Is Oman ready for electric cars?

30 Jan 2018
POSTED BY Y Magazine

While there are several positives to EVs, some experts are questioning whether the time has come for the GCC to adopt electric cars.



Decked out in white and dark blue, the two cars that were proffered to the public turned every head. Normally, on a day like that, InterContinental Muscat would have been a haven for tourists looking for luxury accommodation or visitors trying to take a quick bite.

But things were a bit different on the day. Everyone had their phones out to photograph the cars. Apart from the stickers on the bodywork, nothing about them was out of the ordinary.

So what is it that compelled the bystanders and the journalists present there to click photos of a car?

Well, the answer is simple: The cars – the highlight of the Global Electric Vehicle Road Trip (EVRT) – are believed to be the future of motoring.  They’re electric cars straight from the stables of Elon Musk’s innovative company Tesla.

And everyone said in chorus that these electric cars would take over the automotive industry. More astonishing was the fact that the EVRT was coined in an effort to revolutionise the future of motoring in Oman – the Middle East’s largest non-Opec (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil producer.

It may seem nothing short of a bold claim that electric cars will soon dominate the automotive market, although, as the first fleet touched the roads, people in the Sultanate were quite vocal in expressing their interest in becoming the first owners of the ‘groundbreaking technology’.

Of course, we too were impressed by the looks and feel of the car. Evidently, Oman is moving forward with initiatives for sustainable sources of energy.

Renewable energy

Najeeb Al Rawas, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), emphasised at the event that Oman “is developing energy policies and strategies that include renewable resources.”

Unlike many other countries, though, Oman has not yet set a legal framework for electric vehicles (EV).

Al Rawas stressed that electric vehicles could be a valuable addition and a driving force to ‘green’ business in Oman.

Green business – or sustainable business – is an enterprise that has minimal negative impact on the local or global environment, community, society, or economy. Often, sustainable businesses have been known to follow progressive environmental and human
rights policies.

“Today, through the development and use of electric cars, we can see that the first steps towards clean energy in the automobile industry are being taken,” said Al Rawas at the Future Mobility Roundtable event at the InterContinental Muscat, which was part of the Global EVRT.

“These steps can help the world meet its obligations to the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as contribute towards decreasing air pollution.”

Oman was one of 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement – an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance – in December 2015, vowing to adopt the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal.

The agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to below 2°C.

“The ministry encourages initiatives like these that work both nationally and internationally to minimise emissions that will help us achieve the international objective of a greener Earth,” Al Rawas said.

“To realise all the benefits that energy-efficient systems can bring to Oman, we need not only consider environmental aspects, but logistical, socio-economic, technological and legal aspects as well,” he explained, before calling upon both public and private sectors to benefit from anything that provides high quality energy efficiency, accessibility and mobility to people.

Pioneer

Sultan bin Hamad al Amri, the Chief Executive Office of Nur Majan, started research on electric vehicles in 2007 after he realised the potential they possessed in an ever-developing energy market.

Nur Majan is also the Sultanate’s first (and 100 per cent Omani) automotive company – and his prototype vehicle has been featured in the media across the Sultanate.

He created the first-ever electric car in 2013, and announced that he was building an electric car factory in Al Suwaiq with a production capacity of 850 cars a year.

“Oman spends around $1bn (RO385mn) on subsidies on utility bills, housing loans, fuel and other goods per year. Lifting the subsidy will save the country around RO200 to 300mn,” Al Amri elucidated.

Last year, the government scrapped electricity subsidy given to 10,000 ‘major power consumers’, but Al Amri said solar power and other alternative means of sourcing energy could be used as an alternative.

Muna al Farsy, a lecturer at the Higher College of Technology (HCT) and project manager of the award-winning GreenNest Eco House, has similar views on the subject.

In an earlier interview with Y, she had stressed how the country could make use of solar power to fuel its energy requirements.

“Oman is looking to plug the hole created in its budget due to falling and unstable oil prices and now is the perfect time to cut the oil companies some slack,” Muna explained.

“We knew about the scope of solar energy mainly from its success in the West,” Muna added.

Nevertheless, solar power is still not considered a viable option in recharging the batteries required to run a sedan.

Justin Thomas, an electrical engineer in Oman, explains: “Solar power is generated through photovoltaic cells that convert light into energy… slowly. This would take a lot of time to charge batteries that can run the electric motor in a car.”

Power point

This brings us back to plug-in electric vehicles. The theory of its operation is simple: there are only three components to an EV – an electric motor, a controller and an array of rechargeable batteries.

It all begins when the batteries in the electric vehicles are charged through the grid via a wall socket or a dedicated charging unit. This electricity is stored in the battery packs – sometimes in several hundred batteries – for powering the electric motor. Since these cars do not run on petrol or diesel and are powered entirely by electricity, battery electric cars are considered ‘all-electric’ vehicles.

The electric motor gets its power from a controller. This motor then converts the electrical energy into kinetic energy (movement) for the car to begin rolling from its position. From the outside – much like the Tesla – you wouldn’t be able to tell that a car is electric.

However, because there’s no engine to cool down, most electric cars have no intakes upfront. One of the features that raises concern is the eerie silence when the car is in motion, so several manufacturers now provide artificial noise to the exterior to warn pedestrians that an electric car is on its way.

Big savings

A petrol engine, intake and exhaust manifolds, fuel lines, flywheel, coolant hoses and so on tend to look like a complicated plumbing project, so an electric car is often touted as a ‘wiring project’.

This lack of complexity and greenhouse gases in turn reflects in big savings. As Al Amri pointed out: “We conducted a study in 2012 to compare the yearly expense of a Tesla electric car with that of a four-cylinder Lexus.

“The ordinary gasoline car costs around RO2,820 in maintenance, fuel and other functions per year, while the electric vehicle costs around RO148 per year as it does not need any maintenance,” he added. But don’t even for a second think that electric cars are all savings.

EVs have set faster 0 to 100km/h times than petrol-powered cars. The Tesla Model S P100D with ‘Ludicrous mode’, for instance, is bestowed with the title of the fastest accelerating production car in the world. It reportedly hits the 100kph mark from a standstill in a staggering 2.5 seconds.

Charging challenges

While there are several positives to EVs, some experts are questioning whether the time has come for the GCC to adopt electric cars.

Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury, the Chief Executive Office of the GCC’s top automotive website DriveArabia.com, told Y: “I can afford an electric car, but I live in an apartment and there is no place to charge it. The only chargers are in petrol stations in some places where you are expected to spend an hour while the car charges.”

“This would become a daily ritual if you have to drive long distances. Also, many of these places
only have a single charger, so imagine the wait,”
he exclaimed.

His concerns are proved right as an average electric car can take six to eight hours to charge completely. Of course, Tesla, with its supercharging stations, can cut it short to about an hour, although this could hamper the life cycle of the batteries.
The range for an electric car is between 150km
and 400km.

Shijil Hashim, another expert from the motoring industry, chimed in: “There are three issues to tackle for the successful implementation of electric cars: One, proper supporting infrastructure; two, additional energy requirement from clean energy; and three, government subsidies and tax cuts to move users to adapt to electric cars.

“It’s only a matter of time before these challenges are overcome, though,” he added.

Against all odds, however, Oman is moving forward with its plan to ‘electrify its motoring industry’.

In cooperation with Global EVRT and Nama Group, the Public Authority for SMEs Development ‘Riyada’ launched, at InterContinental Muscat Hotel, the first-ever electric vehicle charging station in the Governorate of Muscat.

The charging station will be an addition to the efforts made to ensure economic diversification in the Sultanate as per the vision of the National Programme for Enhancing Economic Diversification “Tanfeedh”.

Factory plan

Al Amri says he is getting closer to unveiling his new factory. The Omani entrepreneur has already got the official licence to produce 120 cars every year. “We are expecting to open in two to three years,” he told Y.

A quick research showed that a 324hp Tesla Model S would cost us 320 baisas to cover 160km if we charged the batteries at a standard 240V power outlet. On the other hand, a 300hp sedan (that we currently run daily) set us back a staggering RO3.4 to cover the same distance.

Last year, the United Kingdom (UK) revealed that it would ban the sale of new petrol- and diesel-powered cars from 2040. By 2050, the UK plans to have only zero-emission vehicles on the roads. India, France, Germany and China have all vowed to phase out cars running on fossil fuels.

The fuel cost in the GCC is the lowest in the world, so will the global trend catch on in Oman? We have to wait and watch.  ν


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