The viability of electric vehicles in Pakistan

Pakistan has its eyes anchored on a transition to electric vehicles (EVs). The government wishes to make around 100,000 cars and more than half a million two and three wheelers electric in the coming years. Given the recurring freak events (due to climate change), the government’s intentions are legitimate. The fact that air pollution takes away nearly 135,000 lives in Pakistan in a year and costs around 5-6% of the GDP validates the idea further. However, the execution of the strategy is no walk in the park. The journey is full of unidentified challenges and may demand a more exhaustive effort than what one may expect.

The awareness on how an EV is propitious for the public, as well as the nation, will augment the knowledge of the masses. But, it is not likely to trigger an urge amongst them to be a part of change. The EVs benefit the users in the long-term since the initial price differential between fuel-driven cars and an EV is nullified by a significantly less maintenance cost of the latter. Nonetheless, the consumers’ reluctance is justified until considerable work is undertaken on the infrastructure.

The foremost hurdle to climb-over is to establish electric stations across congested metropolitan areas of the country. In accordance with the Indian model, an EV station needs a minimum of three fast chargers along with two slow complementing chargers to enhance the capacity. The fast chargers would have capacities of 50kW/ 200-1000V, 50kW/ 200-1000V and 22kW/ 380-480V while the smaller ones will operate on 15 kW/ 72-200V and 10 kW/ 230V. In this way a 50 kWh DCFC charging station cost nearly INR 1.5 million which is roughly Rs. 3.2 million in Pakistan (Rs. 2.14 = 1 INR).

The incumbents plan to convert CNG stations to EV stations in the wake of minimal land availability within cities. In the first four years, Pakistan targets 3000 such stations. This will require a hefty sum of Rs. 9.6 billion. So, it is commercially viable for the government to entice private investors with tax breaks and even formulate public-private partnerships in this regard.

Dewan Motors and BMW cut the ribbon in this ambit by setting up Pakistan’s first public electric and plug-in hybrid electric charging station in Emporium Mall, Lahore in 2017. The two came up with another station a month later in Dolmen Mall, Karachi. Last year, PSO also launched its first charging station in Islamabad. The energy ministry has disclosed further 24 charging stations of PSO in the future.

A number of players are mulling coming up with electric stations. Shell and K-Electric along with BYD and Total Parco have partnered in this regard. Shell and K-Electric announced three stations at the start of this year.

However, the frequency of EV stations remains subdued. One may argue that the number of stations is proportionate to the demand but the industry will witness a considerable influx of EV models into the market once the EV policy begins to reap results. This will hike up the demand for electric stations at pace amidst modest supply. The resulting market failure may elevate already exorbitant energy prices.

Besides, the problem of limited charging stations amplifies upon incorporating the amount of time EV takes to charge and the driving range on offer upon full charge. In comparison to a fuel-based vehicle, an EV travels less than half of what the prior can navigate upon full tank on average. According to the experts, the optimal distance for an EV in Pakistan would be around 700 kilometres.

The road ahead is a bumpy one, and the EV culture becoming prevalent amongst the masses looks like a distant dream. However, in order to navigate past these challenges amicably, the setting up of the charging stations should be the foremost priority.