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From Riyadh to Marrakesh: How Formula E’s host cities shape the future of mobility

Sustainability Projects, green city, clean mobility, mega city projects

Formula E is not only a great recipe for entertainment, it also sends a message: the host city supports the move towards clean mobility. Facing environmental issues and increasing urbanisation, cities are compelled to act. Discover four gigantic projects in China, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Chile that will accelerate the pace of change towards clean mobility.

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The first Formula E race took place on 13 September 2014 at the Beijing Olympic Green Circuit. Within six years, 24 cities followed suit - not only providing great entertainment, but also creating awareness about e-mobility and its attractiveness. “I believe that cities which have decided to host a Formula E race are in a better position to co-create the future of mobility,” says Jerome D’Ambrosio, a Belgian Formula E driver for the Mahindra Team. “These cities are eager to update their technology. They want to embrace a future in which electric vehicles will play a major role. They are actively trying to become greener.”

So what is going on in Formula E’s host cities? We look at innovative and ambitious sustainability projects currently underway in Santiago, Riyadh, Marrakesh and Beijing:

Santiago, Chile: introducing a fully electric bus fleet

The capital and largest city of Chile, with its seven million citizens, is situated in a valley surrounded by hills and the enormous Andes mountain range. Despite creating a unique backdrop, the mountains and hills are one of the many causes of Santiago’s dilemma: a permanent layer of smog is haunting the city.

A wake up call for the city
The smog disaster in 2015 was an eye-opener for Santiago. Pollution levels reached record highs, leaving the government no other option than to call an environmental emergency. As a consequence, 900 industries were forced to stop operations and 40% of the city’s 1.7 million vehicles were banned from the streets. The government realised that the city’s future would depend on clean mobility to fight against the suffocating haze.

Fighting the smog with e-buses
Today, Chile is investing into an ambitious project. The goal is to electrify the country’s entire fleet of more than 6’000 buses by 2040. Santiago alone plans to deploy nearly 800 electric buses by the end of 2020. Compared to the mere 25 e-buses in New York City, the number is impressive.

Improving life quality while saving costs
By launching the e-mobility initiative, Chile hopes to not only improve its citizens’ quality of life, but also reduce the vehicles’ maintenance costs. According to Chile’s Ministry of Transport, these are around 70% lower than those of diesel engines. With a fleet of 6’000 e-buses, Chile might find itself at the forefront of clean mobility in Latin America.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: building a USD 22 billion urban-transit system

Riyadh, the second largest city in the Arab world after Cairo, is in the finishing stages of a herculean task. In 2011, the cabinet of Saudi Arabia approved a USD 22 billion mega project to build the largest urban-transit system ever without pre-existing infrastructure. The fully automated six-line metro system will have 85 stations, 176 km of routes and will accommodate 338 trains when running on full capacity.

8.3 million people in Riyadh by 2030
The metro and bus networks will provide the city with an integrated, citywide public transport system that will meet existing demand as well as future needs, as the government expects Riyadh’s population to increase from 7.6 million to 8.3 million by 2030. The metro system aims to carry 1.16 million passengers per day during its initial phases with a peak of 3.6 million per day at full capacity. 

The largest park in the world
Riyadh’s ambitious vision constitutes the largest single rail transit construction project outside China. Besides boosting the economy and reducing the impact on the environment, the project also aims at enriching citizens’ lives through newly developed sidewalks, street furniture, bike paths and green areas. The planned King Salman Park will encompass an area four times as large as New York’s Central Park. If realised, Riyadh would be home to the largest park in the world.

Marrakesh, Morocco: harvesting the sun through integrated governance

The Moroccan government is currently working on a highly ambitious renewable energy project: by 2030, the country endeavours to generate 52% of its electricity needs from clean energy. Today, wind, hydroelectric, and solar energy already generate 34% of Morocco’s electrical supply. Ever since the Paris Agreement in 2016, many countries have set themselves high sustainability targets. What sets Morocco apart, however, is the dependency on external energy resources and MASEN, the Moroccan Agency for renewable Energy.

A one-stop shop for Morocco’s energy initiatives
While other counties manage various regulatory agencies, the North African country established MASEN to take care of everything – from planning, to raising funds, to building the infrastructure needed, MASEN is a privately owned Moroccan company with public funding. Its sole purpose? Achieving the 2030 energy goals and developing integrated projects in wind, solar, and hydropower. By adopting an integrated approach to tackle its energy challenges, the government tried to learn from other countries’ mistakes and thereby positioned itself at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Technological development and job creation are just two of the positive side effects.

Beijing, China: expanding the EV charging station network

466’000 public charging points for electric vehicles (EV) – no other country can challenge the Chinese mission to electrify the automobile industry. To put this number  into perspective: According to the latest surveys conducted in 2019, China offers eight times more public charging stations than the US. With 1.2 million total charging points, China is by far the biggest market for EVs.

Fighting the war against air pollution
Ever since 1998, when Beijing declared a war on air pollution, the Chinese Communist Party committed to mitigate the levels of fine particulate matter in the air. Not only did they enforce stricter regulations on industries, they also introduced incentives for private consumers to change from petrol engines to EVs. Generous subsidies, free license plates and free parking places were only some of the benefits offered to consumers.

How to make e-mobility attractive? Expand the charging network
In 2019, due to EV market distortions, such as car owners exploiting the system and EV manufacturers trying to find fast, rather than sustainable, solutions to technological challenges and design, the government decided to cut subsidies by 47%. For example, the subsidy for EVs with a range of 250-300 km was reduced to CNY 18’000 yuan (USD 2’686). Additionally, China concentrated its attention on the expansion of the EV charging network infrastructure to reduce one of the biggest concerns about purchasing an EV: range anxiety. In March this year, the central government announced a generous infrastructure stimulus package. USD 1.4 billion was allocated to further expand China’s EV charging network.

The sustainability challenge is on
Hosting a Formula E race is a statement. It is a declaration to the world that it is time for the future of mobility and to find innovative solutions to the current challenges faced by cities. As the championship demonstrates: it is possible to improve both design and performance whilst investing in sustainability.