EVs are versatile, smart and make good sense economically and environmentally.
Soon some environmental organisation will proclaim Kathmandu the most suffocating city in the world. Vikrams were banned, sure, but the number of other vehicles in the city is increasing at such an appalling rate that it seems impossible to undo the damage done by those old smoking tortoises.
What's the solution? Go electric. Every year, Nepal spends a third of its total foreign exchange earnings to buy fossil fuel. Environmentally clean electric vehicles (EVs) are therefore good news, and the government slowly woke up to this. It has reduced the import tax on the chassis and batteries of clean three-wheelers to just one percent. Manufacturing or running EVs makes great business sense. It's no wonder the city's streets are crawling with Safa tempos.
But electric vehicles can be a lot more. "People think EVs are only three-wheelers but they can function just fine as four-wheelers," says Bikash Pandey, an electrical engineer with the Winrock Foundation, an international organisation devoted to researching energy and power development. Electric buses, taxis and even private cars are all possible. There are even electric bicycles that cut down pedalling by half. The major players in the EV business in Nepal EVCO (Electric Vehicle Corporation) and NEVI (Nepal Electric Vehicle Industry) are reluctant to reveal specifics, but industry sources say we could see them importing electric four-wheelers as early as mid-2001.
The flip side is that clean vehicles currently make a big dent in your wallet. You could pay anything upwards of $20,000 to import one of these babies. The good news is that Nepali companies believe that if EVs are manufactured domestically, or even overseas but suited to local needs, prices could drop to reasonable levels, provided the super-low import tax is extended to these larger EVs as well. But for now the initial cost of a small clean vehicle remains at least twice that of a comparable smoke-spewer. Consumers would have to weigh the cost against the prospect of not having a stratospheric fuel bill, and breathing cleaner air in the bargain.
EVs urgently need a positive push. Says Kiran Raj Joshi, electrical engineer at NEVI, "The king should start using an EV. All our ministers and ambassadors should promote EVs by using them. Right now they are the ones who can afford these vehicles."
All very well, but to start with, at least a realistic discussion on the role of EVs should begin among economists, transportation and power experts, and urban and environmental planners. The entry of EVs could be planned to factor in the power glut that the country is going to see by mid-2001 when the 144-MW Kaligandaki A comes on-line.
At present the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) earns an annual Rs 30 million from battery-charging stations for tempos. But in order to encourage more EVs, and thus make use of the surplus energy, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) may first have to consider a long-standing demand of EV maunfacturers and operators that since battery charging is done during off-peak hours, charging stations should be supplied electricity at reduced rates.
The EV industry also sees the tourism sector as a good entry point for their vehicles. Alternative energy has such appeal in the developed world that the widespread use of EVs would be an added attraction to the tourist experience in Nepal. Safa tempos have garnered a good deal of praise from visitors to Kathmandu and "Electric Kathmandu" could be the best ever PR for the city. The next step could be EVs in the shape of more and modern trolley buses-which could be the beginning of a sensible and much-needed mass rapid transport system.