Shifting Gears: How USAID is Improving the Quality of Air and Life by Introducing Electric Vehicles in Pakistan
A busy intersection in Lahore, Pakistan stirs all of the senses, as motorcycles, auto rickshaws, and buses packed to the brim zoom by, leaving behind a trail of smog.
In this city, one-third of small particle pollution comes from vehicle emissions. Smog has become so prevalent in November that this time of year is referred to as “smog season,” as post-harvest crop residue burning worsens air quality.
Poor air quality has caused flight disruptions and road closures, as well as traffic accidents from bad visibility. It is the second-greatest threat to human health in Pakistan. Air pollution shortens lives by almost seven years in Lahore, and is responsible for 137,000 deaths per year in Pakistan as a whole. When the Pakistani Government determines that air quality constitutes a “smog emergency,” children have to wear masks to school and in some cases, the schools shut down entirely.
USAID and the Pakistani Government have acknowledged the critical need to tackle air pollution, recognizing its impact on millions of lives and the overall quality of life. In a strategic move, they are championing a solution that will achieve swift results — transitioning from gasoline vehicles to increasingly popular electric ones.
While vehicular emissions negatively affect human health, petroleum imports threaten economic stability. Due to surging global fuel prices in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a typical Pakistani household now devotes 30% of its monthly budget to buying gas for their vehicles. Switching to electric vehicles could save households money and reduce the country’s reliance on imported petroleum.
Here are three ways USAID has expanded the market for electric vehicles in Pakistan:
1. Developing policy and capacity
Before production of electric vehicles could begin, the Government of Pakistan needed to create standards and policies to support this new industry. USAID partnered with the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and began working with the Government of Pakistan in 2017 to develop the framework for the country’s electric vehicle policy. In 2021, USAID and LUMS published a study on EVs and batteries that gave the private sector the information it needed to start investing in electric vehicles. This year, USAID collaborated with LUMS to create an e-mobility research and development (R&D) lab to innovate, create standards, and attract more private sector investment for the electric vehicle industry. USAID will continue to support Pakistan through a partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory focused on deployment of charging stations and equipment standards for electric motorbikes and rickshaws.
2. Financing startups
In Pakistan, the lower middle class uses motorbikes as their primary mode of transportation. Out of the more than 35 million motorized vehicles on Pakistan’s roads, over 27 million are motorbikes. These motorbikes contribute a significant fraction of greenhouse gas emissions in Pakistan.
USAID is working with the Private Financing Advisory Network to provide targeted advisory services for facilitating investment in renewables and electric vehicles projects in Pakistan to reduce emissions from the transportation and energy sectors.
One of these projects includes a partnership with startup ezBike — a business in Islamabad that is working to electrify the motorbike market. ezBike is the country’s first electric bike sharing startup, and the popular red scooter can be seen zipping all over the capital. The company is also piloting several new business models, including an initiative to retrofit existing gas-powered motorcycles with electric vehicle technology. Additionally, ezBike is piloting a network of charging stations around the country that would give electric motorbike riders access to swappable charged batteries for rent. These batteries deliver about nine hours of riding per charge.
Under this model, customers would save about half the cost of fuel by paying only 350 Pakistani rupees, a little more than $1, per day to rent a rechargeable battery, instead of the 700–800 Pakistani rupees usually spent on gas. In a country where annual salaries average $1,500, this cost savings makes a big difference. Communities also benefit from the reduction in noise pollution that accompanies scooter electrification, a stark contrast to loud, gas-fueled motorcycles.
3. Researching other use cases
The applications of swappable electric batteries present an intriguing opportunity for use in other sectors. LUMS is working to test out other business models for electric batteries, and is currently researching:
- Electrifying cookstoves with batteries to reduce harmful emissions from indoor cooking using fuels like wood and coal. In Pakistan, 40% of children are stunted, and emissions from polluting cookstoves are linked to stunting.
- Developing electrified small-scale refrigeration in Pakistan’s food logistics industry, to decrease food waste and losses during shipping time.
- Powering basic health clinics and refrigeration for medicines using electric batteries.
Outside of these potential business opportunities, LUMS is also researching international standards for electric vehicles, which could help create an export industry for electric batteries from Pakistan.
Electrifying Pakistan’s transportation sector not only creates new jobs in R&D and manufacturing for Pakistanis, but also improves air quality for all. Outside of Pakistan, USAID is working across the globe to increase access to affordable, clean, safe, and accessible transportation in cities by expanding public transportation options, making no-carbon options like biking and walking safer, increasing deployment of electric vehicles, and planning for low-emission zones.
About the Author
Ali Syverson is a Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist for the Center for Energy, Infrastructure and Cities at USAID. Learn more about USAID’s work in the energy sector.