Charging Toward a Greener Future – Speech by Jamus Lim on the Electric Vehicles Charging Bill

Mr Speaker, the Electric Vehicles (EV) Charging Bill is a step toward institutionalizing the process of preparing for the transition of our transportation infrastructure into the 21st century. The fundamental problem it seeks to address is: how will the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Energy Market Authority (EMA) work together to ensure that the charging infrastructure is sufficient during the transition to EVs and, relatedly, how such charging costs would be regulated.

I support the Bill, but have additional suggestions. The bulk of my speech will address the hard infrastructure issues that are the primary concern of the Bill. However, I will conclude with thoughts on how soft infrastructure—in particular, our COE system—can also play a role in helping Singapore usher in the electrification of its vehicle fleet. Throughout, my focus will be on practical considerations associated with this transition process.

Handling inadvertent lapses in safety of charging stations

Parts 2 through 7 of the Bill empowers LTA to constrain unregulated or inadequately-maintained chargers by imposing minimal standards. Providers are also required to obtain fixed-duration licenses, and to meet conditions such as minimal uptimes and securing public liability insurance. On the whole, these are in line with best-practice international frameworks—such as the UN Global Technical Regulation on the Electric Vehicle Safety[1]—albeit it remains somewhat less ambitious than stricter standards such as the EU Regulation No. 540/2014.[2]

Of paramount concern is whether new EV charging stations will adequately address consumer safety concerns, including the risk of electric shocks, battery-related fire, and cyberhacking.

Fires are a particularly salient concern, given a number of recent reports of HDB fires due to PMDs, and the general density of our multistorey parking structures (MSCPs). In Sengkang alone, I am aware of at least two fires over the past two years,[3] and Minister Shanmugam has shared with this House that there were 18 PMD fires across the island last year, all of which the SCDF and LTA had determined to be noncompliant with safety standards.[4]

Beyond fires, per se, our humid, tropical environment may present greater maintenance challenges, which in turn calls for more attention to ongoing regulation of the charging infrastructure. What safety features and public education efforts has the Ministry put in place to address such concerns? At the moment, the Bill—in Parts 5, 6, and 10—focuses mainly on technical and/or intended offenses. The pertinent question is how inadvertent violations that compromise safety can best be handled, as this also tends to be the case with PMD charging-related fires.

Calibrating the number of charging stations in HDB carparks

Part 8 will expand the charging network, by requiring new buildings with carparks to install charging points for at least 1 percent of their total car and motorcycle lots. This is a good start, and has been adopted in other crowded Asian cities, such as Tokyo.[5]

The practical challenge here is how to ensure that there are sufficient stations for EV owners wishing to charge their vehicles, and relatedly, how to prevent hogging of said chargers after charging is complete. After all, many would enjoy the convenience of being able to charge overnight, which is especially attractive given (for now) the lower costs of electricity after hours.[6]

The flip side of this strategy, however, is that it would typically preclude the timely relinquishing of the station. One management approach is to adopt the strategy employed by Tesla, which charges a per-minute idle fee for vehicles that are already fully charged, with a higher penalty rate if all charges are fully occupied.[7]

Even with such a system, there may be insufficient charging for certain user types—the so-called power users (which would be taxicabs and PHC drivers), who are likely to only be able to charge during off-peak hours, and require longer charging durations. Some degree of calibration would undoubtedly be necessary, but one interim step may be for LTA to coordinate with PHC and taxi companies to obtain the distribution of their registered drivers, and adapt initial installation at MSCPs accordingly. This could mean pursuing an active policy target that exceeds the minimum number of charging points per building stipulated by law.

Strengthening incentives for charging stations in condominium carparks

Part 13 of the Bill—particular Clause 97—is designed to expand the network for Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) carparks, which do not directly fall under LTA, and hence require more targeted incentive structures to encourage adoption. In July last year, LTA launched the Electric Vehicle Common Charger Grant (ECCG) to promote the installation of charging infrastructure in nonlanded private residences,[8] a practice in line with in other nations, such as Canada[9] and the United Kingdom.[10]

This Bill further relaxes the hurdle rate for the installation and removal of chargers, along with other charger management functions, to a simple majority. This is an improvement, as previously some MCSTs may have required as much as a 90 percent vote share to pass the necessary resolutions.[11]

My Workers’ Party colleague, Dennis Tan, has suggested a tailored approach to the expansion of coverage, especially for industrial premises. I concur. In principle, MCSTs such as condominiums as well as commercial and industrial developments should have a stronger incentive for charger installation, given the typically higher income profile of residents, overall heightened environmental consciousness of wealthier households,[12] the ongoing flow of tenants and customers for such projects, and likelihood of a profitable income stream. The ECCG cofunding model should have provided the rest of the necessary boost.

Yet the barrier to more widespread adoption seems more psychological than monetary. After all, inertia is a powerful force, and those of us who have lived in condos understand how apathetic most condo-dwellers are about attending the annual AGM. This leaves one to wonder whether more can be done to empower MCST councils and commercial facilities to roll out more charging stations. Could policy target a higher minimum ratio for stations in nonlanded private residences, beyond legislation? This would ensure that these developments do not inadvertently fall behind, even while the HDB rollout accelerates.

Exploiting the COE system to phase out the ICE fleet

I will close with some thoughts on how our soft infrastructure can also be deployed to help our EV transition.

Singapore already has a built-in system for effecting a controlled phase-out of its existing internal combustion engine (ICE) fleet.

We can do this in at least two ways. The first is to adopt a fairly aggressive but backloaded strategy, consistent with the Singapore Green Plan 2030; this means only permitting the registration of electric vehicles after that year.[13] If we were to do so, this would effectively phase out the approximately one-million-strong ICE fleet[14] over the course of the following decade, give or take several tens of thousands of heavy goods vehicles may be less amenable to electrification.[15]

The advantage of this approach is that it allows the existing electric charging infrastructure to roll out over the course of the next 7 years, without too much excess pressure from latent demand. That said, there is an alternative: we can pursue a more gradualist strategy—where we begin the issuance of EV COE permits next year, with an even split between the number of permits available for EVs and ICE vehicles.

To further promote EV adoption, we could even provide temporary incentives that would favor the switch to EVs, such as a 10 percent discount on the COE face value for EV permits.[16] Done this way, we can embark on the EV transition immediately. And as private charging providers receive stronger incentives for switching now, they will also step up efforts to expand their networks. This solves the chicken-and-egg problem of EV charger installers waiting for greater EV adoption before increasing charging capacity, while potential EV purchases hold off while they await more charging stations to appear.

Done this way, incrementally over 20 years, we would meet our full-EV-fleet target by 2042, only 2 years after the 2040 deadline, but with a more gradual process that simultaneously begins the EV transition earlier.

The COE system offers additional tools for us to encourage the switch to an EV fleet. For instance, there is some evidence that drivers of Private Hire Cars (PHCs) have expressed reluctance to switch to EVs, owing to range anxiety and the much higher operating costs for EVs—estimated at as much as 82 percent greater.[17] Yet since PHCs are utilized at about 7 times the rate of the average car, they account for a disproportionate share of emissions.

One way to compel such switches is to designate a special COE category for PHCs that are also EVs. This riffs off a query that my Sengkang colleague, Louis Chua, had put forward, albeit in the context of concerns over whether PHCs were bidding up COE prices.[18] To the extent that this eventually does raise the price of regular ICE COEs, we can content ourselves that, at the least, there is a beneficiary: the environment.[19] Other approaches would be to provide subsidies, or offer a discount off the price of COEs in the PHC-EV category.

Delivered in Parliament on 30 November 2022

[1] United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (2018), “Global Technical Regulation on the Electric Vehicle Safety,” Global Technical Regulation 20 ECE/TRANS/180/Add.20, New York: United Nations

[2] European Union (2014), “Regulation on the Sound Level of Motor Vehicles and of Replacement Silencing Systems,” EU Regulation 540/2014, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. The regulation requires an acoustic electric vehicle alerting system, which will emit noise to protect vulnerable road users. To be fair, such safety regulations likely go beyond the scope of the present bill.

[3] Soh, G. (2021), “Charging PMD Battery Suspected to be Origin of Fire at Sengkang Flat,” Straits Times, Sep 15. The second fire occurred in my ward of Anchorvale in July this year, but was not reported in the news.

[4] Hansard (2022) 95(65): Aug 1.

[5] Kurokawa, S. (2022), “Electric Car Battery Chargers to Become Mandatory in New Buildings in Tokyo,” Mainichi, Apr 23.

[6] Low, J.R. (2022), “Singapore EV Parking and Charging Guide 2022: Costs and Accessibility,” Motorist, Jan 18.

[7] Tesla (2022), “Supercharger Idle Fee,” Tesla Support, Austin: Tesla.

[8] LTA (2022), EV Common Charger Grant, Singapore: Land Transport Authority.

[9] Government of Canada (2016), “A Clean Growth Economy,” in Budget 2016: Growing the Middle Class, Ottawa: Ministry of Finance, pp. 149–68.

[10] HM Government (2022), Taking Charge: The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, London: Ministry of Transport.

[11] Yufeng, K. (2022), “Red Tape, Inertia Put Brakes on EV Charging Installation at Condominiums,” Straits Times, Jul 24.

[12] This is generally the case for cross-country evidence on per capita incomes and environmental concern; see, for example, Diekmann, A. & A. Franzen (1999), “The Wealth of Nations and Environmental Concern,” Environment and Behavior 31(4): 540–9. For within-country evidence, see Niankara, I. (2018), “Health and Environmental Consciousness Effects of Wealth in Low Income Countries: Evidence from Households’ Energy, Water, and Sanitation Services Consumption in Burkina Faso,” Preprints 2018: 2018020093.

[13] Khor, A. (2022), “Opening Remarks by Senior Minister of State for Transport, Amy Khor at the Singapore Green Plan Conversation on Energy Reset,” Press Release, Singapore: Ministry of Transport.

[14] Vehicle statistics for 2021 indicate a total of 988, 755 vehicles of all classes, the overwhelming majority of which are non EVs. See MOT (2022), Motor Vehicle Population By Vehicle Type, Singapore: Ministry of Transport, and Kok, Y. & N.T. Lee (2022), “Growing interest in Electric Vehicles: What’s Next for Singapore?”, Straits Times, Jan 17.

[15] In reality, COE renewals are lumpy, and spike every decade. Still, the general principle proposed here—of phasing out the ICE fleet by adjusting the COE issuance rate—remains.

[16] In principle, this could still result in a higher price for EVs versus ICE vehicles, if the base price of the EV is higher. It is possible to provide additional incentives to switch, by subsidizing EV adoption (which would lower the base price), but this has an additional expenditure implication, over and above the forgone revenue effect of just discounting EV COEs.

[17] Lye, G. (2022), “EVs Made Up 8.4% of New Cars Registered in Singapore from Jan–May 2022—Grab Drivers Reluctant to Switch,”, Jun 15.

[18] Mahmud, A.H. (2022), “Creating New COE Category for Private-Hire Cars Will Drive Up Costs for Consumers: Transport Ministry,” CNA, Sep 13.

[19] This will create a segmented market, and whether it raises the price in a segmented market is an empirical question, which will depend on the number of COEs made available in each category (ICE versus EV, PHC versus non-PHC), and the elasticity of demand for vehicles in each of these categories.