Electro-mobility in Sri Lanka
By Sheran Fernando
All research on the future of mobility and transport now agree on the below three factors:
Cars will be powered by electricity and not fossil fuels.
Cars will be 'driverless'.
Customers want mobility solutions and not ownership.
This article will limit its discussion to the fact that vehicles will be electric and aims to give the reader a few thoughts on the benefits of electric vehicles, while sharing some views on the Sri Lankan policy framework to promote the adoption of electric vehicles.
Driverless technology and mobility solutions will be covered in follow up articles.
Why Electric Vehicles?
It is accepted that an electric vehicle (EV) is much more efficient than an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. Many efficiency studies show that an EV can transfer over 90% of the input energy to its drive wheel, whereas the most efficient ICE vehicles struggle to deliver 50% of the input energy to the drive wheel.
The simplest explanation for the significant efficiency of an EV is that EV propulsion requires less than 20 moving parts. An average ICE is estimated to have more than 10,000 moving parts.
An EV does not emit any carbon into the environment; it does even not have an exhaust pipe! An ICE, however, does pollute the environment.
Some could argue that electricity is produced using thermal energy and hence, there is pollution through an EV. Once could also argue that the production process of the battery for an EV is energy-hungry and hence contributes to pollution. Taking these into account, accepted research has proved that EVs are 50% less polluting than a similar ICE, over their lifetimes.
Lower running cost
In Sri Lanka, electricity is extremely expensive, but still, running an EV is atleast 50% less expensive than an ICE, although electricity tariffs work in bands, so arriving at a comparative figure could be misleading. The 50% figure took into account the running cost of a Tesla P85D, using electricity tariff of Rs 45 per unit, which is the highest applicable domestic rate and comparing this figure with the running cost of a 3,000cc petrol luxury vehicle that delivers fuel efficiency of 6km per litre. The lower running cost of an EV is not only achieved though fuel. An EV has fewer components, meaning fewer elements that need maintenance. Thus, EVs are much cheaper to run; Tesla, for instance, sells a four-year maintenance plan for less than Rs 475,000. There is no way a similar ICE vehicle could be maintained for four years for anything close to this sum of money.
EV adoption in Sri Lanka
The above arguments, beside a host of global research, validate the Government's actions in setting out a clear directive that was supportive of electro-mobility. The Budget reduced the duty on EVs significantly, made the statement that all vehicles should be electric by 2040, and promised that all Government vehicles would be electric by 2025.
In a press conference, the Electric Vehicle Club Sri Lanka, commending the Government on its Budget, requested a further duty reduction on EVs to enhance EV adoption. Their request is valid and can be further argued using an argument of a Tesla model S against a compatible German luxury sedan.
Most luxury sedans are powered by a 2,000cc petrol hybrid engine. The applicable customs duty on such an import is Rs 10,000,000. However, the least-powered Tesla Model S carries an import duty of Rs 23 million. There is a disparity here, and one hopes the Government would address this by reducing the duty on EVs, instead of increasing the duty on petrol hybrid vehicles.
Charging infrastructure and regulation
In order to facilitate rapid EV adoption in Sri Lanka, the vehicle charging ecosystem needs to develop. For this to happen, it would make sense to have a regulator that sets standards for the charging ecosystem and sets tariff guidelines, controls hardware quality and compatibility, etc. This regulator can then decide whether the charging infrastructure is to happen via selling licence to a few service providers, or whether the ecosystem should be a collection of players with no limitation on entry.
Import of used EVs
The Budget 2018 set out a lower rate of duty for the import of brand-new EVs and a higher rate for older EVs. I feel this policy is a very good one. The Electric Vehicle Club Sri Lanka, at their press conference, appealed to the Government to permit EVs up to 2 years old to be imported at a lower rate of duty.
The lithium ion battery on an EV has a life of approximately 5 years, while research suggests that the cost of this battery makes up a significant proportion of the vehicle's total cost. Thus, a two-year -old EV has used up 40% of its battery life. Recycling lithium ion batteries are complex and, in this context, it makes perfect sense for the Government to encourage the import of new vehicles.
Another argument in support of the Government's decision is that EV technology, and more so, battery technology is changing very rapidly. In this environment of rapid change, it makes sense to incentivize the most current models of vehicles to be imported to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is a small country and our average travel distances are small. This makes us perfectly suited to convert rapidly to electro-mobility. With electric cars and buses now having a range of over 300km, it makes the adoption of electro-mobility feasible. Luckily, Sri Lanka is not facing adverse environmental issues to the extent that India and China are. However, air pollution from transport accounts for around 50% of our total air pollution. We have abundant resources for the generation of alternatives to fossil fuel-oriented energy. The increased demand for electricity from the adoption of electro-mobility can be powered by energy sources such as solar which are free and clean.
The mass transportation system in Sri Lanka is outdated and needs modernization. The adoption of electro-mobility is not confined to cars, buses and lorries. Modern mass transport technology, such as Hyperloop and electro-magnetic capsule based solutions, can easily replace outdated means of common mass transport, such as monorails and light rail systems.
Sheran Fernando is the Managing Director of Innosolve Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, a company focused at promoting the adoption of electro-mobility
in Sri Lanka.
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