After The Demise Of Paris' Pioneering Electric Car Sharing System

End of an era?
End of an era?
Denis Fansilber

PARIS — This past summer, Parisians bid adieu to Autolib", a pioneering electric-car-sharing service that came to a premature demise after operating for fewer than seven years. But that doesn't mean the French capital is turning its back on the overall concept. There is a plan B in the works, though what exactly it will entail — what, in other words, will be built on the ruins of Autolib's signature, self-serving "Bolloré Bluecars' — remains to be seen.

Most likely, the city will see an assortment of new options, from private car-rental agencies such as Drivy or OuiCar, to scooter and even electric-bike-sharing services. Indeed, competition is heating up as new proposals flood in.

"Autolib" was practically an anomaly," says Nicolas Oichon, a mobility expert with the Institute of Planning and Development of Paris' Ile-de-France region. "Everything is accelerating, with many initiatives coming from start-ups. These days, customers don't want to be restricted to one specific kind of transportation anymore. They may even look for a different mode of transport every day."

City authorities are doing their part to encourage all of this. The Paris City Council has just announced a quadrupling of parking spots reserved for "station-based" car-sharing vehicles (cars that must be returned to the spot from which they were taken). The players currently competing for the market are Communauto, from Quebec; Zipcar (Avis Budget); and Ubeeqo (Eurocar). Others will appear next year.

Now that Autolib" is gone, Paris' City Hall, under Mayor Anne Hidalgo, is more disposed towards these car-sharing companies and wants to give them more visibility. For one thing, it is now offering them 1,000 exclusive parking spaces, up from 226. It also cut the rates it charges the companies to operate in the public domain, from a maximum of 3,000 euros annually per car to 1,500 euros.

Competition is always good, but the city needs to regulate it properly.

"We will launch a call for a competition for each station, and we will award the place to the highest bidder, depending on the motorization of its cars — electric, hybrid, or fuel-burning," says Christophe Najdovski, the mayor's assistant for transport and roads.

Station-based car-sharing has existed for 30 years in North America and Europe, but in Paris, Autolib" (operated by the Bolloré industrial group and with a fleet of 4,000 electric cars) had crowded out all other similar services.

"Competition is always good, but the city needs to regulate it properly," says Federica Campina, head of the agency Communauto, in Paris. "So far, we have not been supported enough by the municipality."

As it stands now, Communauto's self-service cars are used, on average, by fewer than 1.5 customers per day. But Bolloré"s demise has opened the door for more opportunities. To meet the rush of customers, Communauto will increase its fleet from 135 to 170 cars by the end of the year.

Renault, in partnership with the rental agency ADA, is also getting into the mix, albeit with vehicles that are "free floating," meaning they can be left anywhere in the city. This week, the partners launch a service called Moov'in.Paris, in the capital's 11th and 12th arrondissement, with a combination of compact electric cars and two-seater quadricycles. In the coming months ADA-Renault plans to expand the service, which has a base rate of 39 cents per minute, to other parts of the city.

Only a third of Parisian households own a car, notes Antoine Scoyez, ADA's director of new mobility. "I don't see saturation of the car-sharing market in the short term. There's room for several players, even if their strategies are different."

Moov'in.Paris is just one of the services offered by ADA-Renault, which despite the city's emphasis on green vehicles, also offers standard gasoline models. In fact, ADA has more gasoline cars than electric — for longer journeys that extend past half a day.

Why should more cars be offered in this capital of traffic jams?

"We prefer that Parisians not depend on gasoline vehicles. But since fuel-burning cars are still essential for long journeys, such as weekends outside of the capital, we have to offer them," says Agnés Cherrier, ADA's marketing manager

But why should more cars be offered in this European capital of traffic jams? What more can be added in a city served by 19,700 VTCs, which drop off the customer where they want without parking, for an average of 20 euros? To justify their entrance into the new market, newcomers will have to deal with the move towards de-motorization. According to Zipcar, a car in the capital costs an average of 298 euros per month to its owner and is used 11 hours per month.

A study conducted by environmentalists found that 67% of users chose Autolib" for its system of available parking spaces, while only 6% stated that they were driven by environmental considerations. "Autolib" was more competitive with public transport and taxis than with the personal car," explains Nicolas Louvet.

Autolib" parking spaces — Photo: Suzanne.b.Godillot via Instagram

City hall is now trying to decide how to regulate (and monetize) the now-abandoned Autolib" parking spaces. What are Paris officials to do with these now useless relics, whose piloting software belongs to Bolloré?

The 100 or so municipalities around Paris that have hosted Autolib"", answer the dilemma in different ways: "Some want free parking, others want the places kept for electric cars, others a combination of the two," explains Xavier Caron, a delegate for the clean mobility of the Syndicat Intercommunal for Gas and Electricity in Ile-de-France. "And some may even just keep them vacant for other uses in the future."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!