Are electric vehicles solution to Kathmandu’s traffic congestionExperts say Nepal should start considering different options for long drives and mass transportation before it’s too late.
At COP26 held in November 2021, over 100 national governments and major businesses signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets in 2040 worldwide.
At least 13 countries have signed a similar memorandum of understanding to end the sale of fossil fuel-powered heavy-duty vehicles by 2040.
China last year had promised 50 percent of new car sales would be a battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel-cell powered by 2035.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Markets Initiative announced on COP26 the pledges of 28 companies to drive growth in the demand for, and supply of, hydrogen.
Zero-emission vehicles could include either a plug-in electric vehicle or a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.
Nepal too plans to switch to light electric vehicles by 2031 as fossil fuel import balloons.
Nepal's budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 has also emphasised that “Nepal plans to shift from light vehicles that run on petroleum products to electric ones by 2031” and announced a strategic plan to lower fuel imports and the concomitant pollution.
The budget has also announced that companies of the world's top ten brands will be attracted to set up their plants to manufacture and assemble electric vehicles. Tax subsidies would be offered and land on the lease would be provided to make Nepal attractive for such companies.
Experts say the move appears to be well-intentioned in the wake of rising pollution and ballooning trade deficit, which is primarily due to the import of petroleum products.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics report released in 2019, Nepal’s gasoline consumption almost doubled in the last five years, leading to a yawning trade deficit and environmental consequences.
Nepalis consumed 90 percent more fuel than they did five years ago and petroleum products are the largest single imported commodity in terms of value every year.
The country’s demand for petroleum products has increased 10 percent annually despite the regular supply of electricity since 2017, said Nepal Oil Corporation.
Experts said that the move taken by the government is good, but the problem does not end here.
Nepal has seen its middle-class population thrive. Based on the import trend in the last few years, the demand for private vehicles has increased significantly.
The increased number of vehicles means more traffic congestion in the years to come.
The initiative taken by the government might help people shift to electric vehicles from fossil-fueled but it will not stop the increasing number of vehicles on the road.
The number of vehicles on the road is increasing by 14 percent annually and 70-80 percent of vehicles on the road consist of two-wheelers, Bhusan Tuladhar, an environmentalist, told the Post.
Electric cars are also not the solution to the ongoing traffic congestion, he said. "Until and unless we have cars as a major means of transport, pollution or traffic problems are not going to be solved,'' he added.
“So we need to look at more efficient modes of transport,” he said. "Clean public transport needs to be promoted."
Charging stations and uninterrupted power supply are a must for public electric transport, Tuladhar said.
Air pollution in the dry seasons—November to June—worsens every year.
A study conducted by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in 2017 found that about 35 percent of diesel-powered vehicles in Kathmandu Valley emit a visible plume of black smoke, contributing substantially to the ambient pollution.
Experts said that the government should invest in public electric transportation and charging stations.
Electric public buses are very costly—more than three times than diesel and petrol vehicles, Tuladhar said.
The government has been levying 10-40 percent customs duty on an electric vehicle depending on the power capacity, including 13 percent VAT and refuse-derived fuel tax, for fuel produced from combustible components.
While the shift to electric vehicles is one of the major ways to cut down on pollution, companies have also been trying hydrogen-fuelled vehicles as it can be an alternative option for an electric vehicle.
Utilising surplus electricity at a subsidised rate, Nepal can produce hydrogen at a cost of $1 per kg, said academicians and researchers engaged in Green Hydrogen Lab funded by Nepal Oil Corporation.
Hydrogen fuel can be used to replace petrol, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and coal. It can even power hydrogen generators for electrification and utilisation that run on fossil fuels.
“But it will take time to come as we do not have a vehicle to use hydrogen fuel. There is no policy and environment to use it,” said Tuladhar. Hydrogen fuel is definitely fuel for the future but there are still challenges in terms of how it is generated and stored.
“We might not have to import hydrogen as generated electricity is used to make hydrogen. It is a technology we need to keep an eye on and do research,” Tuladhar said.
“It might take some years to use hydrogen fuel commercially,” Tuladhar said.
The hydrogen-fueled vehicles have not come into use that much globally as well, he added. Before bringing new technology, it requires research, trial, commercial utilization and it goes into the application. Technical, financial, social, and safety feasibility also need to be examined.
According to the Trade and Export Promotion Center, Nepal imported transport vehicles and spare parts worth Rs123.62 billion in the last fiscal year ending mid-July 2021.
Biraj Singh Thapa, assistant professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Kathmandu University, who is also the team leader of Green Hydrogen Lab said, “It is not about feasibility, it is when we start implementing it.”
Thapa said there is no option other than a hydrogen-fueled vehicle for long drives and heavy transportation. Hydrogen fueled vehicles are not different from electric.
“We need to start working on it. We have to produce and store it,” Thapa said.
The production of hydrogen fuel is economically feasible and environmentally sustainable.
It will help to reduce fossil fuel dependency, said academicians and researchers.
Producing 1 kg of hydrogen fuel requires approximately 50 units of electricity, and it allows a car to run for 60-70 km depending on the condition. This is comparable to diesel in terms of efficiency and cost, said Thapa.
The budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 has abolished excise duty on the import of electric vehicles and reduced customs duty from 40 to 10 percent to increase the internal consumption of electricity and promote the use of environment-friendly means of transportation.
“Despite the government providing subsidies on electric vehicles, they are still expensive compared to fossil-fueled vehicles,” said Ashish Gajurel, a transport and road expert.
When the upfront investment is high, people are still not attracted to electric vehicles. There is no infrastructure to use it, said Gajurel, the executive director of the Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board.
"This is the reason why people lack confidence in electric vehicles."
Sajha Yatayat brought public electric vehicles a few years ago but it did not become successful due to the lack of infrastructure, Gajurel said.
Around 1.4 million vehicles are on the road in Kathmandu Valley so the major source of pollution in the capital is vehicles, Gajurel said. "To control traffic congestion, electric mass transportation will be useful," said Gajurel.