The 22nd FIFA World Cup in 2022 will be hosted by Qatar, meaning that for the first time in history the international association football bonanza will be held in the Arab world. Football aficionados are waiting to see how a Muslim-majority country that beat the United States as host will deliver on what is arguably the most watched sporting event in the world.
The government of Qatar is investing phenomenal sums of money into making the tournament a success. Between $100 and $220 billion is going into propping up infrastructure, stadiums, roads and hotels. For the first time, an integrated electric bus system connecting different parts of the country will be set in motion to actualize what experts say may be the first carbon-neutral World Cup.
In line with its National Vision 2030, Qatar aspires to become a “pioneer in eco-friendly transport services,” and the Ministry of Transport and Communications is working on finalizing strategy and legislation to initiate the use of electric buses across the nation. Aside from slashing carbon dioxide emissions, the use of electric vehicles protects the transportation system from fluctuations in global oil prices, reduces maintenance costs and has the benefit of generating less noise and vibration.
In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Dr. Abdallah and Dr. Bicer of Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar, about the country’s transition to clean energy, the advantages of electric vehicles and the hopes for the first carbon-neutral World Cup.
The text has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kourosh Ziabari: Does the electric bus project have the potential to open up new business opportunities? Aside from cutting carbon dioxide emissions, what are some of the benefits it can offer?
Mohamed Abdallah: Bus transportation networks around the world are mainly powered by fossil fuel derivatives such as gasoline, diesel or even compressed natural gas. Components used in conventional buses therefore operate along combustion theory lines and utilize different types of combustion engines. Electric buses not only help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions but also other pollutants attributed to conventional vehicles. These include particulate matters, especially in diesel vehicles, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides and sulfur oxides. In electric vehicles, these emissions are eliminated during operation. The use of electric motors in buses and other transportation also brings smarter components into vehicles such as batteries, intelligent power control units, diverse sensors and self-driving algorithm developments.
The electrification of Qatar’s public transportation sector will provide many new business opportunities including the manufacturing of spare parts for electric motors and development of electronic circuit elements. Vehicles aside, this initiative will provide further opportunities for charging station enterprises. As the world gradually makes the transition from centralized to distributed power generation, there will be several local prosumers in the electrical grid. These include companies and individuals with onsite power generation and the ability to sell electricity to specific consumers, such as charging stations. Charging station owners can then generate electricity onsite from renewables, store it and supply to electric buses or vehicles on demand. This enables energy trading business opportunities among prosumers and charging stations.
Ziabari: Qatar will be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022 — the first time such a major international sporting event will be held in the Middle East. How will the integrated electric bus project contribute to the facilitation of transportation during the games?
Yusuf Bicer: Qatar wants to implement and host the first carbon-neutral World Cup. This environmentally-focused ambition necessitates sustainable approaches to the construction and operation of the country’s infrastructure, including its football stadiums. Electric public transportation also has an important role to play in enhancing the sustainability of the event. Since buses are associated with frequent stop and start cycles, they are more emission-intensive than cars. Conversely, electric motors are more efficient than combustion engines, making them vehicles of choice for reducing emissions and preserving finite natural resources.
Additionally, charging stations for electric buses are easy to install, making refueling an efficient and straightforward process. Once parked near stadiums, buses can be charged during games, thereby creating the conditions for more frequent services and reduced waiting times after and between matches.
Ziabari: Some experts say training drivers and technicians to operate electric buses is one of the challenges of utilizing such vehicles. How do you think Qatar will cope with this?
Abdallah: The principle behind electric buses is not much different than their conventional counterparts. Both have similar components such as steering wheels and pedals, which means they operate in pretty much the same way. Given that Qatar has already started to integrate electric buses into its fleet, training of new drivers is well underway. As the company responsible for public transportation, Mowasalat (Karwa), has created special driving schools for teaching the new curricula for electric buses. All drivers will be ready for the World Cup.
Ziabari: What are the environmental benefits of using electric buses in cities? To what extent does electric mobility decrease the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions linked to transportation?
Bicer: As mentioned, conventional buses release significant amounts of greenhouses gases and other contaminants including carbon dioxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matters. Since most buses are used in urban areas, this creates more polluted air and health challenges. For example, breathing difficulties are among the main consequences of fossil fuel-driven buses.
On the other hand, electric buses do not release any of these emissions during operation, making them a cleaner, carbon-neutral alternative. Compared to the operation phase of conventional buses, there is a 100% reduction in the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. It should be noted that electricity production also causes emissions. However, when the whole life cycle emissions are accounted for, from production to disposal, there is the potential for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by about 25% to 45%, depending on the electricity mix, compared to conventional buses under the existing grid mix. In this respect, emissions associated with the power generation phase can also be minimized when renewable energy sources are utilized, implying that the emission reduction potential can even go beyond 50%.
Another important point to note is that power plants are mostly located outside urban areas in rural locations, which reduces the emission intensity within crowded public places such as stadiums.
Ziabari: The world’s major oil producing countries, including Qatar, are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. In 2017, Qatar had the highest per capita emission in the world, at 49 tons per person. Does the country have plans to change this pattern and minimize its contribution to air pollution by building up its use of renewable energy?
Abdallah: It is important to emphasize that the given emission value accounts for the exported oil and gas-associated emissions as well as being based on calculation methodology, which is not a fair comparison. Therefore, the emission per capita yields a high value compared to other countries.
That said, Qatar has a very comprehensive national plan for minimizing air pollution. As set out in Qatar National Vision 2030, the country is focused on developing sustainable oil and gas operation and minimizing environmental emissions. In order to achieve these targets, Qatar is planning to build several renewable energy power plants. The first large-scale renewable project was tendered by KAHRAMAA for Al Kharsaah Solar Power Project with Siraj Energy, Marubeni and Total under the build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) model for a period of 25 years. The solar power plant is expected to be fully commissioned in April 2022 and, once completed, will be able to meet 10% of peak electricity demand in the country.
In addition, there are multiple small-scale distributed solar energy applications across Qatar that are used for lighting, stations, air conditioning, to name but a few. There are also plants that develop biomass power using waste, which significantly contributes to Qatar’s waste reduction strategies.
Ziabari: Is electric mobility an option that will transform the future of transportation, including in countries that lack adequate and high-quality transportation infrastructure? Do you think more countries will turn to this alternative because they will soon realize that traditional modes of transportation are too costly to run and maintain?
Bicer: Electric mobility will definitely play an important role in future transport initiatives. Put simply, it offers higher quality infrastructure and more intelligent transportation systems. That’s because future transportation architecture is not only about travel but also the smart management of cities through intelligence, sensors and other technologies.
The main cost element of electric mobility concerns the charging of vehicles. However, once countries switch to distributed power generation, this challenge will be overcome and issues of access to electricity in non-developed countries eliminated.
It is now a fact that renewable source-based electricity generation is becoming cheaper day by day, even beating the price of fossil fuels in many parts of the world due to abundant availability. This includes solar photovoltaic and wind turbine power generations. In several solar photovoltaic projects recently conducted across the Middle East and North Africa, the cost of electricity was significantly lower than fossil fuel-based electricity. Once the technology is even more developed, electricity supplies will be even cheaper and easily used in electric mobility. In this way, electric transportation can become more affordable to the public.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.