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Emissions from road transport contributes to approximately 12% of total global greenhouse gas emission.(1) As countries transition from a reliance on fossil fuels to a more sustainable energy mix, EVs are seen as an effective way to introduce an electricity-based road transport infrastructure supported by the energy mix for electricity available at each stage of the transition but there are many challenges.(2) In this article, we focus on Singapore’s evolving EV ecosystem. Alex LIN from NTUitive and Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) was invited to moderate a discussion on the current challenges in EV adoption, and what is and can be done through collaboration and collective effort by stakeholders in the ecosystem. Hosted by Lounell GUETA, Chief Researcher at Hitachi Asia Singapore R&D, they were joined by Paul Welsford from the Electric Vehicle Association of Singapore (EVAS), Chee Kiong GOH from Charge+, Nirupa CHANDER from Hitachi Energy, and Mark TAN from the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore.
(The opinions and views expressed by the participants in this article are their own and do not represent the views of their organizations.)
(Published 24 December 2021)
Something very close to my heart is the outcome of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) hosted in Glasgow this past month. There was much discussion around measurement, standardisation, and verifications — which are a constant challenge with the internal combustion engine. EV technology allows for standardisation because all the information comes from a computer.
One of the inherent problems slowing EV adoption is the charging. Most of us live in a high-rise where charging points are not readily available. Many people will look to the government to set up the charging infrastructure and operate the charging stations. Mark, what is your view of the EV situation in Singapore as well as the charging situation?
EVs cut emissions by almost half compared to internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles, and as part of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, we are making a push for EVs. To encourage drivers to switch to EVs, we are increasing the affordability of EV cars by incentivising the purchase of EV vehicles with tax rebates and road tax adjustments for EVs, and also growing our charging infrastructure.
The charging infrastructure is a real chicken and egg issue; you need more chargers to encourage people to switch to EVs, but EV charging operators will require more people to purchase EVs in order to expand their charger network. Fortunately, the momentum for EV is increasing with recent adoption figures (% EVs in new car registrations) at 3 or 4 times higher as compared to previous year. LTA launched various initiatives, such as the award of the first EV charging pilot tender with URA for more than 600 charging points in 200 car parks and the launch of the EV Common Charger Grant in July, to encourage non-landed private properties like condos and apartments, to deploy chargers given that a significant portion of the early adopters of EVs resides there.
We are also making plans to deploy chargers in public housing, known as the Housing and Development Board (HDB) car parks, where about 85% of our population reside. We need to take a calibrated approach to deployment that tracks EV adoption closely — ahead of demand to drive EV adoption — but not too fast to oversaturate the market with chargers such that operators are making losses.
Nirupa, what do you think about the EV situation, especially the grid and the charging framework?
Singapore’s announcement in The Green Plan was significant to jumpstart the EV evolution. I believe it will help with EV adoption and deploying infrastructure. As I read about people’s anxiety around adopting an electric vehicle, the number one concern is whether the charge will be enough to reach their destination or range anxiety. The second biggest issue is the availability of charging stations.
LTA, Singapore Power, and Energy Market Authority need to come together to deploy the right standards and market framework for commercial and business models to deploy EV infrastructure successfully. As a technology provider, technology is not a limitation anymore — and more innovation will need to continue to happen in the space of EV charging.
It is also about changing human habits. A service provider could use technology and AI to help drivers. Chee Kiong, is that something you are considering?
I will frame EV adoption as being driven by four factors: the first would be the cost of an EV, which is higher than a conventional engine car. If you’re running a fleet of vans in Singapore, it’s now a no-brainer to change from a combustion engine fleet to an electrical fleet because of the rebates provided by LTA.
The second key factor is the perceived range anxiety. The good news is that EVs are improving and running longer distances. Today, the average range of an EV is around 400 to 500 km. The range anxiety is seen in many consumers, as they are worried about how far they can travel in one single charge.
The third key factor is the charging time. In terms of setting policy direction and mindset change, the petrol station is the current paradigm. The conventional car’s drive to the petrol station, in and out, will take around 5-10 minutes. That’s not going to be the experience when you have an EV. LTA has said that we should treat EV charging similar to charging a laptop; it relies on smooth charging over several hours. Mindset change is essential to overcome this mental barrier of a quick turnaround like a petrol station and shift the paradigm.
The fourth factor is the availability of charging stations, which is where Charge+ comes into the picture. LTA is encouraging operators like Charge+ to operate charging stations across Singapore. The visual availability of charging stations will assure people they will never run out of electricity on the road or worry about where the nearest charging station is.
Paul, please share the industry’s view. What do you see in development, and how can we increase EV adoption in Singapore?
It feels like Singapore is an ideal nation to adopt EV due to its size. It is very heartening to see this, and awareness is a massive part of it. The phrase that often comes up is chicken or the egg. It is more of a snowball effect; as you deploy EV charging, it gives people the understanding, awareness, comfort, and convenience that will make them get an EV. When the industry sees more EVs on the road, the need for charging stations increases — they should complement each other.
The hard part is getting that snowball rolling. Mindset is one of the hardest things to change. That’s why the Electric Vehicle Association of Singapore (EVAS) released an EV guide early this year. The idea is to try and break down some of those barriers for people and enable them to make informed decisions.
We’re trying to support the industry as well as all members of the EV association. And we’re pleased to see so many more people joining us and joining our social groups. We hope to do more events soon and keep sharing the information to help break down barriers.
We will move over to Lounell. In your perspective, on the topic of EV and charging, is there any technology that may potentially help push the adoption of EVs?
First, we need to know how EV adoption is going, how stakeholders are proceeding, and even with the government incentives, how long those incentives can be sustained and change the customers’ mindset. Sometimes, these signals are not obvious. So, we need to look at several factors in technology, economy, and society — among other aspects. AI and data analytics can play a significant role in gathering these signals to process them, extract insights, and eventually get political support for technologies and government initiatives.
Regarding the availability of a charging network, you don’t want to have too few or too many charging points for economic and technical reasons. Therefore, location optimisation of charging points while considering the right sizing of stations according to charging demand is necessary.
EV adoption will also accelerate with the development and deployment of complementary technology such as advancing V2X technology that enhances vehicle intelligence, for instance, by selecting safer and more comfortable transport and deploying smart charging to manage energy usage more efficiently. Further, there are recently intensified commitments with urgency to cut emissions, as seen in COP26. Therefore, solutions on battery energy storage, which cater to energy demand coming from EVs, should provide not only means for greater grid stability but, more importantly, flexibility to select renewable energy sources.
If an individual can see that he will save more, he is more likely to get an EV. What if we have enough charging stations, and the adoption is still not ideal?
I think it goes back to the four factors that Chee Kiong raised just now; cost, perceived range anxiety, charging time and availability of chargers. Are we doing enough, or is there enough momentum where the problem naturally solves itself? You can control some factors and some you can’t, such as falling battery prices and auto manufacturers’ new EV models. The auto manufacturers are pushing out 300-400 models in the next three to four years. That is going to be a game-changer.
For the sake of discussion, I think human behaviour and mindset change will take time to shift — and sometimes, people do not want to shift. But ultimately, I believe people will turn around when it affects their wallet and see EV makes more financial sense. In the long run, it will be hard to see the general population not shifting. There will be a period when the ICE, hybrid, and EV can co-exist for a long time, but natural selection will take over.
So, what about the service provider view? Nirupa, what do you think?
I think EV adoption is part of the social license as we move forward. In terms of challenges, the infrastructure is where further investment is needed. The electricity network was designed 100 years ago without considering a decentralised setup. The momentum to deploy charging infrastructure now will be at the grid’s distribution level, which is not on par with the original frameworks and the design of a centralised power grid. That requires an overhaul of regulatory frameworks for electricity market operators. For utilities like Singapore Power, they need new business models requiring more innovation in B2B technology, so there’s much work to develop this industry further and increase adoption.
LTA has a good vision for Singapore. But how do we take that and deploy it on a larger scale? It will present challenges we’ve not seen before. For example, a bus depot’s electrical infrastructure was designed for lighting loads, not Megawatt scale charging systems, so that structure needs an overhaul and capital investment. How do we pay for that, and how will it be sustainable and use complementary new technologies like solar energy?
There’s a lot to think about, and collectively in this room, we have representatives from technology, research, government, operators, and associations — we can come up with a plan together.
As seen in COP26, all governments are supposed to create a plan to be carbon neutral. It will likely become legislation that everybody must calculate how much they consume, and the only way to do it is to computerise everything, especially for business. As a service provider, what do you think?
One of the best-selling EV models in the past year was a small electric van. Most of the drivers for this van live in public housing, HDB. So, while some of the drivers park the van overnight on the company premises, most take their vans back home. Investing in EV chargers in HDB estates would therefore be key. We need to understand the whole ecosystem and invest in specific segments first.
There’s a huge convergence between power and IT that can help address many of the challenges around EV usage. When people designed a building or a car park in the past, they never imagined the need for EV charging infrastructure. The power supply in an average building won’t have enough circuit breakers if we want 15% of the lots in each car park to have EV chargers. It is a massive infrastructure challenge for Singapore. And the government is trying to address it on many fronts, which is where technology and AI can play a role.
Hogging by inconsiderate EV drivers is another challenge. For instance, a vehicle finishes charging in 3 hours, but the car continues to occupy the parking space. The charger is now available, but the car park has no parking space to access the charging ports. Hogging reduces asset utilisation and creates a problem. To address hogging, we can use software and IT to change behaviour and encourage smart scheduling and reservations. The hogging issue presents opportunities for Hitachi and other companies because there is software involved — including AI. Charge+ is working on some of this software and will be rolling it out progressively in the coming six months.
Considering all the issues Chee Kiong mentioned, what do you see around charging and EV adoption from an association standpoint?
The mission is to match the charging requirements to the vehicles’ needs. Fundamentally, we know on average how many miles and how many kilometres a driver in Singapore drives. From there, we have a rough idea of how much energy it takes.
Our 2040 vision is that every single vehicle in Singapore is 100% electric. How many terawatt-hours of energy is needed every single year for all those vehicles? How do we provide enough power to those vehicles throughout the year if everyone drives slightly differently? How do we match the charging points with the actual drivers?
We need a better understanding of how the whole system works together because we are not only talking about electricity distribution, we are also talking about energy generation. Singapore is moving towards renewable energy sources. Renewable energies are known to be intermittent, not constant, which will create challenges. We need to be able to collaborate and look for opportunities for optimisation.
There are many players in this space: from the power to the locations, to the system, to the block, to the grid, to the software, service providers, and even FinTech. Do we have enough players to start working?
I think there needs to be further investment in technology and research development, and expansions of people working in these different areas to work together. We’ve got enough people to get started, for sure.
We have all the right players gathered across the value chain such as charging operators, automotive OEMs, charging equipment OEMs to kickstart our EV transition. As EV adoption scales up, we also need to consider other parts of the ecosystem across the entire EV lifecycle, such as aftermarket to maintain the population of EVs and charging infrastructure, and EV battery end-of-life to ensure proper disposal or re-purposing.
There’s an opportunity for somebody to develop AI software to help navigate charging stations and find the cheapest charge. Swinging back over to Lounell, what is the future of EV technology?
I think the future of EV technology is vibrant. Charging points can have additional functions such as collecting data about the battery, the vehicle, the customer’s profile or how they use the terminal. This data is vital to accurately predict charging and energy usage demand and profile the most probable customers to drive EV sales.
From the viewpoint of EV users, they still have anxiety about using unfamiliar charging cables and plug types. If all the cables were similar, it would give them more confidence when charging. In fact, wireless charging may be a viable solution to this problem. Another concern is knowing where the next charging point is and giving customers enough information to get them to their destination. That kind of technology has to provide actionable insights and suggestions to the users.
Moreover, EVs are reliant on the vehicle’s battery capacity and performance. So, we will see a lot of innovation in batteries — from design, monitoring, and diagnosis to extending its life. Finally, we will see a lot of convergence of vehicular technologies providing connectedness and autonomy to these electric vehicles.
We will shift to the business side. From the service provider perspective, if the government is not providing grants, what will you do? Is it still viable?
We want to capture the EV opportunities in Singapore now. We are ready to make investments into owning and operating EV chargers. The grants will help, but it is not a prerequisite. I think it’s a long-term play.
Things like grants are not enablers, but they are accelerators. They allow markets to get started quickly.
That’s an excellent point. Do you think an external investor would push adoption faster?
I agree with what was said earlier. We’re not here for the grants. Grants will help with initial EV adoption, improved technology, use cases, and all those kinds of things. But at the end of the day, what needs to happen is that the commercial technology needs to be commercially viable in order to drive market adoption. Electrical Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure costs are coming down — and continued investment and development in technological innovations will help bring the costs down even further.
It is very encouraging that we are looking at the market and reading its demands. Without subjecting it to market discipline, we won’t get the signals that we need. As Paul said, grants are more of an accelerator. We want to add a little bit of fuel until it hits a certain velocity. Good safety, good regulations and good standards — that’s how we grow the ecosystem.
I am going to swing to my last question. We have a lot of moving parts and moving components. Do we see the need for an OEM or integrator role?
Part of the National Electric Vehicle Centre’s role would be to engage different parts of the ecosystem to collaborate, shape regulations and develop the local ecosystem. However, while the government can play a role to facilitate this, we must partner with industry stakeholders to raise awareness, educate and achieve a cultural and social shift.
I think there is a space for individuals and corporations to come together to support the industry as a whole. There are always opportunities in common. Investments in technology and innovation need to carry on.
As we move towards fully electrified public transport, getting there will not be easy — especially from infrastructure and overcoming mindset. But we can all agree this is a clear business opportunity. One of the biggest opportunities is in the software layer, which means that R&D will work together with all the stakeholders to pinpoint and find more necessary technologies.
Driving the transition towards a carbon-neutral future will require the collective effort of stakeholders. Through collaborative creation with key stakeholders in the EV industry, Hitachi is working to deliver energy-efficient and sustainable products and innovative digital solutions from powertrains, power distribution to charging points. The establishment of an accessible EV infrastructure will accelerate the adoption of sustainable energy sources.
If you would like to find out more about activities at Hitachi Asia Research & Development, please visit our website.
(As at the time of publication)
Chee Kiong GOH
Goh Chee Kiong is the CEO of Charge+, a leading electric vehicle charging solution provider for Singapore and the region. As the green mobility arm of Sunseap Group, Charge+ is rapidly scaling up the EV charging infrastructure to release its corporate target of 10,000 charging points in Singapore by 2030.
In September 2021, the Charge+-led consortium emerged as a winner of the Singapore government’s first EV charging infrastructure tender. Starting in Singapore Economic Development Board, specialising in cleantech for two decades, he was responsible for many national sustainability initiatives. He has been a long-standing advocate in cleantech and sustainability, with several honours such as the Public Administration Medal (Bronze) for his public service and sitting on the board of the Energy Studies Institute (ESI).
Deputy Group Director
Technology and Industry Development
Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore
Mark heads the National Electric Vehicle Centre at Singapore’s Land Transport Authority. He holds a concurrent appointment as Director, Futures and Transformation at the Ministry of Transport.
Formed in March 2021, the NEVC serves as a one-stop programme office to drive EV adoption through planning for EV charging infrastructure, setting regulations and standards, and cultivating a vibrant EV industry and research ecosystem. Mark has previously worked in various areas of government as a trade diplomat, urban planner, and community organiser.
Electric Vehicle Association of Singapore (EVAS)
Paul is the Vice President of the Electric Vehicle Association of Singapore (EVAS). In his second term as Vice President and a founding member of the organisation, Paul works with the President and the rest of the committee to support the acceleration of Electric Vehicle uptake in Singapore. EVAS’ role is to promote the use of Electric Vehicles, create a platform for standardisation and communication between the different sections of the EV ecosystem, and partner with industry to support ongoing governmental policy.
Paul graduated with a BEng in Product Design and Manufacture from Loughborough University, UK. He has lived in Singapore since 2014 and started to organise EV enthusiast social events in 2016.
Alex LIN, Ph.D.
Deputy CEO of NTUitive and
Board Director of Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE)
Alex is an innovation ecosystem builder who helped build start-up and innovation ecosystems in various countries. He is currently the interim CEO of NTUitive. Alex was formerly the head of a USD200 million government venture fund under Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). Since 2014, he has funded more than 380 start-ups and accelerated more than 170 start-ups to series-A. This massive effort boosted Singapore’s tech start-up ecosystem from a ranking of 17th place to 10th place within two years and contributed to the vibrant start-up nation everyone now enjoys.
Hitachi Energy - Singapore
Nirupa is the Country Managing Director – Singapore and heads the Marketing & Sales Function in Singapore for Hitachi Energy (previously Hitachi ABB Power Grids) since 2019. In addition, she leads the Top Line Synergies initiative for South Asia as part of our activities with the broader Hitachi group. Nirupa joined ABB Power Grids in 2009 in Australia after five years in BHEL, India. She held operation and sales leadership roles in ABB Power Grids in Power Generation, Renewables Integration and Microgrids. She moved to Singapore in 2017 to lead Service and Digital in Southeast Asia.
Nirupa has a degree in Electronics & Communication Engineering from the LD College of Engineering (Gujarat, India), and she has also completed the Emerging Leadership Program at Wharton University of Pennsylvania.
Lounell GUETA, Ph.D.
Chief Researcher, Research & Development Center,
Hitachi Asia Ltd.
Lounell is responsible for developing and incubating solutions for ASEAN countries. His current works include customer value creation in the field of supply chains, logistics, and finance.
Lounell received his doctoral degree in precision engineering from The University of Tokyo. He is currently a candidate for the Master of Business Administration at the National University of Singapore. He has authored and co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed conference and journal papers.