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Chilean electric bus pioneer Enel X’s opportunity radar spinning in Santiago, regions

Bnamericas Published: Friday, May 14, 2021
Chilean electric bus pioneer Enel X’s opportunity radar spinning in Santiago, regions

Italian power firm Enel’s energy solutions provider, Enel X, is exploring further electric bus opportunities in Chilean capital Santiago and in other cities in the country.

Enel X is a regional electromobility trailblazer, installing in Chile in 2011 Latin America’s first high-powered public charging point for electric light vehicles. 

In Chile’s public transport segment, Enel X is also a pioneer. In 2014-16 it trialed electric buses before launching, in 2017, a first-of-its-kind scheme that saw 435 eventually deployed in Santiago in partnership with operator Metbus and Chinese manufacturer BYD

Under the scheme, units are bought by Enel X and the operator signs a leasing contract that contains a purchase option. The state acts as contract guarantor. Payments made by the operator cover not only the leasing fee but also maintenance – which is cheaper than for diesel – and charging.

Last month the government awarded bus fleet provision contracts. A second tender, where operators choose from these providers, of diesel and electric units, is pending. The government, working to decarbonize the country, has separated bus operations from bus ownership in a process supported by IDB.

Orlando Meneses, head of e-mobility at Enel X Chile, told BNamericas: “There are clearly opportunities for us. These include financing of buses in the first [tender] stage and in the second – when the operators and terminals are known – recharging infrastructure too.”

Meneses added the company was in discussions with operators and bus manufacturers.  

“Are there opportunities for Enel? Yes, of course. Are we participating? Yes,” he said. “It’s a model that we know.”

On the electric bus front, two other companies have joined Enel X in helping electrify Santiago’s fleet: local group Copec and French energy firm Engie

“Enel was the driver, it created the business model, it conducted the pilot tests, it proved the concept work, and it scaled it up,” Meneses said.

Santiago’s RED public transport system today has 800 electric buses – the biggest electric fleet outside of China. The total vehicle park comprises 6,500 units.

Enel X, which was this month awarded a government prize for its work in the sphere of transport efficiency and electromobility, is also exploring electric bus opportunities beyond the capital.

Meneses said: “Today, this model in Santiago, we’re looking at it for other big cities … the government is already looking at introducing transport systems in the principal cities, like Antofagasta, Valparaíso, Concepción. We’re looking at opportunities in both fleet financing and charging terminals.”

Enel X entered the electric bus space after first analyzing the operating cost benefits of electric vehicles in the light vehicle (private and taxi) segment, where the company is also a trailblazer and working to install 1,200 charging points across the country by 2025, when the electric light vehicle park is expected to reach 81,000, up from about 1,000 currently.

Electric bus capex, with respect to Euro VI diesel units, is today about 20-25% higher as prices have fallen. This is offset by lower running and maintenance costs. 

The World Bank told BNamericas on Thursday it would provide support to Latin American governments to help them with the design of projects and overarching policy for transport decarbonization. As part of a goal of reducing emissions from transport and creating safer and more inclusive transport systems, a central objective is helping countries embrace the avoid-shift-improve approach, which encompasses the areas of transport efficiency and transport and city planning.

The IDB's private sector arm, IDB Invest, told BNamericas recently that its financing focus was on initiatives to decarbonize the region's energy and transport sectors, the latter a bigger challenge on account of the myriad stakeholders in the ecosystem, from citizens to transport firms.  

Total global greenhouse gas emissions are about 50-55Bt (billion tons) of CO2 equivalent a year, of which transport accounts for about 8Bt. Transport emissions are growing briskly.

With additional reporting from Javiera Gracia

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