Jorge Suárez
Commercial Manager of Electromobility and Urban Transportation
Volvo Group México
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View from the Top

Sustainability a Major Motor for Innovation

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 17:03

Q: Which cities have you identified as optimum locations for electromobility technology?

A: London was Volvo’s first major market and due to the success achieved there, we were awarded a contract to supply 400 hybrid buses toward the authorities’ goal of having 1,600 hybrid units on London’s streets by 2016. Other cities with similar mobility and environmental concerns will undoubtedly follow suit and Latin American cities have the biggest need for our solutions, as they have higher population rates. Cities such as Bogota have hydropowered energy matrixes, which become a major driver in energy shifts, allowing cities to adapt and transition to electric-based vehicles much faster. In contrast, Mexico’s energy base is 75 percent powered by fossil fuels, pinpointing a need for a major energy transition. There are over 2,000 Volvo hybrid buses operating globally, 400 of which are located in London and another 500 in Bogota.

Mexico’s environmental agenda pushed state governments to implement BRT systems in Leon, followed by the capital city’s Metrobús project in 2005. But rather than advancing new technology, the government’s initial premise was to minimize the presence of privately owned buses, namely Mexico City’s microbuses. Five Mexican cities now run operational BRT systems, namely Mexico City, Leon, Guadalajara, Puebla and the State of Mexico. Bus with High Levels of Service (BHLS) systems were implemented in cities including Tijuana, Cancun and Tampico.

Q: How do you suggest cities overcome barriers to technology introduction and mobility solutions?

A: Problems arise when governments that have invested in these solutions do not know how to move forward with innovative processes. In Mexican cities, sustainability has become a major motor for innovation. So much so that state governments have begun an unspoken competition to be the most advanced in sustainable mobility. Globally, cities participating in the C40 City Awards are involved in the sustainability race, pushing the market toward new technology like ours. The Clean Bus Declaration commits 40 city mayors to integrate low-emission buses in their fleets by 2020, provided financial support is granted. 

The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) surveyed 70 public transport authorities regarding their future environmental agenda and most stressed the importance of increasing electric vehicles in their cities.

There is a common misconception that sustainable transport is only equal to reducing emissions, whereas energy efficiency and noise minimization are equally important in the equation. There is still a lot of work to do to properly educate the public about sustainable mobility.

Q: To what extent is natural gas a realistic solution to the environmental and efficiency issues facing Mexico City?

A: Many cities have shifted to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses but this is unusual. CNG technology is characterized by its volatility, as small price fluctuations between gas and diesel as little as 10 percent can remove the advantages of using this technology. Mexico has established a federal policy favoring natural gas over any other energy source, a direct result of its high natural gas production volumes, as well as its access to the US market. CNG technology becomes less beneficial the further a city is from the main pipeline, as the infrastructure requires heavier investments. However, Mexican cities bordering the US and in the north of the country will most likely implement CNG based technology.

Mexico City is committed to reducing CO2 emissions, heralding the implementation of a climate change action plan. The target is to reduce CO2 with the help of the Metrobús system and by renewing the microbus fleet. Although at the moment electric mobility is no more cost efficient than CNG buses, it does tackle other concerns, as well as the CO2 reduction issue. Carbon emission reductions are dependent on efficient energy sources and although CNG has a reputation for positively impacting the environment by reducing local pollutants, it is not a good option for CO2 minimization. Hybrid and CNG technologies are complementary and not mutually exclusive. Thus, a balance could be found between areas that are closer to a city center and have a greater need for cleaner energy, and CNG and diesel-based technology being used for longer distances.