Friday 24 May 2024
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on April 5, 2021 - April 11, 2021

There are many problems that electric vehicle (EV) owners currently face. Range anxiety, which is the fear that drivers have when the battery charge is low and a charging station is unavailable, is a major one in Malaysia.

Some EV owners face pushback from high-rise building owners that do not let them install a charging station in the building. For aspiring EV owners, the steep prices of these vehicles are a hurdle. Those who are concerned about environmental issues may also be turned off by the fact that Malaysia’s electricity is still mainly generated from fossil fuels.

“The lack of EV charging infrastructure is often touted as a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma for EV adoption. There is always the complaint that Malaysia is not ready for EV because we don’t have the infrastructure. Someone somewhere has to put up the chargers, so we are doing it,” says Lee Yuen How, founder of EV charging specialist EV Connection Sdn Bhd (EVC).

EVC started providing EV charging solutions in 2016. According to Lee, the company currently has the largest DC charger network in the country, located along the North-South Expressway (NSE). Five DC chargers are already up and another 10 are expected to be installed this year. 

EVC also launched JomCharge, an app that allows EV drivers to locate charging stations around the country and pay for charging their vehicles. According to Lee, it is the only locally developed EV charging platform that complies with the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), which allows EV drivers to use charging platforms developed by a variety of automakers. 

This interoperability function addresses a key challenge faced by EV owners globally. 

“We have already invested approximately RM1.5 million to put up charging infrastructure along highways at our own cost. That’s because we foresee that EVs will become more widespread in three to five years. We cannot sit on the fence and wait for something to happen,” says Lee.

EVC’s clientele includes 80% of the EV and plug-in hybrid EV automakers, such as Volvo, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai in Malaysia, he adds. 

Lee’s determination to create the supporting conditions for EVs to become commonplace can be seen in the projects that EVC undertakes. Other than the installation of DC chargers, which enable fast charging and can address range anxiety, the company is also powering the DC chargers with solar energy. 

“We want to show that the grid can be clean by using solar to support your EV charging. It’s not common now because it’s costly and the owner [of the location] has to allow you to do it,” says Lee. Adding to that, his team is working on a project to turn old EV batteries into an energy storage system.

“Then you can store the excess energy generated by the solar panels in the day and charge your vehicle at night. This will help us have a bigger solar PV (photovoltaic) system and be grid-independent,” says Lee. 

Addressing range anxiety with DC chargers

Most of the EV owners whom Lee spoke to only use EVs for short-distance drives within the city. That is because charging stations are not common, so the owners have to charge their EVs at home.

The chargers normally available in homes and offices are AC chargers, which take three to six hours to charge, says Lee. He estimates that there are around 500 public AC chargers in Malaysia at the moment.

Meanwhile, DC chargers can provide a higher charging power. In 15 to 30 minutes, the car can be almost fully charged, depending on the model and battery capacity. This makes DC chargers ideal for long-distance travellers who want to make a quick pit stop to “refuel” their EVs.

Lee estimates that there were only three public DC chargers and only one on a highway before EVC built its charging stations. 

“Now that we’re rolling out DC chargers on highways, EV users can drive longer distances,” says Lee. Roughly one DC charger for every 200km along the highway is a good start, he adds. These charging stations could be in petrol stations or commercial buildings. 

“Once the demand picks up, other players will come in to put up EV chargers on their premises to attract EV owners,” Lee says.

The problem, however, is that DC chargers can be 50 times more expensive than AC chargers. That is why they are rarely found in Malaysia. But DC chargers have to be installed in parallel to AC chargers in Malaysia, so that range anxiety can be eliminated. 

This will become even more important going forward as Singapore plans to phase out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2040. This means Singaporean EV owners who travel to Malaysia will have to look for chargers. 

“We are trying to work with a partner in Singapore to do an e-roaming programme, so when they come to Malaysia, they can use their own app to find chargers on JomCharge. It’s like if you’re a Maxis user, you can use Singtel in Singapore. With this, Malaysians and Singaporeans who travel to both countries won’t have problems looking for chargers,” Lee says. 

Helping EV owners get a ‘right to charge’

Some high-rise building managements don’t allow EV users to install charging stations in the building, even if the users are paying for it. Sometimes, this is because the building’s power supply distribution board at the car park does not have the power margin for EV chargers, Lee says, as it is only designed for lighting.

“Getting a power source from the main switchboard is required to provide the power source needed for EV chargers. Before that can happen, the building manager can appoint companies like us to do an energy or power study,” says Lee. A “right to charge” law should be available to support EV owners, he adds. 

The reluctance to allow EV charging could also come from the fear that it will consume a lot of power. Lee disagrees, as the current electricity grid is capable of handling the increase in EV usage. 

A valid concern may be that EV charging may overload existing cables and transformers or cause a trip in protection devices. “To mitigate this issue, we are developing ‘smart charging’ features to regulate the charging if the supply in a location is insufficient,” says Lee. 

“Charging an EV is almost equivalent to running three 1hp air conditioners at home for three to four hours every day. However, the cost of using electricity to charge the car, even at the highest domestic electricity tariff of RM0.571/kWh, is still cheaper than using RON95 petrol,” he notes. 

The cost savings are even greater when the EV is charged during off-peak hours. “Between 10pm and 8am are off-peak hours. Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) charges a lower rate for industrial and commercial clients during that time period,” says Lee. 

He says the company is in discussions with TNB to charge domestic users these rates. If this happens, EV owners can enjoy lower rates if they charge after 10pm. 

Digitalising the EV charging market 

From being an EV charging service provider in the early days, EVC has evolved to become both a hardware and software player. It sets up EV chargers for automakers and premise owners, and helps them manage it through JomCharge. 

EVC has installed and supplied more than 500 chargers to date. JomCharge owns and operates around 20 chargers currently. These chargers are located in petrol stations, rest and relaxation areas, hotels, malls and automaker premises. 

The DC chargers along the NSE are universal chargers and can accommodate all types of EV cars, according to Lee.

Going forward, EVC is planning to construct a few DC chargers linking the East and West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. 

What else can be done to promote EV adoption in Malaysia? Incentives or exemptions from taxes can reduce the cost of purchasing EVs, Lee says. 

“For players like us, we would definitely be supported if the government can give some matching grants or tax allowances to reduce our rollout cost. We are putting up a lot of capital to install chargers along the highway.”

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