Qatar’s aim of making 3% to 5% of its total car population green by 2022 is led by its pledge to switch as much as 25% of its fleet of public transport buses to electric buses by 2022, a Qatar Foundation (QF) expert has said. "Qatar intends to deploy electric buses in the main services during the FIFA World Cup 2022 to make it the first World Cup to use electric mass transit buses," stated Dr Marcello Contestabile, Principal Economist at QF's Qatar Environment and Energy Institute (Qeeri).
Dr Marcello Contestabile
“These steps are important in gaining the public’s confidence in Electric Vehicles (EVs). The shifting of bus fleets will be an important step in communicating the government’s commitment towards EVs,” said Dr Marcello Contestabile, Principal Economist at Qatar Environment and Energy Institute. The specialist in technology transitions and innovation policy, particularly in road transport, was speaking at a webinar on Electric Vehicle (EV) Transition, hosted by QF's Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s research institute – Qeeri. He discussed various aspects related to EVs, including how Qatar’s acceptance of EVs can be boosted.
In a region where fuel is inexpensive, it is hard to point to one specific reason for the lack of EVs on Qatar’s roads; it is more likely to be a combination of several factors, according to Dr Contestabile. Higher purchase price, lack of charging infrastructure and poor public awareness, are some of the other main reasons for the lack of popularity of EVs.
While the high purchase price of EVs can be discouraging for most people, Dr Contestabile suggests incentives in the form of government subsidies are one way to make the switch more attractive. “For Qatar to overcome the existing barriers at a cost that is commensurate to the benefits that EVs can bring, it is imperative that the government ensures its EV policy is designed bearing in mind the local needs and market conditions,” Dr Contestabile said.
“Another approach would be to start taxing both conventional cars and fuel. Additional incentives can be in the form of the government mandating car manufacturers to provide EV buyers with free or discounted installation of a charging point at their home, saving buyers an additional expense that comes with buying an EV.”
It is also important to create awareness among people – to help them understand how individual choices shape the country’s carbon footprint. Dr Contestabile said, “There needs to be a dialogue with the public to introduce them to EVs. A large portion of the population is completely unaware of how EVs can be beneficial for the environment.”
Several myths surrounding electric vehicles also discourage people from purchasing them. “These need to be addressed to initiate a change in attitudes towards EVs,” Dr Contestabile said. One such myth is that using electricity that is produced by burning natural gas, as is the case in Qatar, essentially cancels out any environmental benefit brought about by electric cars.
This is not entirely correct, according to Dr Contestabile, as he says, “even if EVs are charged using electricity produced by burning natural gas, they still produce lower emissions than the average gasoline-powered vehicle.” To fully benefit from the environmental benefit of EVs, in 2019, Qatar unveiled its first solar-powered charging stations – currently 28 of these stations are operational with plans of several more being added by 2022.
One more common concern is “range anxiety” – a fear that the battery might run out before you can get to a charging point. The good news is that Qatar is making active progress in developing charging infrastructure – it aims to have 400 charging stations by 2022.
“Range anxiety is valid in some cases, such as in cars with a small battery pack being driven in very hot weather where a large chunk of the battery power is consumed by the air conditioner. These vehicles will require some adaptation on the part of the drivers but can be dealt with by choosing the right EV model, one that has a battery pack suitable for their particular travel range requirements,” Dr Contestabile said.
“We are lucky in the sense – Qatar is a small country by area – which means we don’t travel long distances on an everyday basis. And once the country’s planned 400 charging stations are operational, it will mean availability of charging stations at every few miles, making the likelihood of being stranded due to a dead battery quite low.”