World EV Day today (September 9) marks the celebration of EV ownership worldwide, as we collectively work towards a zero-emission future. Asia, as one of the fastest-growing regions where greenhouse gas emissions are rising rapidly, will have a critical role to play in the next decade ahead.

Yet, for many of us, September 9 is about a much-anticipated online shopping festival, which will see exclusive e-commerce deals being pushed out across Asia. This highlights one of the biggest dilemmas for the region. Amidst rising affluence and the onset of ‘fast’ everything–from fashion to consumer electronics, how can we still act decisively on climate change?

As the window to mitigating the worst effects of global warming rapidly narrows, Asian governments are now setting their sights on burgeoning green industries like e-mobility. Countries from Singapore to Indonesia and Japan have rolled out bold climate action plans, with the shift to e-mobility forming a critical pillar. Singapore, for one, rolled out tax incentives, stricter emission rules, and a recent grant to scale up EV charging stations in residential areas. With a multi-pronged strategy, the city-state has seen some success, as its EV population rises to reach almost 2,000 units in July this year, up by 39 percent from the end of 2020. Globally, there are now over 10 million EVs on the roads, following a decade of rapid growth that also saw EVs contravene the worldwide downturn in car sales at the height of the pandemic in 2020 (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: “Global electric vehicle stock by region, 2010-2020” (Source: IEA)
Figure 1: Global electric vehicle stock by region, 2010-2020 (Source: IEA)

World EV Day today is not just an opportunity to celebrate these milestones, but also a time to look back on the e-mobility journey, re-evaluate our progress thus far, and peek into what lies ahead.

A bumpy start to the EV revolution

In the earlier days of the EV revolution, some were concerned about the true environmental impact of EVs, after factoring in the higher carbon footprint of its manufacturing process and our fossil fuel-powered electricity grids.

However, there is now a growing body of evidence pointing to the positive climate impact of EVs. In 95 percent of the world today, EVs are still cleaner than fossil fuel alternatives–regardless of their electricity source. Moreover, while the manufacturing of an EV generates higher emissions than that of an automobile, studies found that this is eventually offset by EVs’ superior energy-efficiency.

The current general consensus is that EVs will only get cleaner and greener with time; alongside rapid technological advancements, and the decarbonization of electricity grids. ASEAN, for instance, is expected to see its renewable capacity nearly double by 2025. Clearly, we are on track to unlocking the full green potential of EVs.

With EVs now seen as a catalyst for sustainability, world governments have announced ambitious targets for EV adoption. An increasing number of automobile manufacturers are also entering the industry to offer a wider range of models at more accessible prices. Now, we are set to fast-track the shift to e-mobility and pave the way towards a zero-emission future.

A status update: Transitioning to an electrified future

While the battle to acknowledge the green impact of EVs has been won, consumer buy-in is still one of the biggest obstacles to widespread EV adoption. In the electrification drive today, one persistent hurdle remains: the lack of convenient and accessible EV charging infrastructure.

We know that only when infrastructure becomes available does take-up really follow. Yet, building up the necessary infrastructure is often a long and time-consuming process. The solution here has been to seamlessly integrate charging infrastructure to existing petrol stations.

Present in every neighborhood and city across the globe, and strategically located according to driving patterns, petrol stations can play a key role in creating a convenient network of EV charging stations.

To successfully execute such a strategy, the public and private sectors will have to work closely together. For instance, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand recently worked with ABB and PTG Energy to install EV chargers at petrol stations along main highway routes. Elsewhere, Japan embarked on its first-ever pilot for EV charging on public roads, in partnership with a consortium of seven private companies including automobile manufacturers like Toyota and Nissan. The advent of fast chargers has also allayed one of the consumer’s misconceptions on the extended time required for EV charging. EVs can now be charged from zero to 80 percent within 20-30 minutes, making a quick recharge en route easy and convenient.

Such robust public-private collaborations are helping countries to rapidly scale up their public EV charging network, laying the groundwork for EVs to truly take off in Asia.

The road ahead

We must now gear up for the next phase in the e-mobility journey as EV adoption accelerates. Looking ahead, as the world faces a growing e-waste problem, concerns about how EV batteries will contribute to this challenge have emerged.

To address this, the EV industry has started building up its capabilities for recycling lithium-ion batteries. Automobile manufacturers like Tesla and BYD have set up battery recycling services, while Singapore this year opened a new facility that will recycle up to 14 tonnes of batteries. Furthermore, retired EV batteries have significant after-life use as stationary energy storage systems, which can store renewable energy or serve as backup power.

Regulations will also have a crucial role to play in building circularity into the EV industry. In this aspect, Singapore is one country that is leading the way. Earlier this July, Singapore implemented a regulated e-waste management system, which requires companies in the EV supply chain to be responsible for the collection and recycling of end-of-life batteries.

As we make the shift into an electrified future, agility will be key to addressing new challenges as they unfold. We will need to continuously innovate and push new frontiers in EV and battery technology to stay on this course.

Driving change for a safe and sustainable future

We have made great strides in the transition to e-mobility but securing a zero-emission future will be no small feat; and no government, business, or consumer can achieve it alone. As we come together in celebration of e-mobility today, we must also reaffirm our individual commitments to writing a safe, smart, and sustainable future. Only when we work together will we be able to drive change and chart a new, greener path forward.

Kumail Rashid is the E-mobility Division Lead for ABB in Asia Pacific, based in Singapore.

Having joined ABB in 2008, Kumail has held numerous senior roles across engineering, sales and regional business development.

For the last five years, he has been instrumental in supporting the development of the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry in New Zealand and Singapore, working alongside government and industry organizations to set the direction in EV strategy and policy.

Kumail has been invited to deliver keynote speeches on the trends and applications of EV charging for vehicles, public transport and heavy vehicles at global and Asia Pacific conferences. Kumail holds conjoint bachelor’s degrees in Engineering (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) and Commerce (Marketing) from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

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