Bhutan Goes Electric

Bhutan, the tiny mountainous country that popularized the concept of gross national happiness, is planning to replace conventional cars with electric vehicles in what could be an interesting, albeit not easily repeatable, experiment for the rest of the world to watch.

The Financial Times reports that the country’s leaders would first replace government vehicles with the Nissan Leaf electric car and then gradually replace conventional gasoline and diesel taxis and private cars with electrics.

With a per-capita income of just $2,420, Bhutan may seem like an odd market for an electric car that costs $21,300 (Nissan’s advertised price for the Leaf in the American market with federal tax subsidies). But the government argues that the move would save the country money in the long run because it would no longer have to import expensive oil-based fuel and could instead rely on its vast capacity to produce cheap hydroelectric power. Officials told the F.T. that a typical taxi driver would see his daily fuel costs fall from $13, to about 16 cents.

Another benefit is reduced air pollution, which is a growing problem for the country as more of its 740,000 people move to cities like the capital Thimpu, according to a government report. Officials seem juiced by the idea of marketing the country as an “electric vehicle hotspot” to environmentally conscious tourists.

While bigger countries like the United States or France might be hard pressed to do what Bhutan is setting out to do, the country’s experiment might still offer lessons. Cities, for example, might study it to find out the best ways to convert their fleets to electric cars, or to determine the best places to put charging stations.

Source & References

Bajaj, V. 2013. Bhutan Goes Electric. The New York Times, 22 November.

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