Pakistan, Electric Vehicle Policy

Pakistan at the moment is hit by worst ever smog. The country is the fifth most vulnerable to climate change in the world. Meanwhile, in November 2019, Pakistan government approved country’s first electric vehicle policy. Over 3,000 CNG stations are to be transformed into electric vehicle charging stations. Also 100,000 cars and 500,000 bikes and rickshaws are also to be converted to electric vehicles. The electric vehicles are estimated to bring down the country’s annual oil import bill by $2m. According to an estimate, Pakistan’s 30% vehicles will go electric by 2030.

This happens at a time when according to Sectoral Emission Inventory for Punjab, transport sector is responsible for 43% share in the air pollution emissions. Industry and agriculture remain second and third, respectively. Smog, in Pakistan, is being termed as the fifth season. Air quality in Pakistan is also becoming increasingly unhealthy. This happens not just in Lahore but also Islamabad, the federal capital of Pakistan, surrounded by natural greenery. This means that we need to review our performance. Something is certainly wrong somewhere. This crisis has just not emerged abruptly. It was coming for a long time.

Certainly, the transition toward electric vehicles is a huge opportunity but a few challenges are also part of the package. While, if successfully implemented, pollution in the country will be reduced, fuel cost will be saved by 70%, and the import bill will be cut down tremendously. In fact, it will be a step towards fossil fuel-free society. On the other hand, the transition will require quite a lot of money and at the same time worries regarding the entrenched lobbies are also there. One of the challenges is setting up a whole new set-up for electric vehicles. Others include electricity shortfall, costly and long battery charging, driving range per charge, inconsistent government policies etc.

The electric vehicles are estimated to bring down the country’s annual oil import bill by $2m. According to an estimate, Pakistan’s 30% vehicles will go electric by 2030.

A 2019 report states that by 2025, an excess of 15,000 MW peak generation capacity will be available in the system to spare for electric vehicles and claims that “almost 500,000 electric vehicles can be fully charged daily with a supply of just under 1000 MWs.”

Soon after the announcement of the electric vehicle policy, country’s auto-sector hit out at the government initiative. In fact, they called it an adhoc decision. They complained of not being taken into the loop and that the electric cars were being introduced in the country at the cost of domestic industry.

Another hurdle, perhaps the biggest challenge in making the move a success is public mind set. Awareness needs to be created among the masses about the advantages of electric vehicles over combustion engine vehicles. An expert suggests, “The catchphrase to attract people should be ‘save money,’ rather than ‘save the environment’ because, let’s be honest, for most people, climate change is not a strong enough motivation to switch to electric vehicles. High speed, enhanced range, acceleration and comfort are the things the electric vehicle companies need to market to general public.”

While the fuel combustion has largely polluted the environment and the prices of fuel are sky rocketing, it is a great idea to shift to eco-friendly electric vehicles. Perhaps, this is the best way of improving the air quality at the moment.

A 2019 report states that by 2025, an excess of 15,000 MW peak generation capacity will be available in the system to spare for electric vehicles and claims that “almost 500,000 electric vehicles can be fully charged daily with a supply of just under 1000 MWs.”

However, one aspect to deliberate upon is that whether the transition to electric vehicles in the country can happen soon. The goal is certainly ambitious and may take a couple of decades before its complete execution. This is what has happened with one of the most advanced countries of the world. And that is how they have set their deadlines. Norway, for instance, plans to sell all electric vehicles by 2025, Netherlands 2030, the UK and France target a 2040 deadline for all electric vehicle sales. Even our neighbouring India targets selling 30% of all electric cars by 2030. Other countries such as China, Germany, Sweden and many US states have also announced ambitious plans for electric vehicle penetration.

Anyhow, the argument is that introduction of electric vehicles in Pakistan can solve the present and impending problems of not just the economy but various sectors, which include transportation, environment, and power among others. Needless to say, the transition of transport sector towards electrification is need of the hour. However, what needs to be taken care of during the execution phase is that it is carefully planned and executed taking into account the challenges, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses. The concerned quarters need to ensure that it is not just a knee jerk reaction creating other challenges and problems. If the electric vehicle policy creates a scenario similar to the compressed natural gas like fiasco, then it would not be of much use. Certainly, for this initiative to be a success, a large and a considerably well spread out charging infrastructure is required. But one of the problems is that the electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure are largely dependent on each other. Charging infrastructure only makes commercial sense if enough electric vehicles are on roads while these vehicles require charging infrastructure to get rid of the so called range anxiety. This requires sufficient penetration of charging infrastructure. However, this problem can be worked out with cautious planning and strategic intervention. A very careful policy assessment is needed to study the prospective direct and indirect and long-term and short-term impacts on the stakeholders.

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