Compared to the early days of climate change denial, electric vehicles are now making serious inroads. How can we do better?

Amidst rising affluence and the onset of “fast” everything—from fashion to consumer electronics, how can we still act decisively on climate change issues?

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.

Globally, there are now over 10 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads, following a decade of 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)

EVs: cleaner and greener with time

In the earlier days of the EV revolution, some were concerned about the vehicles’ true environmental impact after factoring in the higher carbon footprint of their manufacturing process based on fossil fuel-powered electricity grids.

However, there is now a growing body of evidence pointing to the positive climate impact of EVs.

In 95% of the world today, EVs are arguably 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, some studies have 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, in tandem with 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.

Strategies for winning buy-in  

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.

Only when infrastructure becomes accessible does take-up really follow. Yet, building up the necessary infrastructure is often a long and time-consuming process. The solution has been to seamlessly integrate charging infrastructure to existing petrol stations. Present in every neighbourhood 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, such collaborations in Thailand recently coordinated the installation of EV chargers at petrol stations along main highway routes. Elsewhere, Japan has embarked on its first-ever pilot for EV charging on public roads, in partnership with a consortium of seven private companies including automobile manufacturers.

The advent of fast chargers has also allayed consumer misconceptions of the extended time required for EV charging. EVs can now be charged from zero to 80% within 30 minutes, making a quick recharge enroute 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

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

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 can recycle up to 14 tons of batteries. Furthermore, retired EV batteries have significant after-life use as stationary energy storage systems that 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, by implementing a regulated e-waste management system that mandates responsible management of batteries in the EV supply chain vendors.

As new challenges unfold, agility and continuous innovation will be key to addressing them and pushing new frontiers to stay on course.

Securing a zero-emission future will be no small feat; and no government, business or consumer can achieve it alone. Only when we work together will we be able to drive change and a chart a new, greener path forward.