Redistributive policy

Ban on importing vehicles, a window to review the policy

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, National Agenda Committee on Transport and Logistics, presented a detailed report to the government outlining strategies that could be adopted to significantly reduce congestion and pollution in Colombo.

One of the strategies identified was to encourage the import of electric vehicles and to discourage the import of internal combustion engine vehicles.

Sheran Fernando, mobility and energy sustainability expert helping to formulate mobility policy in Sri Lanka, said the current ban on vehicle imports is the perfect time for the government to introduce the policy framework which will be in force when imports of vehicles are authorized. . This gives the industry and all players in the mobility ecosystem time to prepare for this change.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q:What is emobility and how does it promote sustainability?

A. Let’s take “e-mobility” as a synonym for electromobility. Electromobility can be defined as a transport system that does not emit carbon. It has a transport system powered by electricity and means of storing electricity on board.

Sustainability can be broadly defined as the ability to sustain or sustain over time.

To answer the question of how e-mobility promotes sustainability, one could start by considering the impact of sustainability if there is no e-mobility.

Currently, vehicles contribute over 60% of global oil consumption and over 20% of total global carbon emissions. In Sri Lanka, transport accounts for around 20% of the total carbon produced. With the world’s population increasing, if we continue to use fossil fuel-based transportation systems, we will deplete our available fuel reserves and drive carbon emissions to unsustainable levels.

Therefore, from a sustainability perspective, transport needs to be converted into zero-emission transport, i.e. e-mobility.

Converting to electric mobility alone will not be enough to make transport sustainable. The reason for this is that although moving from one place to another does not emit carbon, the energy source is often produced using fossil fuels, and this process consumes carbon. More than 40% of the total carbon generated in the world comes from the production of electricity and heat.

The sun can produce the global energy needed for a year, in the space of two hours! Therefore, electric mobility can be fully sustainable if the source of energy comes from the sun and this energy is stored and used for transport.

Q: Specifically in Sri Lanka, what are the needs identified to promote it here?

A. To answer in a broader context, transport accounts for 20% of total greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the import of fuel for transport amounts to approximately 4 billion dollars per year. Petroleum import is our main import, amounting to about 7 billion US dollars per year.

Of the 20% of total GHG emissions from transport, it is roughly estimated that 80% of these are created in the city of Colombo. Therefore, if we can have green transportation in the city of Colombo, we have made a significant dent in the country’s total GHG emissions.

Electrifying mobility and ensuring that motor vehicles are charged using solar energy is one step. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, National Agenda Committee on Transport and Logistics, presented a detailed report to the government outlining strategies that could be adopted to significantly reduce congestion and pollution in Colombo.

Some of the strategies identified were; encouraging the import of electric vehicles and discouraging the import of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles; the application of EU6 emission standards (to reduce emissions from ICE vehicles); digitized traffic management and incident management to ensure traffic flow; modernizing public transport, including a network of electric buses to operate in the city; demand management strategies such as in-town charging stations, emissions taxes, etc., and discouraging private vehicles and encouraging shared mobility solutions (so that the number of vehicles needed can be reduced , thereby reducing congestion and making transport more efficient)

Many of these strategies are mentioned in Sri Lanka’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted at the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow in 2021.

These strategies, if adopted simultaneously, enable us to significantly reduce total GHG emissions in Sri Lanka.

Q:What is the situation in Sri Lanka in terms of emobility?

A:The problem with electric mobility in Sri Lanka is that policies have been stop-start in nature. Around 2015, a large tax incentive was given for importing electric vehicles, and more than 7,000 vehicles were imported in a very short time.

However, this policy was reversed and the continued importation of electric vehicles was unsustainable. This has caused a delay in the development of charging infrastructure. There was an import control issue in place which prevented the importation of replacement lithium-ion batteries for vehicles imported into Sri Lanka. The owners of these vehicles were faced with many constraints. This has led to an overall loss of confidence in electric vehicles in Sri Lanka.

Currently, no e-mobility program has been announced. However, the president said that when the vehicle import ban is lifted, only electric vehicles will be imported. The NDCs for COP26 are also very favorable to e-mobility. Therefore, there is cautious optimism about the rapid adoption of e-mobility in Sri Lanka.

Q: Sri Lanka’s current electricity generation comes from 60% fossil fuels. Given Sri Lanka’s current energy crisis, there are priority areas where electricity supply needs to be provided and with the currency crisis, it has been difficult to obtain fossil fuels. In such a situation, how can electric mobility be a viable solution in Sri Lanka?

A. Again, I’m answering your question, which is very important, in a larger context. I said that the sun produces the world’s energy for an entire year, in just two hours. Sri Lanka is blessed with abundant solar energy. We have long days and lots of sunshine.

As the world focuses on controlling the growth of GHG emissions, they choose to reduce reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation. Many countries embrace the three Ds; digitalization, decentralization and decarbonization of their electricity production as a strategy.

This strategy allows the grid to bring in more and more renewable energy. The downward trend in the prices of battery energy storage systems (BESS) makes it possible to store solar energy.

Exploring these strategies will not only reduce our GHG emissions, but also our dependence on oil imports, which amounts to US$7 billion per year.

A situation where every home is energy neutral by harvesting solar power and storing it through BESS and using the grid only for backup power or for surge power is now a possibility.

Each house can generate electricity through rooftop solar panels and earn income from the electricity generated. The key is BESS. It will truly unleash the ability of the sun to power the world.

Q: Due to the currency crisis and import restrictions in Sri Lanka, how can we develop infrastructure and implement emobility programs in Sri Lanka in an affordable way?

A. This is another very interesting question that challenges policy makers. Once again, one must identify the reason for the currency crisis and adopt corrective strategies.

The currency crisis does not appear to be the product of the Easter Sunday tragedy, nor the pandemic, nor the current government’s tax cuts. The cause of this strikes me as decades of fiscal and trade deficits, which were met by debt financing, pointing to the need for structural change.

Considering the currency crisis, the importation of vehicles cannot be expected to occur in 2022 or even 2023. With a vehicle fleet of over 7 million registered vehicles, a detailed assessment of needs is needed to determine if we need more vehicles, and if the available road infrastructure can support an increasing vehicle fleet.

Steps can be taken to improve fleet efficiency, by encouraging the use of shared mobility solutions, such as Uber and PickMe.

A study in Ann Arbor, Michigan found that a shared fleet could provide instant access to a vehicle using 15% of the total private fleet today. Another study conducted in Zurich revealed that if waiting times of up to 10 minutes for a shared fleet vehicle were acceptable, a reduction of up to 90% of the current total fleet could be possible without active management of the fleet, such as fleet redistribution. Private cars had an average usage rate of 4%, which research suggests could be increased to 40% if autonomy is combined with carpooling.

Emission standards can be increased and the use of biofuel additives to reduce carbon emissions can be adopted. Emissions testing may also be introduced for all registered vehicles, with non-compliant vehicles being taken off the road while demand management may be introduced. Green funds could be obtained to create a network of electric city buses offering commuters a positive travel experience, in order to encourage the use of public transport.

Q:What are the government policies and support to promote it in Sri Lanka?

A. E-mobility is a shift from the current mobility system to something new. Alongside this change, there must also be a move from owned mobility solutions to shared mobility solutions.

The key factor in creating this change successfully is to implement multifaceted policies simultaneously, as recommended by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce report. This will propel the transition to e-mobility, and this transition is necessary if we are to meet the commitments we have made to reduce the increase in GHG emissions.

The ban on vehicle imports is the perfect time for the government to introduce the policy framework that will be in place when vehicle imports are permitted. This gives the industry and all players in the mobility ecosystem time to prepare for this change.

Sri Lanka may be an early adopter, and the private sector-led policy recommendations appear to have been accepted by the government. It is hoped that the government will implement these policies and lead to their adoption.