Electric vehicle adoption charging ahead

Electric vehicle adoption charging ahead

With greatly improved range and a widening charging network, modern electric vehicles are becoming practical motoring propositions

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Traffic snarls are a common occurence in any highly urbanised environment like Singapore. Increased use of EVs can help reduce exhaust emissions and air pollution. Photo: Shutterstock

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Traffic snarls are a common occurence in any highly urbanised environment like Singapore. Increased use of EVs can help reduce exhaust emissions and air pollution. Photo: Shutterstock

If the state of Electric Vehicle (EV) adoption in Singapore could be summed up in one word, that word would – until recently – have been “lacking”.

According to Land Transport Authority data, in 2016, there were only 12 EVs on Singapore roads. One factor that contributed to the poor adoption rate was the lack of infrastructure. In 2016, the country had 100 EV charging points.

READ: Legislation and the push for cleaner vehicles in Singapore

Early-generation EVs also lacked useful range – often measured in tens of kilometres – as battery technology had not matured sufficiently. Early adopters were faced with a double whammy – a lack of range and charging stations – that made the daily commute a major exercise in range-anxiety management.

However, newer EVs that offer longer range, and other infrastructure and technological developments, are changing perceptions and altering the state of play, and the numbers are testament to this.

In 2017, the number of EVs on our roads increased to 314, and in 2018, the EV population rose to 560 – a stunning increase in percentage terms.

TIP OF THE ELECTRIC SPEAR

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Diesel power is the mainstay of Singapore's public transportation bus and taxi fleet, for now. Recent moves by players like Grab and ComforDelGro to buy EVs and hybrids look set to herald a change in the status quo. Photo: Shutterstock

This shift away from fossil fuels seems to be gathering momentum in Singapore. For instance, in May 2018, when ComfortDelgro added new taxis to its fleet for the first time in almost one-and-a-half years, it bought 200 new Hyundai Ioniq Hybrids.

While these hybrid models still run on petrol, their engines are assisted by electric motors. The result? They use significantly less petrol than a comparable car, validating electricity’s ability to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

The Ioniq is also available as an EV, which means it dispenses with the internal combustion engine altogether. ComfortDelGro began trials with this model last year. In January, it annnounced that it is expanding its EV trials with the other EV in Hyundai’s lineup, the Kona Electric.

Mr V A Moorthy, one of a handful of ComfortDelGro drivers participating in the trial, described it as an "awesome" experience. A ComfortDelGro driver for 18 years, he had previously driven a diesel-engined taxi.

"It is very quiet and smooth and I find that the safety features are very good. I feel very comfortable behind the wheel. I don't have a noisy engine.

"In the past, when I topped up diesel, I could smell the diesel, which I don’t like. Now with an EV, I just plug in and enjoy the atmosphere. There's no more smell of oil."

Mr Moorthy added that he drives about 280km to 290km per shift. At the end of each shift, the car has about a 35-per-cent charge. He and his night-shift driver charge the car to 80 per cent capacity after their shifts.

"This takes about one hour and I use the time to clean? the vehicle and take a short break."

Grab’s recent purchase of 200 Hyundai Kona Electrics takes things further. The ride-hailing firm has been progressively introducing the EV into its fleet since January and this move may be the spark that ignites widespread EV adoption here.

“We feel that it is the right time to introduce a mass-market platform like this. The technology has improved to the point that it has become viable to be used on the private-hire vehicle scale,” GrabRentals Singapore’s head Kau Yi Ming told the press.

The company is rolling out a scheme that gives Grab EV drivers a 30-per-cent discount on charging rates. This will help bring down the already low costs of operating an EV, to the point where Mr Kau estimates that EV drivers will spend up to 70-per-cent less on energy costs than their colleagues who use petrol-engined cars.

Grab driver Ronal Goh has been using a Hyundai Kona Electric. He found the EV? considerably cheaper to refuel than the petrol-engined car he had previously been using.

“Because I drive every day, I used to spend about S$350 per week on petrol. With an EV, I spend between S$90 and S$100 per week recharging it. On a full charge, I can sometimes exceed 500km (Hyundai states that the car's official range is up to 482km).”

SENSE FOR SINGAPORE

Technology has played a huge part in this sudden growth in the EV market. Lithium-ion polymer batteries that offer greater storage capacity and can be charged faster are being produced in larger quantities. This reduces costs significantly, making it easier for manufacturers to incorporate them into electrified vehicles.

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A computer-generated image of the lithium-ion polymer battery pack used in the Hyundai Ioniq Electric. Lithium-ion batteries offer several advantages over other technologies like nickel metal hydride batteries, such as lighter weight and faster charging times. Photo: Hyundai

According to the United States Department of Energy, the median range of EVs increased from 73 miles (117km) in 2011 to 125 miles (201km) in 2018, an increase of 71 per cent.

Some newer models offer even greater range. For example, according to Hyundai’s figures, its Kona Electric (Long Range) model has a range of 482km. This translates to real-world practicality. It could, for instance, travel the length of Singapore’s coastline (193km) a little over two times on a single charge.

In addition to the improved range modern EVs offer, Singapore’s charging-station network is being expanded.

For instance, SP Group introduced 38 new charging points last year, with half of that number being fast-charging ports. These high-powered chargers can complete a charge in around 30 minutes, in comparison to the few hours a regular charger takes.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

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Mr Wong Kim Yin, group chief executive officer of SP Group (left), and Mr Manohar Khiatani, deputy group CEO of Ascendas-Singbridge Group (right), demonstrating a high-speed electric vehicle charging point. Singapore's rapidly expanding charging network is starting to make EV ownership a practical proposition in Singapore. Photo: Ascendas-Singbridge Group

SP Group’s move is just the first wave in the firm’s ambitious plan to scale up the availability of charging points exponentially. By 2020, it plans to have built 1,000 EV charging points, and moves like this are good news for EV owners, operators and manufacturers.

“By developing Singapore’s largest and fastest electric vehicle charging network, it will enable greater adoption of electric vehicles, helping our customers to go green, while saving energy and cost," SP Group CEO Wong Kim Yin said.

SP isn’t the only player in the EV-infrastructure game. Greenlots, a US-based company specialising in EV charging and energy management software and solutions, has 200 charging stations in Singapore. Its recent acquisition by Shell signals the growing importance of EV-charging in the near future.

Besides its existing network of charging stations, Greenlots is also collaborating with ComfortDelGro to introduce more fast-charging stations.

This steep growth in charging-station availability means EVs have never been more viable, and other major fleet operators have also been quick to capitalise.

BlueSG, a subscription-based electric car-sharing company, has promised a 1,000-EV strong fleet by 2020 while taxi-operator HDT will run at least 800 EVs in its fleet by 2022.

The increasing popularity of electrified taxis and shared cars should be a boon for other EV car owners. A rise in the EV population can be expected to lead to an increase in supporting infrastructure, further fuelling EV adoption here.

AN ELECTRIC DAWN

What does this improved technology and wider infrastructure mean for EV owners? The opportunity, at last, to bid farewell to range anxiety.

But perhaps the most important factor is how a more advanced EV’s driving range is now practically a match for that of a petrol car, and certainly enough to make range anxiety a thing of the past. Looking at the Hyundai Kona Electric’s long-distance abilities, it’s clear that the EV is set to go very far in more ways than one.

READ: More about the future of motoring in Singapore

Visit Hyundai Singapore to find out more about its range of EVs, hybrids and petrol-engined cars.

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