In February 2020, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean gave a speech outlining the government’s goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions as part of its Long-Term Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS). In it, steps to cap Singapore’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 before reaching net-zero emissions in the latter half of the century were mapped out.
If Singapore were to achieve this goal, urgent action must be taken to implement solutions to tackle the top contributors of GHG emissions locally. This includes the transport sector, which has been identified as one of the larger contributors of such emissions. One such effort includes measures to encourage the public to make the switch to Electric Vehicles (EVs).
A sweeter alternative to conventional cars
Since 2018, the Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) has been in place for newly registered cars, taxis and imported used vehicles. The scheme was designed to encourage buyers to choose car models with lower emissions across five pollutant gases — carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.
Cars are banded according to their emissions levels, with vehicles in the A1 and A2 bands receiving up to $20,000 in rebates. While the VES was originally supposed to have expired by 2019, authorities have since extended it by another year.
Several schemes were also included in the Budget 2020 statement to further sweeten the deal. For example, light commercial vehicles will now be entitled to rebates as meted out under the VES. Another early adoption incentive scheme will also be rolled out progressively from 2021 to 2023, offering a 45 per cent rebate on the car’s Additional Registration Fee (ARF), for a maximum of $20,000 per vehicle. The road tax scheme, likewise, will be revised for EVs to make it less punitive.
Outside of these financial incentives, the authorities have promised infrastructural investments such as increasing the current number of electric charging stations on the island from the current 1,600 to 28,000 by 20304.
However, in spite of these measures, the growth in electric vehicle population has remained sluggish. At present, there are only 1,125 EVs on the roads as of January 2020 — or less than 0.2 per cent of the current car population. Why is this so?
Roadblocks to EV adoption
Cost is one of the key factors of consideration for EV adoption. Beyond this, there are a host of other concerns and priorities among car owners which current measures do not fully address.
One of them is the lack of variety of EV models to meet demand from motorists who may prefer sports utility vehicles or minivans over the conventional sedan, coupe or convertibles – the more popular choices.
Another prohibitive factor is not being able to do a “splash-and-dash” when power is low. Compared to the quick refuelling at the petrol pumps for conventional vehicles that are powered by internal combustion engines, EVs need at least 30 minutes at a high-powered quick-charging station to charge up fully.
Additionally, EVs’ reliance on charging stations limit long-distance driving today. For instance, vehicle owners who frequently drive up to Malaysia could find it difficult to find electrical charging points to charge their car across the Causeway, compared to the widely available petrol stations.
Full ecosystem support to drive EV adoption
With such considerations in mind, it is clear that it would require robust infrastructure and a vibrant ecosystem of public and private players to drive EV adoption in the long run. Till this becomes a reality, vehicle owners will need to adopt habitual changes to operating and maintaining EVs over regular petrol-powered cars.
For instance, refuelling, which used to be done wherever a convenient petrol station can be found, will now need to become a more planned-out activity, with people charging their EVs while they are working or overnight at a charging station.
In the bigger scheme of things, Singapore’s efforts to realise the growing adoption of EVs will boost its climate change efforts. However, as EV adoption requires time to gain traction, a faster and more immediately available solution would be to encourage more to take public transport like buses and trains over car ownership whenever possible. Together, such efforts will see the island state putting up a stronger fight against climate change.