Do more to encourage uptake of electric vehicles

I was surprised to learn that, despite its established green credentials, a Tesla Model S electric car was subjected to a $15,000 carbon surcharge under the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme ("LTA reviewing Tesla case"; last Friday).

From an engineering perspective, electric vehicles (EVs) like the Model S are inherently more efficient than conventional fossil-fuel vehicles.

EVs draw their electricity from the power grid.

In effect, its propulsive power comes from large, centralised and optimised industrial generators.

This naturally yields less carbon emissions per unit of energy than the smaller and, thus, more inefficient internal combustion units within individual vehicles.

EV drivetrains also allow for the direct transmission of power from the battery pack to the motors and wheels, with very few moving parts. This minimises energy lost as heat and friction, something that traditional mechanical transmissions suffer from.

Given all of these advantages and their implications for the environment, it is perplexing that local automotive regulations have stymied what is currently the cutting edge of EVs.

Such obstacles to the uptake of EVs could have knock-on effects.

For instance, sluggish adoption of EVs could delay the introduction and proliferation of public charging stations, due to insufficient demand.

In turn, the lack of supporting infrastructure would make EVs seem less practical in the eyes of motorists, creating a vicious circle that hampers their adoption.

Society thus needs to give electric vehicles a boost.

Foremost, the Land Transport Authority should review the emissions testing framework, such that EVs are not unfairly penalised based on questionable conversion factors.

Next, we must strengthen incentives to purchase EVs.

In addition to existing tax rebates, perhaps the certificate of entitlement system could be recalibrated to include a new category, with longer tenure for full EVs and with redistributed quotas to yield more favourable pricing.

Beyond transportation, the Tesla incident calls attention to the overarching issue of power generation.

The carbon emissions conversion for EVs is skewed by Singapore's current overdependence on natural gas.

It is high time we invested in our energy landscape and begin the transition to less-pollutive power sources such as solar energy and nuclear energy.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Do more to encourage uptake of electric vehicles'. Print Edition | Subscribe