Ambassador Julie J Chung’s Remarks at Handover of the USAID Sri Lanka Energy Program EV charging station to Jetwing

September 26, 2023

It’s great to join you today; thank you for inviting me. I want to start by acknowledging our esteemed and pioneering host, Jetwing, for its partnership. It’s another great example of U.S. development goals aligning with the interests of the Sri Lankan private sector.

A few decades ago, there was a television cartoon show in the United States that featured a space-age family zipping around their interstellar neighborhood in flying saucer cars. They were the “Jetsons” so it appears there is precedence for a forward-thinking company with “jet” as part of its name.

While we’re a long way still from flying cars, this partnership between Jetwing and USAID’s Sri Lanka Energy Program to employ electric vehicles and charging stations at this hotel is every bit as future oriented as that show was imaginative.

To underscore the need for this technology and its contribution to the development of alternative energy and transportation solutions, consider that about 70 percent of vehicles on Sri Lankan roads are two- and three-wheelers. They account for nearly 30 percent of all fuel consumption.

As we push to reduce the number of petrol-fueled two- and three-wheelers we find ourselves in what I call the chicken-and-egg situation. Electric vehicles do not sell in part because there is a lack of charging stations, and there is a dearth of investments in charging infrastructure because there are so few electric vehicles on the road.

One of the silver linings from the 2022 power cuts and fuel crisis in Sri Lanka was increased interest in e-mobility. USAID’s energy project made a significant advancement last year by signing agreements with Vega Innovations and David Pieris Motor Company to kick start our journey in the e-mobility space. The Vega Innovations signing ceremony was among my first events in Sri Lanka and I am thrilled to be here nearly a year later to see how some of this work fits together.

Witnessing this full-circle moment leading us forward reminds me of how far things have progressed since I was a California teen-ager driving my first car, a used 1988 Honda Accord. Back then I would not have imagined a world with vehicles that didn’t require me to top up at a gas station.

Today we are here to celebrate the first in a series of grants from USAID’s energy program to support solar-powered vehicle charging stations or battery swapping stations around Colombo.  With its grant, Jetwing will set up two stations at the hotel and add Vega-built electric three-wheelers for guest transportation and tours.

But we are certainly not on this journey alone. As USAID supports piloting charging infrastructure, UNDP has been supporting the industry to pilot and scale the number of e-three wheelers on the street. I have no doubt, Sri Lanka stands to gain more through our collaborative work in this field.

The government is doing its part too. USAID is working with stakeholders such as the Sri Lanka Standards Institute and the Public Utilities Commission to develop robust regulations on safety, standardization, and tariffs for electric vehicles and charging stations.

These charging stations also are important for the message they send about renewable energy. We know that E-mobility powered solely by on-grid electricity is not the solution. It’s the responsibility of those developing charging infrastructure to use renewable energy, which will offset more pollutive grid electricity and reduce reliance on imported fuel, saving valuable foreign exchange for the country.

Today’s launch is a key step forward in developing the sector and addressing the chicken and egg dilemma.

The United States is pleased to support Jetwing in this proof of concept. Upon success of this pilot at this hotel, Jetwing is committed to expand this concept to other properties within the group.

Given that the Jetwing brand is synonymous with sustainability, and is at the forefront of the tourism industry, partnering with them makes good economic growth sense. Sustainability initiatives, such as the promotion of e-three wheelers for their city tours will help meet the expectations of a new generation of eco-conscious travelers.

We also appreciate the involvement of Vega Innovations, another USAID private sector partner at the forefront of technological innovations. Their charging units and three-wheelers, which are also a part of this grant, are no doubt a game changer for this industry in Sri Lanka.

Most importantly, this pilot, once proven to be commercially viable, will serve as a model to be replicated by other industries across Sri Lanka.

Recognizing that the growth of this sector is dependent on increasing use of electric vehicles, we also look to the other stakeholders here today to fuel the growth of this sector through a holistic approach encompassing regulations, cost effectiveness, and reliability. USAID remains committed to this sector and will work with you all to reach our shared vision.

As the U.S. celebrates 75 years of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and her people, this is the kind of legacy we want to build.  I look forward to a day when we will see electric vehicles and charging stations in all provinces across the country. And maybe some day, even flying cars.

Thank you.