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Saturday, October 25th, 2014 - 10:14 AM
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Going electric

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The Nissan Leaf electric car launched recently in the country is still making headlines around the world.

The idea appeals to the global media and audience as Bhutan has a strict environment conservation policy, and that it gels with the country’s development philosophy of Gross National Happiness.  At a time when an increasing number of cars is interpreted as progress, the government’s initiative to go electric has caught the world’s fancy.  Particularly, when a “tiny” country like ours take the lead.

To the world, by introducing electric cars, and with a plan to replace taxis and pool vehicles with electric vehicles, we are a step ahead in acknowledging the ecological problem, although not of our doing.

Back home, there is a mixed reaction to the government’s policy.  Many appreciate the initiative.  Until recently, notwithstanding the traffic congestion, parking space shortage and huge outflow of the Indian rupee, all initiatives were geared towards increasing the sales of vehicles.  It was far easier to get a car loan than to process a house loan, despite the housing shortage.

While we are professed as the champions of environment, pollution is already a problem, and our highest import consists of fossil fuel.

But more than the cause of environment, it is a credible decision, because it will help stop the outflow of the much-valued rupee, reduce fuel import, and ease the strain on the economy.  An electricity-based transportation system sounds viable, given our potential in hydroelectricity.  For that matter, we should even move for a public transportation system run by electricity.

A start to go electric has already received a boost with the launch of another brand of electric vehicle, Mahindra REVA, which will be distributed by Singye group of companies.

The concern, however, is that, before we move big time to electric vehicles, there should be enough grounds, apart from the grand plans to embrace the change.  There are skeptics, who are not convinced that electric vehicles will work in Bhutan.

The concerns arise mainly from the nature of our roads, resale value, the trust in the life of batteries, and the cost of the cars and batteries.  Some are even questioning if enough studies have been done before government subsidises the fleet of electric cars to hit our roads.  The concerns are valid, as we are one of the few countries to replace a fleet of vehicles with electric cars.

Cars will give problems, whether diesel, petrol or batteries run them.  But with some batteries costing half the cost of the car, dealer and manufacturers warranting the life of batteries could allay the fear.  What will also be crucial is efficient and affordable after sales service.  Otherwise, these cars will land up as second cars for the wealthy.

One Comment to “Going electric”
  1. irfan | February 28th, 2014 at 17:17:18

    On a personal note, I find it difficult to dream of a future without any use of fossil fuels. Something that the world has refused to address is misuse and wastage of fossil fuels in the engines driving our growth. With hydro energy generation, EVs have a future in Bhutan and that will depend on the kind innovation that can be introduced in the ownership models involving the buyer, the user, the distributor or seller, the manufacturer or supplier and then the infrastructure provider. Direct subsidies will contribute less while draining a lot more. Even with 70 percent of passenger transport consuming only electricity can serve a good purpose while commercial load carriers can be planned to run on something more greener and cleaner alternates. Modern cities spend so much on infrastructures like metro rail, mono rail, BRTS, etc and still, a country like Bhutan with its challenging geography can try something different like a lot cleaner and efficient air connectivity. There are fixed wing smaller planes that are driven with diesel engines and planes as well as helicopters that can land and take off from even poorly maintained grass runways. So, a good savings generated on fossil fuels on road transport can be utilized to work on something else to provide improved quality in faster public transport need mid air. But for the time being, those interested can enjoy a faster depreciation on the valuation of an EV and work that to one’s advantage by buying some EVs. But transportation in general still has a long way to go in the country. Allow the engine to drive the car while one learns to drive that engine.

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