The case for going electric

Martina Said - 29th December 2019 

Making the move from fossil-fuel powered vehicles to electric or hybrid alternatives is no longer as far-fetched as it used to be and, in time, it will likely become a necessity.

Environmental awareness and the impact of human activity on the natural environment has never been more mainstream and as talked about as it is nowadays, and it’s about time too.

Protests, petitions and social media outrage have thrust the issue of climate change into the spotlight, nationally and, even more so, globally, making it virtually impossible for the powers that be to ignore the need for urgent and desperate change.

Among the many topical subjects in Malta under the umbrella issue of the environment is air pollution, which inevitably leads to the discussion of the number of combustion engine vehicles on our roads and all the direct negative effects these bring with them.

Alongside this, the discussion on electric vehicles has come to the fore and is now a central part of the conversation on how to drastically reduce, and also discourage, the use of fossil fuel-run vehicles altogether.

This ambition was made clear by Government in its 2020 Budget last October. Finance Minister Edward Scicluna announced that Malta was aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050 and Government will be unveiling a strategy next year on how to achieve it.

Electric Car

Part of the strategy will include a cut-off date set by Government for the purchase of petrol and diesel cars. After this date, new vehicles entering Malta will have to be electric or run on alternative fuels.

Although a cut-off point has raised concerns of a sharp increase in the purchase of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in the run up to the deadline, thereby increasing their number on Malta’s roads even further, the counterargument is that an obligation, gradually and over several years, to buy an electric vehicle from the cut-off point will increase demand of electric or alternative fuel models and, therefore, push prices down, making them more affordable to the consumer.

To this end, MEP Miriam Dalli has been tasked with overseeing Malta’s move towards zero and low-emission vehicles (ZLEVs) and has forged an agreement with the EU to have cars and vans emit 57.5 per cent less carbon dioxide by 2030. The MEP also assured that the transition will not burden consumers.

Dr Dalli was reported by the local media last October saying that “people who have cars with an internal combustion engine will need to replace it and we, as policymakers, must guarantee that, when that time comes, the prices of emission-free vehicles are as affordable as combustion powered automobiles.”

Several Government incentives announced in the 2020 Budget highlighted this drive for electric car adoption. Owners of electric cars will be charged a lower rate of €0.1298 per unit for electricity when they charge their car at home as of 1st January 2020.

Electric Car

The Budget also referred to the installation of more charging points across Malta and Gozo for electric cars and all fuel stations will gradually be required to provide gas and charging points for electric cars. A grant of up to €1,500 for scrapping old vehicles will continue being offered as well as a €200 grant for the conversion of petrol-fuelled cars to natural gas-powered. These incentives build on existing schemes and grants which continue to be made available to anyone looking to buy an electric vehicle.

Among them are a €7,000 grant when registering a new battery-electric/ plug-in hybrid M1 and N1 vehicle, and another vehicle with an ICE which is at least 10 years old (since its manufacture date) is scrapped, and a grant of €6,000 upon registering a new battery-electric/plug-in Hybrid M1 and N1 vehicle without scrapping another vehicle.

A grant of up to €200,000 is available to companies that change their vehicle fleet from ICE to electric vehicles. Additionally, since 2018, electric and hybrid vehicles have been exempt from registration tax and the annual road licence for five years from the date of registration. This measure was also included in the 2020 Budget. Although adoption has been slow, the trend of electric cars is gradually catching on.

Data compiled by the National Statistics Office on the stock of licensed motor vehicles in Malta by Q3 2019 shows an increase of 164.4 per cent over the same period in 2018 – up from a total of 640 to 1,692 electric vehicles, including passenger cars (1,038), motorbikes and e-bicycles (444), as well as goods carrying vehicles (57). There’s also been a notable increase in the number of hybrid (electric/petrol and electric/diesel) vehicles on our roads from Q3 2018 to the same period in 2019 – from 1,247 to 1,963 electric/petrol vehicles and from 30 to 53 electric/diesel vehicles.

This is an extract of an interview which initially appeared in the December edition of the Commercial Courier.

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The case for going electric