Landlocked in the Himalayas and bordered by China and India, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan isn’t the first place you think of when you think of electric cars. But thanks to some enterprising, forward-thinking actions from its government, one of the world’s most remote capital cities is about to become an electric vehicle paradise.
At the end of last week, Tshering Tobgay, the prime minister of Bhutan, said that the country will shortly begin replacing its existing governmental vehicles with electric cars. Eager to get a supply of electric cars arriving in the nation by March of next year, Mr. Tobgay and other governmental officials have already met with Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan, to discuss the logistics of charging infrastructure and vehicle supply.
In addition, reports The Financial Times, the government of the Kingdom of Bhutan has also reached out to other automakers, including Tesla Motors.
Its capital city, Thimph, with a population of around 80,000, will become the nation’s electric car capital.
“This government is going to attempt to make Thimphu an electric vehicle hotspot,” said Mr. Tobgay last week. “We are confident that electric vehicles can take off here.”
While Bhutan’s government fleet will be the first to make the switch to electric, Mr. Tobgay hopes that everyone from taxi drivers to families in the area will consider electric over expensive gasoline.
If, like us, you didn’t know much about Bhutan before this story broke, you’ll be interested to know that the tiny Himalayan country is a just over a thousand square miles smaller than Switzerland, and has recently seen a massive growth in its economy thanks to a massive hydroelectric dam built in the south west of the country in 2006.
Capable of generating 1,020 megawatts of power, much of the electricity produced by the Tala Hydroelectric Power Station is sold to nearby India. But its presence has also kickstarted a green revolution in Bhutan. A popular tourist destination, dumping the pump for a plug is also a smart move for a nation keen to preserve the natural world around it.
Interestingly too, Bhutan isn’t exactly a nation you’d think of as electric car friendly: its unique topography means some roads are often difficult to navigate and very steep in the North, while its southern regions can fall victim to high amounts of rain in the monsoon season. Its climate is also one of extremes, with perpetual snow high in the mountains and heat waves in the south during summer.
Yet Bhutan’s officials remain undeterred. A largely Buddhist nation, Bhutan focuses on both gross national happiness (GNH) as well as the more well-known Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of its citizens. Driving green, clean cars that pollute less, it could be argued, fits well with the nation’s predominant Mahayana Buddhist religion.
The interest in electric cars in Bhutan doesn’t however just extend to buying in electric cars from western automakers. Instead, Mr. Tobgay says, he hopes the country will start its own research and development centre for electric car technology. With personal car importation from other countries banned to save foreign exchange, legislation is being planned to exempt EVs from import duties, as well as spearhead the production of Bhutan’s own EVs for her people to drive.
That’s a really important thing for the country, since the majority of its poorer underclass can’t afford to buy a gasoline car, let alone a car like a Nissan LEAF. But by studying and innovating at a local level, disseminating information about to its citizens about electric cars and making an affordable EV more of its citizens can afford, Bhutan could not only kickstart an electric car revolution, but a mobility revolution. At the right price point, of course.
“Electricity is like oil for us — it’s the most abundant source, and it makes a lot of sense to go all-electric,” the prime minster explained. “My own target [for Bhutan] is a 70 percent reduction in fossil fuel imports by 2020.”
We’d like to wish the Kingdom of Bhutan all the best in its endeavours to electrify its portion of the Himalayas, and hope its future successes serve as a wake-up call to all the many nations around the world who say electric vehicles are just too limited, too difficult, to adopt en-masse.
There’s just one question we can’t answer: if Bhutan can do it, why can’t we? Leave your answers in the Comments below.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.