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A greener way to travel

About half of Singapore’s vehicles in 2050 could be electric ones if the country pursues the technology aggressively, according to a new electro-mobility roadmap unveiled at the recent Energy Innovation 2016 forum. This would reduce Singapore’s energy needs and help to reduce its carbon emissions.

By 2050, up to half of Singapore’s vehicles could be electric if the country actively pursues policies such as the electrification of public transport, according to a new study led by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and carried out by the Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University.

This scenario would reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 to 30 per cent compared with business-as-usual levels in 2050, create a healthier environment for its people and help the government achieve its goals to limit the country’s emissions, said the researchers.

Under the recently-inked Paris Agreement on climate change, Singapore is committed to reducing its emissions intensity – the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per dollar of gross domestic product – by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The country has also pledged that its greenhouse gas emissions will peak around 2030 at the equivalent of about 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, even if the economy continues to grow after that.

The electro-mobility (e-mobility) study, commissioned by the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) and National Research Foundation (NRF), and led by the LTA, is part of a series of technology roadmaps to help Singapore address its energy and climate change challenges.

The NCCS and NRF unveiled the e-mobility roadmap and two others, on industry energy efficiency and solid waste management, at the Energy Innovation 2016 forum on June 3.

Professor Low Teck Seng, the NRF’s chief executive, noted in his opening remarks at the forum that “accelerating change requires collective determination, commitment and persistence.”

A clear, long-term vision that sets the direction for the government, the private sector and academia to work in unison is also necessary, he added.

The electrification of public transport

According to the study, Singapore’s taxis and public buses offer the highest potential for electrification.

Although the taxi and bus fleets now make up only 3 per cent and 2 per cent of the country’s vehicle population respectively, they hold the highest and second highest annual mileage per vehicle respectively. Buses also emit the highest amount of carbon dioxide emissions per vehicle.

Both buses and taxis have centralised pit stops, such as bus terminals, so charging stations can be consolidated at these places. Replacing conventional buses with purely-electric versions could reduce emissions by up to 56 per cent per vehicle and cut down on pollution, especially at bus stops where people are usually closest to the vehicles.

Dr Park Byung Joon, a senior lecturer at SIM University who specialises in transport issues, noted that buses have specific routes and operational hours, which means that there is little risk that the electric versions will run out of battery power while on roads.

“You can calculate an electric bus’s mileage and precisely predict when its battery will run out of electricity, and replace its battery pack at the bus interchange before that happens,” he said.

He noted, however, that the most electric buses’ batteries are bulky and difficult to replace quickly. Electric buses used in Singapore might need to have easy-to-replace batteries, since they have long operational hours and only short breaks in usage.

Part of bus interchanges’ bus parking areas might also have to be converted into battery-replacement spots.

Dr Evan Gwee, Head of LTA’s Electro-Mobility Singapore Programme Office, said that, as the government brings public transport options such as buses and car-sharing schemes closer to homes to encourage more people to use them, using electric versions of those vehicles will help to keep the environment liveable as they are cleaner, quieter and generate less heat.

He highlighted that Singapore is an ideal country to research and test electric vehicles: “We’re a small country, our daily mileage is shorter compared to most other countries and we have strong research capabilities and industry support.”

If we can figure out how to introduce electric vehicles in congested megacities, integrate them into the infrastructure and provide services around them, that would be a huge economic opportunity for us.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director, Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University

A ‘car-lite’ Singapore

In pursuing the vision of a car-lite Singapore, the government is also considering electric car-sharing and large scale use of driverless vehicles to complement its strategy of encouraging public transport as the mode of travel.

Electric car-sharing and driverless vehicles allow people convenient access to cars or the means to travel around without having to own a car.

In 2013, the government concluded the first phase of its national electric vehicle test-bed, focused on individual corporate users, and found that use of the vehicles was technically feasible in Singapore but too expensive for most people. In 2014, it announced a second phase that will involve a car-sharing trial of up to 1,000 electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to support their use.

The e-mobility roadmap outlined other areas of research needed to promote the use of electric vehicles. It said, for instance, that the impact of the vehicles’ demand on the national power grid has not been adequately studied, especially since charging stations that allow quick recharging or the charging of several cars might use large amounts of electricity.

The roadmap also suggests that the government study the establishment of a regulatory framework to encourage private investment in charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Having the charging infrastructure present will facilitate and possibly accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in Singapore.

To increase electric vehicles’ benefits, the electricity used to power them should also be as clean as possible, making further integration of renewable energy such as solar power necessary.

The researchers added: “In future, electric vehicle batteries could serve as buffer storage, storing generated energy exceeding demand and feeding it back to the grid when needed. This generates new business opportunities and may serve as an important component of a clean energy system in Singapore.”

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University, agreed, saying that Singapore’s research on electric vehicles could add to the country’s economic growth in other ways.

The research on electric cars’ batteries, for instance, could lead to batteries that are safer, last longer and charge faster, which could be adapted for electronics and other industries’ use.

While Singapore might not manufacture electric vehicles, it could develop technology and expertise in the sector and export its products and knowledge to countries in the region, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and China.

“If we can figure out how to introduce electric vehicles in congested megacities, integrate them into the infrastructure and provide services around them, that would be a huge economic opportunity for us,” said Professor Mhaisalkar.


The Energy Innovation forum, organised by NCCS, NRF and the Energy Market Authority, brought together industry representatives, government agencies, academics and researchers to discuss how technology innovations can help Singapore to address its future energy and climate change challenges. 

This story was first published on the National Climate Change Secretariat website. Subscribe here or like their Facebook page to receive regular updates.

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