Level the playing field for adopters of electric vehicles in Singapore

The case for electric cars is now more compelling than ever, given the global commitment to improve air quality and reduce pollution-related costs, especially with the move towards achieving the goals of COP 21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference).

Singapore is steadfast in this commitment too, as is evident from its vision for a "car-lite" city-state coupled with the decision earlier this year to install 2,000 charging stations islandwide and the recent announcement to roll out an all-electric taxi fleet to further decarbonise the transport sector.

Electric vehicles, especially cars and buses, are key enablers to help close the gaps in Singapore's commitments to COP 21, by reducing or eliminating the use of the internal combustion engines on Singapore's roads.

In this context, it is important that current policies affecting the ownership and deployment of such vehicles be either tweaked, revamped or extended to ensure that these low-carbon (or zero-emission) technologies operate under a policy regime that promotes a level playing field (versus the incumbents) for all modes of transportation.

This is to ensure fair play so that low-carbon technologies can emerge as an alternative for deployment in Singapore's transport landscape. This is the reality: According to Singapore's National Climate Change Secretariat's business-as-usual scenario, the transport sector will contribute 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Singapore by 2020.

In simple terms, this means that high carbon emissions will continue to prevail in Singapore unless some strategies are changed. Emissions reduction in the key transport sector is therefore crucial to Singapore's commitment to reduce GHG emissions per GDP (gross domestic product) dollar by 36 per cent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

Emissions from the transportation sector are among the largest contributors to urban pollution. Even with the technological improvements of engines and emission standards for conventional fossil-fuel engines, tailpipe emissions are constantly under regulatory watch. This begs the question: Does Singapore have the right framework and infrastructure to ensure a level playing field for adopters of electrical vehicles?

Currently, electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEVs) face disadvantages because of the formulae used to calculate CEVS (Carbon Emission-based Vehicle Scheme) rebates and road taxes. EVs offer many advantages, including the lowest carbon emissions among car models in the market.

Hence, a level playing field in the CEVS can only be created by granting an equitable - that is, levelling-up - incentive to EVs compared to higher-emitting hybrid car models. The emissions envelope (ie generation-to-end-use) of EVs is expected to fall further in the coming years as Singapore continues to expand the use of natural gas and renewables for electricity generation - justifying the need for more banding in the lowest emissions end of the CEVS.

Currently, the CEVS aims to differentiate vehicles based on the CO2 emissions per kilometre. However, it does this quite poorly, since it cannot distinguish in advance between a vehicle that is driven primarily in stop-and-go CBD traffic (such as a delivery vehicle) and one that undertakes uninterrupted highway journeys (such as regular commutes across the island).

We believe one solution around this is to consider scrapping the capital expenditure-based CEVS and replacing it with operating expenditure-based (Opex-based) schemes. A key advantage of replacing CEVS with an Opex-based scheme is that it eases traffic congestion by increasing the variable cost of driving versus using public transport.

The existing cost structure of car ownership is too heavily weighted on fixed acquisition cost, which encourages people to use their cars, even for "trivial" journeys, because variable costs linked to fuel and parking are so low. Alternatively, the Preferential Additional Registration Fee value of cars which receive the CEVS rebate should be based on the Additional Registration Fee value before the rebates, not after.

An opportunity to further reduce our GHG emissions while leveraging the electrification of buses and cars is to set up a regional testing centre with full test facilities for battery and charging infrastructure that would ensure that all vehicles are tested by one common standard and process. This will help accelerate the deployment of EVs, while growing regional demand will ensure the centre is economically viable.

The government currently owns the entire public bus fleet, one that runs on fossil fuels. In time to come, we may well have an electric-bus fleet, which would require adequate charging infrastructure. When this fleet conversion takes place, the government would not need to undertake the construction and operation of the charging stations itself. It can tender out the charging facilities to private operators, to reap benefits such as lower cost and higher quality of service arising from market competition.

The government should also lead a cost-benefit study with industry participation to determine the additional requirements for power distribution infrastructure and look into how the costs can be split among users. The study could serve as a test-bed whereby key data could be collected and analysed for future adoption.

Building codes such as the Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark take into account EV lots but do not quite promote easy installation of EV charging infrastructure post-building completion.

To ensure a future-ready building infrastructure and in line with the drive towards a Smart Nation, building codes should include the needs of EV charging for both the projected current population and future expansion of EV-ready car lots.

Green Mark can evolve to promote this change and could allocate more points for EV-readiness. Such policies will encourage developers to ensure that buildings are future-ready, equipped to embrace the full advantages arising from our drive to create a Smart Nation.

- The writer is a council member of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore and programme director, Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N), at Nanyang Technological University.


This article was first published on Aug 02, 2016.
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