In August 2017 the then Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal announced that India would be moving to an all electric car fleet by 2030. This statement of intent was to ease polluting vehicular emissions on congested roads. The move took car manufacturers by surprise and doubts persist on the electric car movement in India. The Government has now set a realistic target of 30% electric vehicles by 2030.
The Government at the Centre is trying to create a robust electric vehicle market, through initiatives like global tenders and Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India (FAME). While the Government is promoting the use of electric vehicles, the problem lies with the direction of these policies. As the Centre dilly-dallies, many State Governments have rolled out clear electric vehicle policies.
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A survey by a leading daily revealed that 90% of car owners in India were willing to make the switch to electric vehicles. The main reason behind adopting electric vehicles was air pollution. A report titled India: Health of Nation’s in November 2017 stated there was a 17% rise in deaths and disabilities in India due to diseases caused by air pollution. India’s shift to a shared, electric and connected mobility can cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly one gigatonne by 2030.
An electric-vehicle policy has been adopted by the Karnataka Government to drive research in electric vehicles and encourage manufacturing in the State. The State has the workforce, R&D capability and the manufacturing expertise to be the hub of electric vehicles in the country. The problem with Karnataka’s electric vehicles policy is a heavy focus on manufacturing within the State.
Adoption of electric vehicles in India requires a multi-pronged approach, covering several departments across different ministries with proper implementation across all levels of the Government. Mere incentives and tax cuts are not a solution. The Government should look at larger electric vehicles and fleets of electric buses, rather than personal cars.
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The focus should be on an electric bus fleet as subsiding cars add more vehicles on roads. Governments enjoy a monopoly over public transport and can setup charging infrastructure and storage facilities. The focus should be plying electric buses on intra-city and inter-city routes of short distances, followed by taxis and ride-sharing vehicles.
India cannot rely on the coal sector for powering electric vehicles and needs to look at nuclear power. The 100 operational nuclear reactors across India are not enough. More nuclear reactors are the need of the hour. The growth of the electric vehicle sector requires charging infrastructure and setting up of charging points.
A fast-charging platform must charge a 100kw bus battery in under 20 minutes. This requires a lot of power and the grid must be capable of handling the load. Drawing excess power from the grid when several heavy vehicles use the fast-charge option could cause a blackout. A separate charging grid for electric vehicles isolated from the rest of the supply and distribution network prevents blackouts. Public-private partnerships in the electric vehicle sector could see private players set up charging infrastructure. Apartment complexes, Malls and other commercial spaces could set up charging points, with regulations in place to connect them to the right grid.
The Government has setup the state-run energy efficiency services limited (EESL) for the specific purpose of drawing investments to the electric vehicle sector. EESL procures electric vehicles and rents them to the Government. EESL has purchased electric cars from leading auto companies in the private space. Mass procurement can bring down the cost of electric vehicles by 25%. Millions of electric vehicles are needed in the Government sector for intra-city travel. A policy for mandatory use of electric vehicles by the Government could generate demand for electric vehicles, save millions in fuel costs and promote the Make in India programme.
The electric vehicle sector is not without its share of problems. Electric cars run between 150 to 175 Kms on a single charge causing anxiety among car owners. Absence of charging points increases the risk of getting stranded. Charging time could be anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours depending on the battery and the motor. A petrol or diesel car can be refueled in minutes.
Electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries which are light and can store charge for a long duration. Lithium in the batteries is highly reactive and can explode if the battery is damaged. Lithium is rare and mining it is hazardous to the environment. Child laborers are used to mine lithium in harsh conditions. Electric vehicle owners face the moral dilemma of using the vehicle to minimize the carbon footprint while increasing human suffering and environmental damage.
There are no viable alternatives to lithium-ion batteries and development will take time and money. Lithium-ion batteries are being heavily funded by investors as they know they work. This is a step backwards and advanced batteries are the need of the hour. The future of electric vehicles hinges on better batteries.
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