Bhutan is a champion of the earth. This is from the past initiatives and policies we put in place to conserve our environment. If the electric vehicle project in the country had picked up smoothly, it would have been another feather in our cap. But the road to electric vehicles in the country is paved with many speed bumps.
Nearly seven years after we first initiated an electric vehicle (EV) project to reduce dependency on fossil fuel, emission of harmful greenhouse gases and move towards clean energy that we are blessed with, the project has screeched to a stop. The latest project aimed at replacing 300 fuel driven taxis in the country. The initiative is attractive. Those wanting to go electric get a subsidy of 20 percent of the cost of the EV, 70 percent loan funding, which means only 10 percent of the cost has to be paid upfront.
The project, Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport System, comes to an end this year. However, there is not much to show. The Covid-19 pandemic became the biggest hurdle, but there are more than disruptions in trade that is putting the brakes on the EV initiative. Given our topography and road infrastructure, there are only limited places where EV could function smoothly even with the latest EV technology. If we are to promote EV, we need political will more than anything and justifications to convince the public.
This had not happened. There are more controversies than EVs in the country. We started on a wrong footing by importing second hand EVs and not putting required infrastructure like charging stations in place. Above all, the government failed to lead by example while they were good at preaching and not practicing.
Since the initiative of going electronic, the government had not practiced what it preached when trying to convince people to go electric. The discrepancies in the figure of EVs imported is a good example. The data on EVs imported so far is as confusing as the various half-hearted initiatives. According to one record, between 2017 and 2020, Bhutan imported 437 EVs. Others say about 128 EVs were imported so far. It is a confusion galore depictive of the EV initiative.
What is clear is that the EV initiative, if it is to succeed, needs more time, energy and resources. In the same period, Bhutan imported 412,775 motor vehicles. If EV initiatives failed to attract Bhutanese, the government who initiated the EV projected failed miserably. According to one record, the government had purchased only nine EVs in five years, from 2017 to 2021. They had not led by example as bigger SUVs were too good to resist. Taxi drivers are waiting for the government to buy EVs as “pool vehicles”. For them, it is the barometer to go electric.
Going by the current trend, it would be futile to pursue EV initiative. Those who choose EVs whether through the subsidies or knowing the merits of having an EV as the second or third car, are complaining of infrastructure, especially charging stations. A World Bank report estimated that at least 648 normal charging stations would be needed across the country. We have less than half a dozen as of now.
If we are serious with EVs, we need to do more, starting with a serious department or division to look into a good policy. By next weekend, only two employees on contract at the communication ministry would be looking after the country’s EV initiative. The road is clear where we are heading!