Electric Vehicles: How policymakers and technology players are working together to cross the finish line

The EV race is speeding up in the MEA region, says ABB’s regional head of electrification, Loay Dajani

A new era was born when the ABB FIA Formula E championship came to Saudi Arabia in 2018. The Diriyah E-Prix takes place at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, outside Riyadh. Staging an international motorsport event in such a sensitive location is a testament to the muted sound levels and zero-pollution powertrains of the all-electric race cars.

Further, the decision to hold races for fully electric cars in an oil-rich region of the world demonstrates a recognition that sustainably sourced electric power can help improve air quality and reduce climate impact.

We saw the kingdom demonstrate commitment to a more sustainable transport future when the Saudi Energy Minister, Khalid Al-Falih, spoke at the Saudi Energy Forum (SEF) in Riyadh. He discussed ways to harness electric vehicles (EVs) to accelerate the Kingdom towards achieving the Vision 2030 reform plan targets. Introduction of electric cars into Saudi Arabia is unlikely to jeopardise the country’s oil sector, he added.

Across the Red Sea, policy makers in Egypt are moving swiftly in the same direction. Minister of Public Enterprise, Hisham Tawfik, has said Egypt will produce 25,000 electric cars annually from Spring 2021. The Egyptian EV will be produced by El Nasr Automotive Manufacturing Co., which will re-open specifically to manufacture EVs – creating thousands of new jobs and signalling the start of an entirely new value chain. The government has also taken the right steps towards stimulating demand by offering conditional customs exemptions on new and used EV imports.

In the United Arab Emirates – a nation that has long embraced EVs – the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy issued a new directive in September 2020 that will raise the number of EVs and hybrid vehicles to at least 10% of the country’s total import of vehicles by the end of 2024. The move is in line with the Smart Dubai initiative, which includes a ‘carbon abatement strategy’ and aims to make Dubai the smartest city in the world.

World EV Day – a global first

 The political will is clear: from Abu Dhabi to Cairo to Riyadh, the region’s most populous Arab states are committed to a future of clean air, lower carbon emissions and energy efficiency: they are committed to the age of the electric vehicle. With policy heading in the right direction, where are we right now with the technology?

This year also saw the first World EV Day, which took place in September. The event was designed to celebrate and raise awareness around EV technology and encouraged participation from countries and individuals around the world, with an invitation for people to pledge that the next vehicle they drive will be electric.

The greatest challenge in scaling up EVs is in getting power to where it needs to be, quickly and reliably. This goes to the heart of two technological stories: storage and distribution.

For EVs to deliver on what policy makers in the Middle East are aiming for, we need a national network of ultra-fast charging stations and high performance in-vehicle storage. ABB is investing heavily in research and development that is geared toward constantly improving its market-leading charging solutions. It has, for example, just launched its first Vehicle to Grid charging pilot with a solution which will set the global benchmark for bi-directional charging, a key step in enabling the next step in our e-mobility ecosystem.

Meanwhile, we are also proud of the developments we have made in electrical distribution over the past 100 years, enabling end-to-end e-mobility solutions to the transport of tomorrow, today.

Technology advancements  

The advances made, particularly in fast charging are incredible: in July 2020, ABB announced that as of Season 9 it will also supply fast charging technologies to the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. Together with engineers from motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, and Formula E, ABB’s Electrification teams are currently working on the specifications and requirements to develop an innovative and safe solution for charging the lighter, faster and more energy-efficient Gen3 cars through portable charging units that can charge two cars simultaneously.

There have been some key milestones on our EV journey to date, where ABB has been a key player in changing the e-mobility landscape, starting with the acquisition of the Epyon DC fast charging company in 2011, which became the nucleus for all future development.

In 2013, ABB was the first company to develop networks of 50 kW chargers, spanning complete nations. This was paired with a unique cloud-based service for remote monitoring and servicing of chargers, which was a real game-changer for connectivity, and which is now part of the ABB Ability ecosystem.

More recently, in 2018, ABB was the first to market with our liquid-cooled full 350 kW capable charging technology, which delivers higher power and charging speeds. This was followed at the start of 2020 with the acquisition of Chinese EV charging provider Chargedot.

Way Forward

With ultra-fast charging now upon us, the final piece of the jigsaw is power-grid infrastructure. This is where the real challenge lies. National EV charging infrastructure must reach every town, and city – and the highways that link them. It must also reach out deep into neighbourhoods to provide charging posts in front of every home and apartment block. This is where we need to be.

ABB has already made advances in developing local infrastructure in places like Saudi Arabia. Most recently, in September 2020, it agreed to supply a new residential compound in Riyadh with EV charging infrastructure and will install its first round of charging infrastructure in the new compound for up to 140 housing units. The network will ensure that residents can charge their vehicles where they need to – in their own homes.

Now more than ever, we realise the need for clean air and healthier lifestyles that are sustainable. Building a national infrastructure is a major task but policymakers and the private sector should continue working together to build a safe, smart and sustainable future.




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