Electric vehicles in Bhutan

The future of cars is electric. Governments and municipal authorities in many countries are speeding up this trend with various incentives and programs. It is surely time for Bhutan to follow suit. Presently, besides sales tax and customs duty exemption, Bhutan does not have any long-term electric vehicle policy.

According to a study by the University of California, Berkeley, “Depending on the future price of oil and the relative purchase price of internal combustion engine vehicles, electric cars are predicted to account for 64-86% of new light-vehicle sales by 2030 (in the US)”. In Bhutan, the percentage could be even higher if the government policy is made more favourable.

Here are compelling reasons why Bhutan should promote electric vehicles:

Big savings for individual car owners

The cost of running Reva electric car in Bhutan is said to be Nu. 0.40 per Km as against around Nu. 5.00 per Km for a regular car. That is about 12 times more economical than a regular car. That indicates that even for bigger electric cars, the savings will be very significant. If you spend around Nu. 4000.00 a month on fuel for your regular car, it could come down to Nu. 500.00 or less with an electric car. In terms of real energy usage, the Department of Energy’s fifteen-month trial of Reva in Bhutan shows an average of 17.89kWh/100km over the test period compared to the LandCruiser’s 150kWh/100km or more.

Bhutan’s urban landscape is ideal for electric car use

As per the Statistical Yearbook of Bhutan 2011, 89.5% of the 53,988 vehicles in the country in 2010 were registered in Thimphu and Phuentsholing. These vehicles ply mostly in major urban settlements like Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing which are small in area and relatively close to one another so that commutation by electric vehicles within and between these places would be practically possible. Moreover, most urban dwellers’ commutation happens within a city and long distance travel is rare. But even long distance travels within Bhutan which has east-west aerial distance of about 350 Km and north-south aerial distance of about 150 Km, would not be a problem if charging stations or battery swapping stations are located at strategic locations along the national highways.

Availability of 100% green and low-priced domestically generated power

Bhutan is a country known for earning much of its revenue from the export of 100% green power generated from its fast-flowing rivers. Also, the power for domestic consumption is very reasonably priced, while the price of 100% import dependent petroleum fuels goes on increasing. So, the promotion of electric vehicles in the country should come as a no brainer given that the cost of power is about 25% that of neighboring India.

Trade deficit with India compounded by import of petroleum products

“Bhutan’s trade deficit with India has more than tripled in the last fiscal, accounting for about 18.2% of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of a surge in the country’s imports from India against its exports. During the period, the country’s trade deficit, which is the surplus of imports over its exports, increased from Nu 4.9bn to Nu 15.2bn”, Business Bhutan reported in January 2012.

Motor spirit (gasoline) including aviation spirit accounted for Nu. 969.20 Million worth of imports that equaled 8.18% of the total imports in 2010, as per the Statistical Yearbook of Bhutan 2011. This amount can come down drastically over the years and improve Bhutan’s balance of trade with India if Bhutan promotes electric car usage.

The University of California’s study found that U.S oil imports in 2030 under the electric vehicle deployment scenarios would be 18-38% lower than the scenario of improved internal combustion engine fuel efficiency, equivalent to 2.0-3.7 million barrels per day.

Creation of employment opportunities

Thunder Motors, a new company to be based in Thimphu TechPark’s Business Innovation & Incubation Centre, specializes in electric vehicles, has plans to set up an assembly plant for electric vehicles in Bhutan soon. That would create a lot of jobs. In addition, many jobs will be created in the construction, operation, and maintenance of a domestic charging infrastructure network. According to Mr. Tashi Wangchuk, CEO of Thunder Motors, their first batch of two electric vehicles assembled in China are due to arrive in February 2012

Good for the environment and Gross National Happiness

Since the source of power in Bhutan is 100% green, the use of electric vehicles in the country is totally environmentally friendly. Today, the ever increasing number of motor vehicles forms the major source of pollutants in the country. So, the reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases would be significant with the gradual adoption of electric cars. This goes in line with the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, as one its four pillars is environmental conservation.

Health care cost savings

According to the study by the University of California, Berkeley, “Health care cost savings stem from lower emissions of airborne pollutants. The net present value of the health impact of electric vehicle deployment to 2030 is between $105 and $210 billion when vehicles are charged using non-polluting sources of electricity.” In Bhutan’s context too, the savings would be substantial given the fact that Bhutan’s major pollutants are cars and that the health care system places a very heavy burden on the government exchequer.

Bhutan has led the way in helping the world to recognize the virtues of the adoption of the GNH concept. We can now be world leaders in adopting new technologies which are cheaper to run, better for our environment and fully sustainable using our natural hydro-electric resources. Thimphu TechPark (TTP) is reaching out to experts in this sphere worldwide so as to become a resource to support this change for good in Bhutan. We have installed electric vehicle charging points at TTP and are exploring use of electric vehicles for transportation to and from the Park.

Tshering Cigay Dorji, www.kuenselonline.com