From fossil fuels to electric: when will Malta make the switch?

Making a clean switch from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles is no mean feat for a country not yet weaned from petrol and diesel cars. How possible is it to make Malta go green? 

The interim targets indicated by Malta are to have 20% clean energy vehicles by 2025 and 50% by 2030
The interim targets indicated by Malta are to have 20% clean energy vehicles by 2025 and 50% by 2030

First it was France that declared a ban on the sale of new gas and diesel-powered cars starting in 2040; the United Kingdom followed suit announcing it too had similar plans to ban internal combustion engines and completely remove them from roads by 2050.

Norway, which already has Europe’s largest market for electric vehicles, decided on 2025 as a cut-off for the sale of combustion engine vehicles.

So it was only a matter of time until Prime Minister Joseph Muscat took on the issue as well. Using a Sunday speech marking the first 100 days of his second term in power, Muscat said consultative talks were required to establish a cut-off date by which the sale of diesel- and petrol-powered cars are banned.

What has perhaps gone unnoticed so far is that Transport Malta already published a national action plan and a master plan last year.

The targets indicated in both documents were based on the European Commission’s Transport White Paper which sets indicative targets for Member States to follow.

The EU wants to dramatically reduce the EU’s dependence on imported oil and cut carbon emissions in transport by 60% by 2050.

The interim targets indicated by Malta are to have 20% clean energy vehicles by 2025 and 50% by 2030.

The Maltese government has also indicated that it would deploy 500 charging points for electric vehicles. 

“These have to be implemented irrespective of the demand available at the time,” a Transport Malta spokesperson told MaltaToday, adding that this target superseded the national target of 5,000 electric vehicles to be registered in Malta by 2020.

There are currently 102 charging points across the island, and by May this year, a total of 258 fully electrical vehicles were registered. In total, motorists had purchased 976 units of full electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, range extender electric vehicle and hybrid vehicles.

In a bid to further encourage the purchase of clean energy vehicles the government offers a number of grants.

“We acknowledge that currently there isn’t a wide choice of EVs that one can choose from, but Malta does have a good percentage of EVs being sold on the European market. Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) do not export to Malta. In itself this is not a simple process, as the respective car manufacturers would have to test the national charging network beforehand to ascertain compatibility,” Transport Malta pointed out.

The switch to cleaner energy is also an infrastructural headache. Encouraging motorists to go for EVs is pointless unless the country’s infrastructure can accommodate that demand. The transport authority just concluded a detailed study that indicates where the remaining EV charging network – out of 500 – will be deployed.

The government and TM need to give more financial incentives to persuade people to buy electric vehicles

“The target is to at least have an EV pillar in every town and village, and then start increasing the supply according to the demand,” the spokesperson said.

New buildings must also cater for such an increase in demand, and the transport authority is lobbying for new development – including shopping malls, hotels and residential complexes – to provide EV charging facilities on their property.

Indeed, it was during Malta’s presidency of the Council of the European Union that member states agreed on a proposal for a revised directive on the energy performance of buildings – in particular, the promotion of electro-mobility by requiring at least one charging point and pre-cabling for every third parking space for electric vehicles in non-residential buildings and pre-cabling for every parking space in residential buildings.

The requirements, according to the proposals, will apply to buildings with more than 10 parking spaces.

What are the official plans for a cut-off date? 

“The Government is not just talking, but is also implementing in a concrete manner. We also keep contact with stakeholders all the time. We are trying to accelerate the change. Such work however will need to be done carefully,” the Transport Malta spokesman said.

TM claims any policy must be “sensitive” to private companies that own mostly diesel fleet. In line with state aid rules, the government has made grants available to further engage stakeholders to see how this can be taken to the next level.

“In the near future, Transport Malta and the government will take additional measures to promote sustainable transport, including new maritime ferry service routes, upgrading of the respective infrastructure and exploring additional public transport services to increase capacity and reliability while also promoting softer modes of transport such as walking and cycling.”

A policy will also soon be published by Transport Malta on the use of cycling as means of commuting as well as how to make it safer. 

Are car importers geared up for EV demand?

The government still needs to offer more financial incentives to help persuade more people to opt for electric vehicles, a representative of a major local importer told MaltaToday.

Sandro Cauchi, general manager of Continental Cars Ltd, said that the government – and Transport Malta – also needed to stop, or reduce, the influx of second-hand cars from the UK and Japan.

“The government and TM need to give more financial incentives to persuade people to buy electric vehicles,” he said. “[They] have to lead by example.”

He also urged the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) to start training their pupils in the maintenance and repair of electric vehicles and the support infrastructure.

Cauchi said that Malta’s infrastructure was already quite advanced with regard to charging points, but said that these points would need to be replaced with fast-charging stations.

Enforcement of laws and regulations should also be a priority for the administration.

“Police and wardens should penalise those who park their (fuel) vehicles on these electric charging points,” he said.

As to whether the auto brands that Continental Cars represents are gearing up for the demand in electric cars and the future restrictions on the sale of petrol- and diesel-driven vehicles, Cauchi said the carmaker was very much in sync with market demands and pressures.

“Volkswagen Group are well-prepared and already have quite a few exciting electrical models ready to be launched in the EU,” he said.

Continental Cars represents Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and Seat, which have all launched, or announced, electric models in their ranges.

Cauchi said that car importers would also be affected by the switch to electric vehicle sales.

“The government should financially incentivise or support importers for the huge investments that we have to do when it comes to special tooling and training,” he said.