Back in 2015, the then Sushil Koirala-led government announced plans to incentivise the adoption of electric vehicles throughout the country. Since then, successive governments have announced grand plans and programmes to boost the adoption of electric vehicles—both in public and private transportation. However, much like any other sector in Nepal, the plans have been slow to implement or have not been actualised at all. Consequently, the move to clean, green transportation en masse remains a distant dream at the moment. With India and China strongly moving towards renewable energy and EVs in the next decade, and with Nepal about to achieve a surplus supply of electricity for the first time in decades, the time is right for serious investment in infrastructure to promote the adoption of electric vehicles. Such a move would reduce operation costs, reduce Nepal’s import bill and contribute greatly to reducing air pollution.
Countries around the world have been moving towards promoting electric vehicles as a way to reduce emissions. This makes sense, since vehicles emit more than half of the carbon and nitrogen oxides and more than a quarter of the hydrocarbons that pollute the air. India and China in the immediate neighbourhood have already made plans to completely move away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles in the upcoming decades. China has already overtaken the US as the largest market for electric vehicles, and is also one of the largest producers of these autos. With Nepal’s two major import channels and trade partners moving towards electric vehicles, it is inevitable that the country, too, will have to take the shift seriously. However, until now, Nepal has not been able to keep its own promises with regard to pushing an electric-first strategy.
Nepal in the 1990s was at the forefront of the electric revolution; the country received wide positive coverage for running electric trolley buses and battery-powered Safa tempos in the Kathmandu Valley. Since then, however, it has been severely lagging behind the world. In 2015, when the government set the import duty for public electric vehicles at 1 percent and for private electric vehicles at 10 percent, the move triggered a flurry of imports of small public electric vehicles. These electric tuk-tuks have all but replaced ‘micro’ buses and fossil fuel-run tempos in the southern belt. However, the positive impacts of EV adoption can only be achieved if the mass urban public transport system—mainly buses—and the private transport sector are incentivised to switch. But the government has not been able to provide the right incentives.
Even though the customs relief has increased the number of electric vehicles plying the streets—300 cars as of 2018—a major challenge for mass adoption has been the lack of charging infrastructure to refuel them. The Nepal Electricity Authority had made plans to expand its charging network, but has so far not actualised it—barring a few irregular outlets. Moreover, for electric buses, the initial cost of purchase remains five times higher than that for regular buses, even with the tax breaks. The private sector will not take risks in adding charging stations or purchasing expensive buses—even though such moves would boost sales or reduce operation costs—without the number of electric vehicles growing exponentially. Only the government can, in the present scenario, invest in the infrastructure that would allow private movers an easier route to enter the market.
The Kathmandu Post