Wheels in motion: Singapore joins global movement to phase out fossil fuel vehicles

As Singapore places its bets on electric vehicles and joins the global shift towards cleaner transport, charging infrastructure will be crucial. Automakers, companies and research institutions will also have to adjust.

BlueSG car sharing
Singapore has an electric car sharing scheme, and plans to phase out fossil fuel vehicles over the next 20 years. Image: BlueSG/ Facebook

Climate-vulnerable Singapore will part ways with fossil fuel vehicles within the next two decades and throw its weight behind cleaner vehicles, starting with hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs).

Its pivot to less pollutive transportation comes after Hong Kong signalled last October that it would phase out fossil fuel vehicles in the next 10 to 20 years.

Announcing incentives to encourage adoption of cleaner vehicles in his Budget speech on Tuesday (18 February), Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said: “Our vision is to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles and have all vehicles run on cleaner energy by 2040.”

Citing public health and climate change as reasons for the change, he said many major cities around the world have already set a similar goal. China is the world’s largest electric car market with 2.3 million units as of 2018, followed by Europe and the United States.

We are placing a significant bet on EVs, and leaning policy in that direction because it is the most promising technology.

Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Singapore

“Here we are placing a significant bet on EVs, and leaning policy in that direction because it is the most promising technology. It also requires a significant increase in demand to justify the infrastructure investment,” Heng said.

Singapore will boost the number of charging points from 1,600 today, to up to 28,000 at public carparks islandwide by 2030.

Of more than 950,000 vehicles in Singapore currently, only 5 per cent—or 47,080—are electric or hybrid, latest government statistics show. Land transportation accounts for 14 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

elon  musk

Image: Twitter

Singapore was famously criticised in recent years by Tesla chief executive Elon Musk as being unsupportive of EVs. But Singapore’s environment minister Masagos Zulkifli told Bloomberg last year that the country is more interested in solutions such as greater use of public transportation.

“What Elon Musk wants to produce is a lifestyle,” Masagos said. “We are not interested in a lifestyle. We are interested in proper solutions that will address climate problems.”

Good first step

Carmakers with electric models welcomed the announcement, while a transport expert said Singapore’s plans pave the way for residents who can afford a car to choose a cleaner option.

Electrification is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Preeti Gupta, corporate affairs director, BMW Group Asia

BMW and Audi told Eco-Business that the news would generate more interest and discussion around the topic of electrification. Both automakers welcomed Singapore’s target as a first step and looked forward to more details.

BMW Group Asia’s corporate affairs director Preeti Gupta said it would speed up the transition to e-mobility in Singapore. “However, it’s too early to tell, to what extent the planned measures will impact the market for electrified vehicles. We will have a better idea when… an update to the Vehicle Emissions Scheme is announced,” she said, referring to the scheme that encourages motorists to buy less pollutive cars through a system of rebates and surcharges.

Incentives announced on Tuesday will lower the upfront cost of an electric car by an average of 11 per cent, while revisions to the road tax framework will mean that the costs of using mass market electric cars are about 9 per cent lower than their internal combustion engine equivalent per year.

With the changes, which kick in from next year, an Audi spokesman said its e-tron, a fully electric sport utility vehicle presented last month at the Singapore Motorshow, will cost less. Audi will offer more electric models to cater to different customer groups, he added.

Globally, two key factors that increase adoption of electric vehicles are favorable government policies and a strong charging infrastructure network, BMW’s Gupta said.

Besides lower purchase and ownership taxes, some countries have special EV licence plates to make it easy for national and local authorities to introduce usage incentives such as free parking and charging, bus lane access and reduced fees for toll roads, she said.

Charging infrastructure in residential areas is crucial, she said. Based on data gathered from more than 500,000 electrified BMW vehicles on roads worldwide, more than 80 per cent of all charging takes place either at home or at work.

“For this reason, we feel it’s extremely important that charging stations are deployed at (public housing blocks) and condominiums, and not only in public spaces,” she said.

“However, this process takes time and electrification is not a sprint, but a marathon,” Gupta added. “For most people, plug-in hybrid EVs would be the first step before they transition to fully electric vehicles. Therefore, until the charging infrastructure in Singapore is capable of handling mass adoption, we consider plug-in hybrid EVs the best solution to enable electrified driving with zero local emissions.”

People now have to decide, from a buying perspective, whether they want to help contribute to the fight against climate change, or they enjoy the rumble of their engines and the smell of diesel or petrol.

Dr Sanjay Kuttan, chairman, Sustainable Infrastructure Committee, Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore

Small companies, schools have to adjust

Dr Sanjay Kuttan, chairman of the Sustainable Infrastructure Committee of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, owns a plug-in hybrid that he has been driving for more than two years.

Oil company Shell began introducing charging points at some fuel stations last year, and Kuttan said he usually leaves his car to charge at a station near his home, before returning to pick it up after dinner. The main barrier to greater EV adoption is infrastructure, and the increase in charging points will soothe anxiety over running out of power before reaching a charging point, he said.

“People now have to decide, from a buying perspective, whether they want to help contribute to the fight against climate change, or they enjoy the rumble of their engines and the smell of diesel or petrol,” Kuttan said.

Power generation sources matter

Small and medium enterprises, as well as education institutions, will have to adjust as internal combustion engine vehicles are gradually phased out worldwide.

Car parts suppliers will have to source for different types of parts, and mechanics who are not due to retire in the near future will have to start learning about electrical systems, Kuttan said. Schools should equip students with the next wave of capabilities around electrification technologies, he added.

According to the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2019 report, governments could fund research and innovation on advanced lithium-ion and solid-state battery technologies. Solid-state batteries offer advantages such as higher energy density and are less flammable and safer.

Governments should also regulate the design of automotive batteries and how they are managed at the end of life, so that materials are recovered. 

The report added that the biggest emissions reduction potential over the life cycle of EVs is in the decarbonisation of power generation systems. Singapore relies on natural gas to generate 95 per cent of its electricity and is looking to increase its solar capacity to at least 2 gigawatt-peak by 2030.

Emissions savings are significantly higher for electric cars used in countries where the power generation mix is dominated by low-carbon sources, and the average fuel consumption of internal combustion engine vehicles is high, the IEA said. In countries where the power generation mix is dominated by coal, very efficient internal combustion engine vehicles, such as hybrid vehicles, exhibit lower emissions than EVs, which draw electricity from the pollutive power grid. 

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