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|Electric vehicles, such as VinFast’s electric scooter Klara, can go a long way towards reducing the air pollution plaguing Vietnam’s largest cities (photo: Le toan)|
Parents of pupils at Ly Thai To Primary School in Thanh Xuan district, one of the most populous districts in Hanoi, recently received a warning notice that the school would halt outdoor activities and encourage children to wear protective masks on the way to school due to concerns raised by the thick blankets of smog covering Hanoi in recent times.
Mai Lan, mother of a first grader who used to live in the countryside, said, “We feel sorry for our son as he is forced to limit his outdoor activities. Even at the weekend, I do not let him play outside as usual.”
The poor air quality in major Vietnamese cities is caused by a range of factors, including transportation, agriculture, and waste. More people are beginning to pay attention to fine dust measurements classified as PM2.5, which refers to atmospheric particulate matter that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres. However, the main causes for poor air quality in cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are still debated.
Finding the main causes
Last week, both cities once again held meetings to minimise the negative effects of air pollution, as measurements rose to an alarming level over the last few weeks. The air quality is monitored by companies such as AirVisual, an international air quality monitoring facility that generates data from public, ground-based, and real-time monitoring stations.
However, Hanoi is likely to disagree on the main cause of the city’s air pollution, with one official saying that “air pollution in Hanoi comes from transportation, people’s activities, construction, and industry. Among that, activities from transportation and construction lead to huge levels of PM2.5 in the air.”
A leader of the Vietnam Environment Administration under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment added that the air quality also depends on temperature and low rainfall.
Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh City pointed to motorbikes and cars as one of the main reasons for its polluted air. The city’s point of view may be a reason for another boost on the ban on motorcycles in big cities by 2030.
The idea of banning motorcycles in large cities, however, is not new. Hanoi’s People Committee approved Resolution 4 in 2017 in order to manage the number of vehicles in operation and reduce congestion and pollution. Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh City and the central city of Danang also discussed a proposal to limit and ban motorbikes. Apart from that, there has been no further official decision on this issue so far.
“The plan to charge cars and remove motorbikes from downtown Ho Chi Minh City by 2025-2030 in order to resolve congestions in the city is not feasible,” said traffic expert Ngo Viet Nam Son earlier this year.
However, the situation is slowly changing with the emergence of electric motorbikes. New players such as VinFast are trying to conquer the personal transport market, and the planned ban on motorcycles could further pave the way for electric modes of transport, thereby helping the country in its transition to e-mobility in the near future.
In an increasingly mobile society, the sustainable production and usage of personal transport devices and services is critical, particularly with respect to models of circular and zero-carbon economies.
Transforming into e-mobility, ready or not
Mobility has been an essential instrument of social and economic development, and the mass production of fossil fuel-based internal combustion engines in the early 20th century revolutionised mobility by extending travel distances and reducing travel times.
As a result, motorised vehicles have played a key role in shaping human settlement and activity patterns. However, the need for increased mobility is going unmet in many parts of the developing world. Addressing these mobility needs will require a substantial increase of vehicles and services of one type or another, together with supportive transport policies and infrastructure development, according to experts.
According to the Global EV Outlook 2019 report, published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), electric mobility is expanding at a rapid pace. In 2018, the global electric car fleet exceeded 5.1 million vehicles, two million more than in 2017 and almost doubling the number of new electric car registrations.
By the end of 2018, the global stock of electric two-wheelers was at 260 million vehicles, and there were 460,000 electric buses. In freight transport, electric vehicles (EV) were mostly deployed as light-commercial vehicles, which reached 250,000 units in 2018, while medium electric truck sales were in the range of 1,000-2,000 in the same year.
Despite the growing sales and announcements of policy and deployment plans by many countries and cities, the current number of EVs in Vietnam is still too small to have any meaningful impact on emissions reduction.
For people like Mai Lan, using an electric motorbike would be a good alternative if there were fewer difficulties related to it, such as a lack of charging stations and costly or complicated replacement of parts.
Daniel Doni Sundjojo, business development manager at JATO Dynamics, which globally analyses market trends for vehicles, said, “To ensure both environmental protection and sustainable growth, Vietnam should set up targets for the adoption of e-mobility, including charging standards and power supply.”
In its Global EV Outlook, the IEA made suggestions that could create a clearer path for Vietnam.
“Close co-operation between EV manufacturers and fleet operators will be important to ensure that they can effectively meet the operational and technical requirements of shared mobility services and take advantage of their high vehicle utilisation rates.”
“Ensuring that shared vehicles will be electric requires reducing financing barriers for the more expensive vehicle purchases (especially for vehicles owned by individuals, given that they are often capital constrained) and providing access to chargers. Combinations of policy measures and company efforts could accelerate the electrification of fleets,” the report cited.
Currently, the Vietnamese motorbike market is dominated by foreign players, such as the five members of the Vietnam Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers (Piaggio, Suzuki, SYM, Yamaha, and Honda), all of which have estimated their sales in 2019 to be higher than those of the previous year.
Le Thi Thanh Thao - National Programme Officer UN Industrial Development Organization Vietnam
Switching from conventional fossil-fuel vehicles to electric ones is a global trend due to the increasing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change, and restrict environmental pollution. Besides that, the selling price of crude oil and other fossil resources is soaring, while at the same time prices of batteries have dropped, which leads to people to pay more attention to electric vehicles.
According to the Global Electric Vehicle Forecast 2019, as of 2018, around five million electric automobiles were being used. Moreover, the number of two-wheel electric motorcycles reached 260 million units while electric buses amounted to 460,000 as of the end of 2018.
The report laid out two scenarios for electric vehicles with a vision to 2030. The first regards new policies that anticipate about 23 million four-wheel electric vehicles to be sold, increasing the total four-wheel vehicles in circulation to 130 million. The second scenario is based on commitment from manufacturers, with 43 million of such vehicles being sold and over 250 million in circulation on the roads, making up 30 per cent of all vehicles (excluding two-wheeled variants) by 2030.
The first scenario expects that electric vehicles in circulation on the roads will contribute towards cutting 127 million tonnes of oil by 2030, equalling 2.5 million oil barrels per day; meanwhile, the second scenario forecasts that 220 million tonnes of oil will go, equalling 4.3 million barrels per day.
In Vietnam, building a stable development environment for electric vehicles is faced with massive challenges including capital, legal framework, and technical and human resource problems in collaboration with the participation of communities and small- and medium-sized enterprises.
To develop and establish a solid environment for e-mobility, however, it is of critical importance to have a stringent, practical, and inclusive framework at the national level in place from the very beginning.
Nguyen Khac Tiep - Sustainable energy expert
Besides reducing emissions, e-mobility is creating new jobs for others sectors such as the supporting industries, and even more startups are joining the game. There have been works to carry out the transfer to e-mobility, but the policy framework must lead the trend.
For instance, China is a good example as it continues to be the leading country for e-mobility in terms of industry and market, and its policy set out targets over the last decade. Thanks to its laws and regulations, charging technologies that enable faster charging with direct currents are increasingly being installed in its vehicles.
Pham Thu Thuy - Country Communication Manager ABB
Around 70 per cent of emissions come from transport in the large cities of Vietnam, according to experts. Electric bikes are used widely, but e-cars and e-buses remain almost at zero.
In the 15 years leading up to 2017, Hanoi’s population doubled. The city also saw a sudden increase in the number of personal vehicles, with their number tripling in 10 years. Hanoi currently has more than 740,000 cars and nearly 2,000 buses. What are the solutions to promote e-cars and e-buses for a cleaner and more sustainable Hanoi? And can government consideration of incentives encourage e-users and operators while setting up standards for vehicles and a well-planned charging infrastructure?
ABB is a world leader in electric vehicle infrastructure. We offer a full range of charging solutions for electric cars, electric and hybrid buses, and electrification solutions for ships and railways. ABB entered the electric vehicle-charging market back in 2010 and has sold thousands of fast chargers across 80 countries worldwide, more than any other manufacturer.
Fortune Magazine ranked ABB eighth in 2018 on its list of companies that are changing the world for advances made in e-mobility and electric vehicle charging. ABB also received the Global E-mobility Leader 2019 award for its role in supporting international adoption of sustainable transport solutions.
With a strong presence in Vietnam over the last 27 years in supporting the country’s power and automation, we look forward to contributing more, and playing a part in changing the transport landscape in Vietnam. As the country’s large cities rapidly develop and grow, we are confident that our industry-leading technology will play a pioneering role in Vietnam’s transition to e-mobility adoption.
Vo Tri Thanh - Former deputy director, Central Institute for Economic Management
The great concern of environmental issues is leading to increased demand for EV worldwide, including in developing countries like Vietnam that have committed strongly to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
E-mobility is gaining more interest from both governments and private businesses. The increasing global release of carbon by burning fuel on the roads has been a great concern for environmentalists and governments over the past decade. This has led to increases in further demand for EV and their adoption worldwide. To encourage the use of environmentally-friendly vehicles with low emissions, benefits such as reduction in registration tax and other liabilities have been offered by the governments of different countries.
This is largely responsible for the rise in the development and adoption of electric scooters and motorcycles by users in various nations.