“Other than the fact that the engine is so silent, the pickup, the torque, the handling of these cars… they are really great to drive!”, enthused Leon Foong, Group CEO, SOCAR Mobility Malaysia.
Recently, Malaysia’s national electricity supplier, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), and SOCAR, a local car-sharing platform, came together at a live podcast session to discuss their newly signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on electric vehicles (EV).
EVs have been the hot talk of the decade, with celebrities like George Clooney and Cameron Diaz opting to make the switch from petrol to electric-charged automobiles.
Yet for the average person, EVs seem like a distant dream – a utopian product catered only for the rich and famous. Clouding the environmental enthusiasm behind this green technology are real-life issues pertaining to cost, access, and upkeep. Elaborating on SOCAR and TNB’s discussion below – is this technology a feasible one for a country like Malaysia?
Battery technology behind EVs
On affordability, Leon shared, “It’s widely known in the industry that the reason why EVs are more expensive now is because batteries, raw materials, and production cost are expensive. The engineering cost is not cheap. Currently, it costs around US$100 (RM400) per kilowatt hour of battery. By 2025, it’s expected to halve, and when that happens, EVs will reach cost parity or will indeed be cheaper than the regular ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles.
“The other way to lower the cost of EVs is to lower the size of the batteries; how you lower the size of the battery is to ensure that there are more charging stations available.”
“The other way to lower the cost of EVs is to lower the size of the batteries; how you lower the size of the battery is to ensure that there are more charging stations available. So, the key here is to roll out a reliable and consistently available series of high-speed chargers, and when that happens, the adoption of EVs will be accelerated.”
The technology itself has improved over the past years, according to Datuk IR. Megat Jalaluddin, Chief Retail Officer at TNB. Today, a Mini Cooper SE only requires 30 minutes of charging for a range of 150km – a far cry from half a decade ago.
“With the collaboration with SOCAR, we intend to install these fast chargers that will provide similar performance of range for the car; where 1-minute of charging can deliver 6km of run time based on the technology today. We’re excited not only to provide the technology, but so that customers can travel at ease without needing to worry about being stranded somewhere,” added Datuk Ir. Megat.
Is range anxiety real?
One of the key perception issues affecting EVs is the fear of running out of electricity, before reaching the intended destination. To study the issue, both companies conducted a pilot project in 2019 with several Renault Zoe cars, an older EV model with slightly lower battery capacities.
“What we realised was, over hundreds of trips reported, the average distance driven was about 44km, and even out of that, 3-4% were above 100km. So even with the older models which have a smaller battery size and charge at a slower rate, people are already travelling more than 100km.
“What this shows is that for the typical usage for public mobility, EVs are perfect. In the day, you drive anywhere between 50-100km, and at night, you can charge your car at home – or perhaps you even charge your car at work; for the average schedule, this works out perfectly,” said Leon.
Admittedly however, EV charging stations are not equally distributed across the country. Currently, there are only roughly 500 public AC (Alternating Current) charging stations in Malaysia, with only nine public DC (Direct Current) fast-charging stations.
“The two key lessons we learnt from this trial run was that density of charging stations still matters. For example, people in Cyberjaya tend to drive longer distances. Having a DC charger between Cyberjaya and KLCC for example will be key, in case they need to have a quick battery top up, and can have that peace of mind,” shared Leon.
Another consideration is the time spent between the charging slots. Filling up a car with petrol takes five minutes, whereas charging a car up to 300km on an EV requires roughly 25 minutes.
Sharing SOCAR’s expertise in this area, Leon explained, “The question is, how can you plan your journey better? What do you do in that 25 minute? Another important thing is that, when you arrive at a charging station, you want to know that it’s available; you want to know that it works. How many people are ahead of you in the queue? These are things SOCAR’s fleet management technology can enable us to do.”
Grid readiness to handle EVs
From an electricity supplier’s viewpoint, increasing the number of charging stations is not the only consideration. Another important requirement is the proper management of the grid supply and system readiness. Insufficient or fluctuating supply will impact an EV’s performance, affecting a customer’s overall journey.
Combined with a reliable grid that can do effective load balancing, this is something that would bring a very exciting charging experience to the customer
“With EVs, we know that maximum demand and peak load will be challenged. This is why we feel privileged to leverage the expertise of TNB; the company’s great performance in terms of system disruption (SAIDI) as well as high-voltage disruption – the metrics are world-class compared to many other developed countries in the EU and even cities in the US. Combined with a reliable grid that can do effective load balancing, this is something that would bring a very exciting charging experience to the customer,” shared Leon.
“SOCAR has the experience as it relates to car rental and customer travel behaviour; whereas TNB as a technology company will utilise this data to bring to life this great opportunity for our country,” added Datuk Ir. Megat.
How green are electric vehicles?
While touted as the liberator of transportation-induced emissions, EVs are only as green as the power charging them up.
“There are talks about hydrogen fuel cells, which makes sense for higher load vehicles as these would weigh down the vehicle massively. This may be viable for planes, but for passenger cars, electrification alongside electrical charging will be key to decarbonise transportation-related emissions. However, that’s only possible when the fuel source powering the grid is also powered by renewable energy,” said Leon.
It makes sense then, that the nation, alongside TNB, is gearing up for a completely renewable future. Recently, the company announced a net zero carbon aspiration by 2050, with a sustainability pathway primed with new solar projects and power plants.
“In the electricity business we will focus on green generation either through solar or hydro. For the transportation sector, we will support it by providing the electricity to charge it, the charging infrastructure, as well as the digital platform.
“This is the common objective that we have in respect to the two biggest sectors in the country – electricity and transportation. Be it the logistics industry, e-hailing companies, public transportation sector and so forth, the aim is to provide a pathway which at the end of the day will trickle down to the end-customer, enabling uptake at the individual level,” said Datuk Ir. Megat.
Are Malaysians ready for EVs?
“Electric cars are the future; let’s embrace it together.”
Sharing his observations of the pilot project, Leon said, “What surprised us the most was the number of customers that called in to book an EV test run. Customers were travelling from Bangsar and Ampang all the way to Cyberjaya (where the pilot was run) to test these cars.
“It’s very encouraging. In the future, it won’t be a decision between ‘should I drive an electric vehicle’ or not – it’s ‘if you want the best performing car that has the best technology’, then you’ll be driving an EV.”
Adding a final note, Datuk Ir. Megat commented, “Electric cars are the future; let’s embrace it together.” With EVs looking to be a staple in the very near future, perhaps it’s time to buckle up, quite literally, and make our way for the new generation of electric mobility.