A major push to promote Electric Vehicles

Loan equity for EVs increased to 50% and 23 quick EV charging stations to be installed between 2019-21

To promote low emission vehicles and Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the country, 23 quick EV charging stations will be installed over the course of three years.

This is part of the Global Environmental Facility’s (GEF) three-year US$ 3mn project (2019-21), ‘Bhutan Sustainable Low-emission Urban Transport System’ which offers incentives to taxi drivers who switch to EVs and tax waivers to the general population who do the same.

The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) is planning to change the country’s urban transport sector by promoting EVs for cabbies.

“We are focusing on taxi drivers registered in Thimphu because the number of taxis registered in Thimphu is large and we have found out that the taxis cause the most carbon emission,” said RSTA Director General, Pemba Wangchuk.

As of 2018, there are around 4,170 registered taxis in the country of which 1,885 taxis are registered in Thimphu alone.

On an average, taxis travel about 75,000km a year.

RSTA will be importing around 300 EV taxis for those in Thimphu alone.

The RSTA Director General said the project will fund 20% of the cost or will provide a subsidy of US$ 5,500 to about 300 taxi operators as incentive. “Those interested would be able to get 50% loan as the Royal Monetary Authority has approved to increase the loan equity to 50% from the existing 30%,” he said. “We are hopeful that this will reduce the import of fuels as a huge amount goes into the import of fuels.”

According to RSTA record, the number of vehicles in the country has increased almost four times from slightly less than 25,000 in 2000 to over 100,544 as of December 31, 2018.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Bhutanese transport sector is projected to more than double from a value of 177,000 tCO2 in 2005 to 376,000 tCO2 in 2020.

Pemba Wangchuk said that the project is feasible in the country as Bhutan is rich in hydropower resources and thus, using hydro-based electricity in the transportation sector will benefit the country in the long run. “We are exporting electricity to other countries as we have rich hydropower resources so the project is sustainable in our country,” he said. “We are not only importing fuel which is not eco-friendly but it also removes a huge burden off our economy.”

Pemba Wangchuk said that to make it convenient for EV users, RSTA is planning to spread the quick charging stations over different locations if incase the EVs have to travel to longer distances. “We will be installing quick charging stations in places like Paro, Haa, Lamperi, Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Gedu and at Wangkha on the way to Phuentsholing.”

One of the main challenges for the EVs is the battery-life which lasts for only four hours. “But with the quick charging stations it will take less time to recharge,” said the RSTA Director General.

One of the important strategies to address growing GHG level is to shift from traditional fuel (diesel and gasoline) to EVs. “The electric vehicle is one of the new technologies that have garnered attention in developed countries, and increasingly in developing countries, as one of the keys to low-carbon emission,” said Pemba Wangchuk.

Further, he said that though efforts are being made to reduce pollution, going electric in the transport sector has not progressed as desired. “It is because of the people’s mindset. We are so used to the fuel car and to shift to electric cars is something that will take time.”

He said that it is not only in Bhutan but globally, the use of EVs is not popular and its use is picking up only recently. “Neighboring countries like India and China are also looking forward to go electrical by 2030,” he said. “Now, since a lot of companies are investing in electric cars, the quality will improve and costs will reduce.”

Pemba Wangchuk said also said that the authority is encouraging people to go for EVs by not imposing tax for green cars in addition to building infrastructure for EVs like quick charging stations in the country.

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of each quick charging facility was approximately US$ 25,000 during the piloting phase in 2016 but currently, the overall cost of installing a multiple charging facility would allow more than one car to be charged at a time at US$ 40,000.

As of today, there are around 26 government EVs, 71 private EVs, four EV taxis and one diplomat EV in the country. Thimphu has the highest number of vehicles with 52,322 followed by Phuentsholing with 34,707, Gelephu has 6,462 and SamdrupJongkhar has 5,194 as of December 31, 2018.

Jigme Wangchen from Thimphu