Tech Talk: What's needed for China to make public vehicles green?
By Zhao Chenchen
China is putting the pedal to the metal on the green transition of its public transport sector.
An official document released in early February encourages cities to convert 80 percent of their newly-added public sector and public service vehicles to electric by 2025.
Though participation is voluntary, experts project that such a transition in the public transport sector would bring a systemic change, drive construction of relevant infrastructure, and most importantly, further pave the way for China to realize its carbon peak and carbon neutrality goals on time.
"This is indeed a very important move because we are talking about a system change in the entire public transport sector," said Becky P.Y. Loo, a professor in the Department of Geography at Hong Kong University who specializes in sustainable transport, future cities and smart technologies.
Loo said in an emailed reply to CGTN that this pilot project by eight Chinese government departments "will pave the way for a fundamental shift to a green transport system once the electricity is clean," as some power generation still relies on coal and non-renewables.
"Vehicle electrification is the implementation of China's commitment to developing new energy as well as its sustainable development strategy," Pan Rong, the chief data governance at the British Standard Institution (BSI) APAC said in an interview with CGTN.
Challenges bring opportunities
China still faces many types of challenges in its efforts to facilitate a green transition.
"From the industry's viewpoint, the biggest challenges could be vehicle batteries and charging infrastructure," Pan said.
To tackle that, the document says that China will plan and build an intelligent and efficient charging and battery swap infrastructure system to meet increasing demand. It also sets the target of matching the number of newly-added public sector electric vehicles (EVs) with an equal number of public charging piles.
Concurrently, leading battery manufacturers and technology companies such as Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) and Suwoda have been expanding their production volumes to meet market demand, while increasing cooperation since 2021 with car companies active in the public sector.
Notably, an addendum to the document states that new EV targets in pilot cities are tiered, with developed cities at 100,000 units, second-tier cities at 6,000, and border regions at 2,000, for an estimated aggregate of more than 2 million new EVs added over the next two years, equal to a 600 billion RMB ($88 billion) market.
"This will bring incremental gains to car makers, including the batteries makers and the new energy vehicle enterprises," Pan said.
As for the charging industry, its total market size is expected to expand to over 60.7 billion RMB ($8.85 billion) by 2025.
China currently boasts 5.2 million charging facilities, having nearly doubled capacity in 2022 over the previous year, according to a press release on February 14 from the National Energy Administration.
With the promotion of industry innovation, such as the adoption of solar-powered charging, inspection sites and battery swapping stations, it may become easier to meet public sector EV energy replenishment demand.
Providing efficient and affordable charging infrastructure is also part of the many tasks, according to Loo. Other challenges relate to making electricity cleaner and transforming the vehicle fleet, she added.
Once the infrastructure is in place, its safe operation is the EV industry's next big concern, particularly for users within integrated vehicle networks.
Automotive security firm Upstream recently warned that EV chargers are now the sector's leading attack vector.
Risks include operational disruptions, customer information theft, and hijacking charging stations to coordinate multiple-vehicle attacks.
Upstream has suggested formulating EV charging station security standards to protect infrastructure and consumers.
While having an integrated vehicle network can greatly enhance operational efficiency, it is critical to devise standards right from the start, Pan said.
"And it's important to ensure that information is standardized, without sacrificing privacy when sharing data within the system," she added.
To this end, the National Energy Administration has created an EV charging infrastructure standards system with independent intellectual property rights. According to the administration, it has released 31 national standards and 26 industry standards, making China just the fourth jurisdiction to have Direct Current (DC) charging standards, after the European Union, the United States and Japan.