Sell Oil, Buy Electric

(Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, Ryan Hamilton-Davis, 16.May.2019) — The Regulated Industries Commission (RIC), the regulatory body for water, waste water and electricity, has come up with an initiative that could preserve the environment, lessen the economic burden, and fulfil government’s obligations internationally – not to mention save the average Joe thousands of dollars a month.

It was summed up in one phrase – sell oil, buy electric vehicles.

The RIC unveiled the first public electric vehicle charging station at their office on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, last Friday, and executive director James Lee Young told Business Day there were many benefits for the man on the street, for government and for the world at large, if TT would invest in electric vehicles (EV) and hybrids.

Lee Young suggested that if drivers bought EVs and hybrids not only would that lessen TT’s carbon footprint, but it would also reduce the amount of gasoline the country has to import, and the amount of money it spends, in order to fill its need for fuel.

The country’s gas bill was not much of a problem when it still had a refinery, but since the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery closed down last year, TT now has to import gasoline and some of the countries it buys from, it also sells unrefined oil to.

The cost of electricity is very low in TT, and so charging an electric vehicle could cost anywhere from $5 to $20 a week, compared to gasoline at $3.41 per litre for diesel, $4.97 for unleaded gasoline, and $5.75 for super unleaded gasoline. The cost of electricity may also stay low as there is a surplus of electricity in TT, thanks to the shutdown of major plants like the former ArcelorMittal steel mill in Point Lisas and the refinery. That surplus would have to be used eventually, and electric vehicles could take up that extra energy.

Lee Young noted that if homes have solar panels for charging their electric vehicles, their daily commute could cost absolutely nothing.

“Imagine a scenario where a person is not using electricity from (the national grid) to power their cars, and they have a solar panel placed near their homes. They would now be able to power their car for free, because the sun is free.”

The idea came about while the RIC was doing the rate review of TTEC. The RIC looked at the demand for electricity, and started questioning what the country was doing to ensure that energy was being efficiently used and conserved. This information is vital to determining the rates for the electricity for TTEC, he said.

“We started thinking what would we as a country like to see in terms of energy efficiency? Because we are not energy efficient in this country. People do not turn off lights and air conditioning units. You go into a government office and it is freezing. That is because energy here is so cheap,” Lee Young said. “But if you go somewhere like Barbados, where the energy rate is six times the rate as TT, then you will see that you are becoming more efficient.”

The RIC had already started assisting the Ministry of Energy with initiatives for energy conservation and renewable energy and, Lee Young added, the ministry is in the process of making amendments to legislation that would allow homeowners to install solar panels in their homes.

The legislation and initiatives would serve to help TT fulfil its mandate to store ten per cent of its electricity capacity in renewable energy by 2021, an agreement it made when signing the 2015 Paris Accord. Young said while Government seems to be working toward its goal, it is still a very tall order to fill in two years’ time.

“To put it into perspective, Tobago alone has a generating capacity of about 90 megawatts. So you are talking enough solar panels to run Tobago twice.”

All these things prompted the RIC to consider its position on conserving energy and renewable energy.

“Then the time came when we had to replace (the RIC’s) car, and we said let’s get an EV.”

The RIC went with the Hyundai Ioniq EV, which, according to Young, cost them about $260,000.

The office courier, Daniel Ramsepaul, who uses the EV for most of his trips, says the vehicle is comfortable, quick and quiet. He added that the charge of the car could take drivers about 240 km when fully charged.

“That is about from Port of Spain to Icacos, and back,” said Ramsepaul. “But on a daily use, as a driver and courier, I charge the car once a week. I travel from Port of Spain to places like Arima, Chaguanas, St Augustine, and back. It works really well, even in the traffic.”

Business Day even got a chance to ride in the vehicle. The ride was smooth and silent, and the car itself was quite comfortable. The Ioniq was not sluggish either as with a 45 kw or (60 hp) engine, it can get up to 100 km in less than 10 seconds.

The car has low maintenance costs. There is no oil to change, no engine to wash to maintain, and the car has fewer moving parts that need to be cared for or would need to be replaced if something goes wrong. One only needs to change the wiper blades and the tyres regularly.

Lee Young said TT was far behind countries like Barbados, which has more than 30 charging stations nationwide and supplies power to more than 300 EVs, and even further behind countries like Norway, in which half of the vehicles being used are EVs. In TT, of the approximately 1.1 million cars on the road, only five per cent – about 60,000 cars – are hybrid vehicles. And of all the cars in the country, Lee Young says fewer than 50 are EVs.

So, why hasn’t there been a bigger rush to purchase EVs in TT? Lee Young said it is because someone needs to push the idea. The RIC cannot do that themselves because, simply put, it is not their job.

“The act that governs the RIC is very specific so it is not in our mandate to go out there and advertise that everyone should go to electric vehicles. But we are working with the respective ministries because we have to be part of the process.”

One of the things the RIC is doing to help promote the use of EVs and hybrids, is providing a free charge port to all EV drivers. The charger is installed at the front of the organisation’s office. Drivers simply have to sign their name in at the RIC’s office and they would be able to charge their car fully in two hours.

“This is the first publicly available free charging station in the country. There are only two other charging stations and they are owned by the Massy Group (agents for Hyundai). Anyone can drive up and use it,”

Young hoped that the outlook on EVs would change as it is recognised that it could positively affect the pockets of TT citizens. He added that he is convinced that buying electric is the way of the future.

“My next car that I am going to buy personally is going to be an EV.”

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