Electric Vehicles in Malaysia? Hold Your Horsepower!

In recent months, much debate has occurred surrounding the prospect of a new national car project, with a proposal for a locally-manufactured electric car company currently being developed by GreenTech Malaysia, an entity under the purview of the Ministry of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change, and Environment.

Electric vehicles (EVs) have tremendous potential in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions within the context of the transportation sector, but only under the appropriate conditions. An often overlooked feature of EVs is that they shift the source of vehicular emissions from tailpipe to smokestack, and if electricity is predominantly generated from carbon-intensive sources such as coal, the environmental effects of vehicle fleet electrification may indeed be negative.

With this in mind, the Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur (PI in KL) has produced a paper in which he analyses the life-cycle emissions of EVs against those of internal-combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) and hybrid vehicles (HEVs) across several electricity grid compositions of varying carbon intensities. The results of this analysis confirm the fears that EVs are at present more polluting than petrol-powered cars, and a significant reason for this is the enormous share of coal in electricity generation in Malaysia.

The report raises several recommendations to reduce emissions associated with private road transport in Malaysia in the shorter-run, while preparing the electricity grid for a long-term transition to EVs.

A first step would be to revamp the existing energy efficient vehicle (EEV) policy, introduced by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) as part of the 2014 National Automotive Policy (NAP). The EEV program is at present too broad in its scope, too lenient in its requirements, and too opaque in its incentivisation structure; an overhaul is necessary to ensure its effectiveness from an environmental perspective.

Another option would be the implementation of national fuel economy standards. With over half-a-million new vehicles sold in Malaysia annually since 2010, fuel economy standards, which mandate annual improvements in the energy efficiency of ICEVs and HEVs, are capable of mitigating the per-kilometre emissions associated with new private vehicles in Malaysia. Automakers have shown that they are capable of meeting stringent fuel economy requirements in numerous international markets – they should do so in Malaysia too.

The third measure is improvements to the accessibility, reach and use of public transportation across the country. Public transport options, such as buses and trains, are less polluting per passenger-kilometre than all private transport options, and a well-functioning public transportation network can reduce the need for, and use of, private alternatives.

In the short- and medium-run, these policies are capable of significantly outperforming vehicle fleet electrification in the context of climate action, and at much lower financial and environmental costs.

Media Statement – Electric Vehicles Are Not As Green As You Think, Study Finds