybus style.
    2. Fixed geometry and dedicated bus parking spots means that you don’t need to have electrical cables that the driver can “handle”. Drive into the dedicated spot and the bus connects to a (probably roof mounted) connection. Once again sort of like a trolleybus but now it doesn’t need to work in motion. You can’t do that without clever robots when dealing with the wide range of different sized and shaped cars, but buses (at least within one bus service) can be nice and uniform.
    3. Fixed schedules and routes mean your recharges can be timed neatly. Months in advance.
  4. The Siemens demo in Europe using a dual contact pantograph fitted over the drivers compartment seems like an easier retrofit onto existing designs compared to trolleypole type power pickup.

    Having dual wire power available (and automotive IoT to report power consumption to the authorities for payment, alongside GPS tracking data) as infrastructure would be a big government push, especially installing the wires on highways (rather than local roads). The final technical components to make handsfree automatic pantograph deployment and retraction, along with seamless switching between external and internal power to an electric drivetrain, are here now at not eyewatering prices. Though if China goes all in on that, perhaps specifying dimensions and standard interfaces so manufacturers can compete to make complete pantograph packages, the knock-on effects to other truck manufacturers would be huge globally.

    Buses could use the same pantograph system regardless of whether the power supply above is full route wires or bus stop charge contact points (for fast burst recharge style operations).

  5. I thought it was common knowledge that ICE ~ 35-40% efficient while electric motors are >95%.

    The drive train efficiency is what matters and ICE can never compete with electric motors on efficiency.

  6. I’m a fan of Electric cars and trucks. I’m a fan of clean air. So putting the generation away from cities must make a lot of people happy.
    My question is the concept that an electric car or truck is more efficient. It seems to me there are too many losses in the generation, transmission, conversion of AC/DC and charging of batteries. But, the energy losses are moot if energy is relatively inexpensive and certainly worth it if it means cleaner air.
    btw my little tesla 3 is a joy to drive and I should note, it doesn’t like cold weather, too much affect on the batteries and cabin heating is a big drain.

  7. Hmm…. somehow system got wrong User. Oh well…

    What I was going to go on to say was, There is a lot which is tunable.

    For instance

    * charging rate at the ends. Could easily be upped from 50 kW to something “female-driver-handle-able” at perhaps 600 V and 150 amps, regulated DC. (90 kW). Faster charge rate.

    * better mileage than my estimate of 1.1 to 1.6 kWh/mile. Though it feels high compared to a passenger car (a big sedan requires about 0.3 kWh/mile), think of the size of the bus. Its a big wind berm.

    * regenerative braking seems to be a LOT of the answer, which is just a natural for electric vehicles. I was quite surprised driving a (name withheld) brand of hybrid-electric-with-mid-sized-battery around Hawaii last summer. The battery was large enough that it recharged continuously when coming down from Mt. Haleakala. Brought in nearly 5 kWh of juice. Cool! Busses have a lot of rolling mass. Seems good for regenerative braking energy recovery.

    * more long-pause stops are easy enough. Adding in 5 minute stops every 20 minutes would also go quite a way to mitigate charging time.

    * larger battery so that overnight-charge will carry “the day”. Works too.


  8. So sorry… didn’t mean to offend. I thought it (the continuous-charging idea) was something clipped from the original article. Apologies offered.

    As to the concept — continuous charging — it would be a good fit that if under every landing zone there is a well-coupled magnetic charging field that the bus could take advantage of. Or an overhead pantograph style charging bar. 

    The Big Problem (of requiring a LOT of juice, continuously) is much mitigated by lower-rate, frequent-stop charging. Knowing how busses run in general, there are quite a few opportunities especially at “end of the line” for significant recharging of potentially modest-sized batteries. If — as an example — the Berkeley to Oakland “51” run had 50 kW chargers at each end, and if the bus battery were about 50 kWh (on the small size, but still adequate), the “51” 22 mile run, taking about 70 minutes end-to-end would allow 10-15 minutes charging at each side. 

    ¼ hr × 50 kW = 12 kWh. A modern diesel bus will generally deliver 7 to 10 MPG, which given diesel efficiencies, and 44 MJ/kg of raw thermodynamic energy, Carnot of perhaps 30%, and 0.832 kg/L … 3.785ℓ/g … → 4 to 6 MJ per mile. Or 1.1 to 1.6 kWh/mile. So, 12 kWh becomes 11 to 8 miles of range-addition on a 22 mile trip, for a net of –11 to –14 miles of total remaining range on the battery pack. 

    … more in follow-on comment. Bit by 1,500 character limit … 

  9. By constant charging, it would be more constant intermittent charging as the buses reach various dropoff points. There is also overhead wires in many situations. But it would at regular points throughout the day with varying frequency. Tough to get every nuance while writing an article with some flow and tough to remember the complete picture. Also, I am trying to write with the goal of getting 80-95% accurate encapsulation and clearly communicate a deeper and broader understanding. The priority is clear and more flowing story with the relevant nuances.

  10. “Buses would constantly charge as they move along their route” … sneaking one in… that doesn’t actually describe reality.

    The notion of ‘charging’ must deal with the reality of “to charge” … which is a trickle of electricity, integrated over time in order to move chemical ions from the discharged plates of a battery to its charged state. Presently, the limits on charge-rate depend on 3 main factors.

    Max heating – due to ohmic heating of the battery’s individual cells as current injection is increased. Sure, the individual cells can be bathed in a nonconducting, nonionic fluid and externally cooled, but the life-of-each-cell is markedly decreased with super-high amperage rates.

    Cable handling – as charging amperage grows, the weight of the charging cables increases. Sure: you can split up the charge into individual conductors. Sure, the individual conductors can — like the battery cells above — be cooled with lighter-weight non-ionic non-conducting fluids. Still … presents substantial reliability-sapping complexity.

    Aggregate Ampacity – Maybe 1,000 kW is desired as a charge rate. What happens when 25 busses are at the depot? Mighty big transformers to daisy-chain to all those distributed charge stations.

    Bottom line: the ‘solar works’ angle is a canard.
    China’s busses are charged by coal fired leveling plants.
    Get over it.


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