11 Dec 20

Even oil-rich Middle East is switching to EVs

As it’s the source of the fossil fuel that still power most cars, you could think the Middle East is not inclined to switch to electric mobility. But you’d be wrong. Led – as usual when it comes to mobility innovation – by the UAE, the region is making concerted efforts to adopt EVs. 

Europe, China and North America are leading the world when it comes to electrifying mobility. The Middle East is determined not to be left behind. True, the proximity to – and resultant cheapness of – huge reserves of petrol below its desert sands is a powerful disincentive to make the switch away from fossil fuels. 

Limited resource
But oil wealth has also given many Middle Eastern countries the luxury to think beyond the source of that wealth, and to imagine a future without it. For the carbohydrates that have fuelled the region’s wealth are a limited resource. And they are as polluting here as they are anywhere else – if not more so, due to the refinery industry. 

The United Arab Emirates, ever at the forefront of innovation, have seen which way the wind blows, and have for the past few years established the long-term goal of electrifying their national vehicle park. The numerically insignificant but symbolically highly charged beginning was the deal, signed in 2017, for the acquisition of 200 Tesla EVs by the Dubai Taxi Corporation. It was the first step in Dubai’s plan to promote green mobility solutions – and inextricably linked to the Emirate’s ambition to have 25% of trips in its area effected by self-driving vehicles by 2030.

Two-pronged strategy
Dubai is following a classic two-pronged strategy when it comes to promoting electric mobility. On the one hand, it is investing in infrastructure, with hundreds of charging stations dotted around the city; on the other, it is providing financial advantages to EV drivers, currently by exempting EVs from charging fees (until end 2021) and parking fees (until end 2022).

But the UAE is not just promoting electric cars. Both Dubai and fellow Emirate Abu Dhabi have launched e-scooters as a means to both reduce congestion and pollution in the two densely populated cities.   

Free EV charging
The neighbouring Emirate of Sharjah meanwhile has ordered 50 semi-electric trucks from Tesla to add to its waste management fleet by the end of 2020. Sharjah additionally offers free charging to EV owners until 2025, while continuing to construct more charging points throughout its main city. 

While the UAE is the forerunner when it comes to EV introduction in the region, it is by no means the only mover. Recent Covid-related lockdowns have impressed on governments and populations from Cairo to Baghdad how high the level of air pollution in urban centres is – by temporarily removing it.

In Cairo, the World Bank is sponsoring an Air Pollution Management and Climate Change Project that is developing electric buses and related infrastructure – a project that, if successful, can be scaled up across the region, with an initial focus on the rest of Egypt, but also on Morocco and Jordan.

Saudi policies
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is following the lead of its Emirati neighbour and is starting to put some effort into pushing electric mobility. In November, the Kingdom announced that 5% of its parking spaces are to be designated solely for the use of EVs. Also, and even more importantly, the Saudi government has mandated that there will be EV charging stations at all municipal car parks. 

The move is part of Saudi efforts to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and conserve its energy resources. Considering the size of Saudi Arabia’s economy and population – both considerably larger than that of the UAE – this could be the country to watch when it comes to EV introduction across the region.

Pictured: the Saudi capital Riyadh - the world's next EV hotspot? (image: Shutterstock)

Authored by: Frank Jacobs