This Singaporean BMW driver pays nothing for his ‘fuel’ every month – find out how he does it
There’s a Singaporean driver whose monthly fuel bill for his BMW is zero. That’s right, zero, zip, nada.
It probably comes as no surprise that the BMW he owns is the BMW i3 electric vehicle (EV). That he avoids any sort of expense on petrol is expected, but what’s really cool is that he pays next to nothing to charge it at home. No emissions, no bills – that’s pretty much the holy grail of modern mobility, really.
While the means to achieve this dream is still in its early stages, the message here is that responsible, renewable-energy powered motoring is already here, and that it’s an increasingly achievable reality even in Singapore.
Solar power entrepreneur Frank Phuan and his BMW i3
Time To Shine
If there’s a perfect candidate for EV ownership, Frank Phuan would be it. Frank, 37, is the co-founder and director of the Sunseap Group, which is in the business of providing clean and sustainable solar energy both here and across the region.
The company was behind a 2015 project that supplied Apple’s fully-renewable energy supply for its Singapore campus. Apple’s flagship store on Orchard Road is likewise powered completely by a solar energy array from Sunseap.
Sunseap also has an extensive network of solar-powered arrays that currently generate just a small percentage of Singapore’s energy needs, but like the progress of EVs, that’s something which is certain to change in a big way soon.
Frank’s expertise in the solar industry led him to install an array of solar cells that augments his home’s conventional electricity supply. The cells, which are integrated into a stylish-looking patio shelter, leaves onlookers none the wiser that a solar-powered revolution is sitting before them.
“My neighbours all used conventional shelters to turn their rooftop units into patios already. I thought why not integrate a solar array so it can generate some energy too?” explains Frank.
After installing the system, his monthly power bills returned to the same level they were before he owned his BMW i3. In other words, the solar system is effectively providing all the power the car needs – and that’s more than enough to get Frank around town.
The BMW i3 is a fully-electric vehicle, but all units sold here come with the petrol-powered range extender that adds approximately 100km to the car’s range. Its officially-quoted electric range is 130 to 160km, so in conjunction with the range extender, a BMW i3 is pretty much able to drive the length of Singapore five times.
And if one is still paranoid about range, keep in mind that Frank’s BMW i3 is a 2014 model. The newly-available 2017 BMW i3 will be updated with a larger battery pack that allows for 200km of pure electric range.
“Range anxiety is a big turn-off for people used to the range of a normal car, but even with a full day’s driving of 100km and more, I’ve never run out of charge on the i3,” says Frank with a hint of pride, “I get usually around 120km per full charge so I’ve never even had to use the range extender at all.”
EVs are easier to own too. Unlike conventional cars, EVs are much simpler and with fewer moving parts. BMW i3 owners typically only need to replace brake pads, brake fluid and tyres on a regular basis.
Even without the bonus of skipping petrol queues and paying less for maintenance, Frank, who recently became a dad, appreciates the fact that the i3 emits zero local pollution and, with its urban-centric design, is basically the perfect machine for zipping around Singapore.
“It’s really quiet inside, there’s lots of space for four people, and you can drive it with just one foot. Maybe people think that it’s weird or very different from a normal car, but in fact it’s even easier to manage.”
In fact, the BMW i3 passed one of the most stringent ease of use tests of all: “My mother drives it on some weekdays, and she got used to it very quickly,” he says.
The BMW i3’s instant accelerative punch is also something he’s grown quite fond of. An avid driver, his family’s other cars include a large SUV and a grand touring coupe, both from luxury brands. “The BMW i3 can beat either of them from a standstill, at least in town!” he says with a grin.
Of course, being a pioneer of solar energy in Singapore puts Frank at an advantage. The cost of a solar panel system like the one in Frank’s home would be $8,000 to $10,000 here, but he says that solar systems require far less maintenance than you’d expect, and a setup like this could pay for itself in less than a decade.
To put it another way, the BMW i3 is subsidising its own expenses. If you think about it that way, there aren’t any other cars on the road besides Frank’s BMW i3 that could possibly contribute to paying off their own COEs.
That an energy entrepreneur has chosen an EV is really no coincidence either. Come 2018, the choice of utilising solar energy won’t just be limited to people with mini solar farms on their rooftops, but everyone in Singapore.
The liberalisation of the energy market in 2018, means consumers will have a choice of buying power from a number of different service providers, instead of just Singapore Power. One such service provider will be Sunseap, which has taken inspiration from the telecommunications industry. It aims to offer a number of flexible plans to consumers consisting of up to 20 percent renewable solar energy.
“It’s really not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’ solar energy will become mainstream,” says Frank, “If we look at the nature of the technology, it becomes more and more efficient, and more affordable each year. In all my experience with solar technology, more than two decades, I’ve never seen it become more expensive. Only cheaper each year.”
A clean, brighter future where cars deliver zero-emissions mobility thanks to the power of the sun. The writing’s pretty much on the wall for the future of motoring, and it’s guys like Frank – with a car like the BMW i3 – that are showing a brighter way forward.
This story is brought to you by BMW Asia