Oped

Revving up

  • It’s time to bid adieu to the internal combustion engine
- Gaurab Raj Pandey

Feb 10, 2019-

There is little doubt that air quality in Kathmandu is getting worse. And with traffic congestion increasing every year and perpetual fuel and energy shortages—transportation and mobility in the rapidly urbanising valley is only going to become more cumbersome.

One solution to these problems is to transition to the electric vehicles. Though the transition will certainly be challenging, it is necessary to consider its requisites.

This transition is necessary also keeping in mind the increasing level of air pollution in the Valley. It is no secret that Kathmandu has already reached risky levels of air pollution and emission from the rising number of vehicles. This has emerged as one of the top contributors to this health hazard that is now becoming a silent killer. Given this, electric vehicles (EV) could serve as an enticing alternative. Plug-in electric vehicles help keep a check on emissions. The drive has already started in many countries. For example, Germany—the city that made diesel vehicles the basis of much of its economic prosperity is planning to impose bans on diesel-powered vehicles in a bid to keep air quality in cities in the country within pollution limits imposed by the European Union.

Kathmandu comes under the Bagmati zone and most vehicles (around 80 percent) registered in the zones runs within the valley. As per the data by the Department of Transport Management (DoTM), the total number of vehicles registered in the Bagmati zone in fiscal year 2016/17 was 119,956, out of which there were 1405 buses, 14542 cars and jeeps, 222 microbuses and 94,751 motorcycles. In the fiscal year 2015/16 only 94,721 vehicles were registered in the Bagmati zone. And the numbers are increasing every year.

Aside from a few companies that have started assembly plants for electric vehicles (including the auto rickshaw), Nepal does not have a manufacturing plant for e-mobility-related vehicles. Our dependence on Indian automobile companies for our mobility is clear: As per my research, almost 98 percent of vehicles in Nepali roads are imported from India. By investing in electric vehicle manufacturing, we could be tapping into an emerging market in the region.

But are we ready for electric vehicles? And is it enough to simply import electric vehicles? Despite functioning on more simple technology (compared to that of Internal Combustion (IC) engines), electric vehicles have much higher efficiency, zero tailpipe emissions, and provide much-needed flexibility. Today’s electric vehicles operate at about 70 percent efficiency with load even in its worst-case scenario. IC engines have only about 20 to 30 percent.  Also, combustion engines have 2,500 parts and are designed for 10,000 hours of operation. Electric motors, on the other hand, have only three moving parts and are designed for 50,000 hours of operation. The benefits are clear: Electric vehicles require less maintenance and do not generate as much air and noise pollution as their IC counterparts.

The feasibility offered by this transition depends on how electricity is generated for running and how the city prepares for its introduction. If Nepal taps into its capacity to generate renewable energy through hydropower investment, this ambition can be supported

Technology itself is so simple that Nepal could start its own in-house production of Electric vehicles with technological tie-ups with other companies. In-house production and assembly of electric vehicles could generate employment opportunity for millions of people. Many engineering students are settling down in other developed countries in search of better opportunities and growth.

Moreover, fuel bill accounts for 14 percent of Nepal’s import expenditure. A significant amount of money is spent on importing vehicles too as we hardly manufacture any automobile in the country.  Manufacturing electric mobility system could help  solve these issues. Quite naturally then as industries will be established,  , new employment opportunities will be created saving billions of rupees the country spends annually as reliance on importing vehicles and fuels declines gradually.

While the government has made a few positive steps forward—including their decision to provide tax levitation in the import of electric vehicles—it is not enough. There are plenty of problems that affect its feasibility: the roads are filled with vehicles operating on IC,  there are no proper charging and fueling infrastructure in cities; with increasing number of electric vehicles battery deposition could be another environmental issue; and our current grid and electric distribution system is not sufficient to support e-mobility transition. But with the right intentions and persistent determination, these problems can be solved.

Many countries including India and China are moving rapidly towards electric vehicles, but we are lagging behind despite all the opportunities we have. It is important for concerned authorities to discuss the prepare sustainable and feasible city infrastructure to factor the introduction of electric vehicles in streets across the country.

Pandey is a Mechanical Engineer at Nepal Engineering Council.

Published: 10-02-2019 08:14

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