Ab ki bar, Electric car…so says Modi sarkar!

Our guest-writer Ranojoy Mukherjee explores the realities of Modi-government's plans of an all-electric automotive industry by 2030. Whether we have the grid power or infrastructure to support even 50% of this mission remains the big question.

By: | Updated: September 27, 2017 5:13 PM


These days, most people, when they come to your house for a party, are not concerned about the alcohol you are serving or what cuisine you are offering. What they want to know is if you have an iPhone or a micro USB or even a Type-C charger (pronounced as tyyphhC, if you have been on an international holiday recently, with an accent.) Now what I am trying to say is that soon, all of this will be true, with people dropping in to ask whether they can borrow your charger to charge their car…or else it’s bekar. You will also rush to get them a charger for their car, else they will not leave anytime soon. This nightmare can become a reality post-2030 in India…if our top bosses have their way.
Nothing you can do to prevent this, but first, let us see the global viewpoint on electric cars. Paris has said that it is going to go fully electric by 2040. Nicolas Hulot, who is the environment minister in newly elected Emmanuel
Macron’s Government has made a statement: “We are announcing an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.” Interestingly, Uber has mandated that all its partner-drivers operating in the city of London should have
hybrid/electric vehicles mandatorily by 2020. Closer home, our own Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Shipping, Transport and Highways is talking 2030 as the new implementation date for electric vehicles. After that, he says, he is
going to ban conventional petrol or diesel vehicles or vehicles that do not run on alternative fuels. This means that it will not only be cows burping or farting. At the on-going Frankfurt Motor Show, Volkswagen Group Chief Executive
Matthias Mueller unveiled ‘roadmap E’, which aims to have an electric variant present for all of the group’s over 300 models, which range from Seat, Skoda, VW, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bugatti. He said: “a company like Volkswagen must lead, not follow. We are setting the scene for the final breakthrough on e mobility.”Volkswagen also reveal edits I.D. Cross Concept Model, which it hopes will take on (and beat) Tesla’s Model 3. Dr. Herbert Diess, Chairman of the Volkswagen brand Board of Management remarked: “The Volkswagen Brand will be investing over 6 billion euros in electric mobility over the next five years.” Other European manufacturers have made similar announcements, with most posed to bring in more than 25 models by 2020 of full electric cars.There are however many challenges in making electric cars in India. Let us take a look at a few of these:

1. Cost of the Battery.
There are many types of batteries available including Nickel metal hydride, lead acid etc., but to maintain stable power output and reasonable long service life, you need to use Lithium-Ion batteries. Currently, Lithium-Ion technology is quite expensive, and it can cost up to $500 (INR 32,000/-) per kWh (Kilo-Watt- hour). Typically,
battery cost in a small car itself would be around INR 5,00,000/- today. This is the reason why even cars like the Mahindra e2o are so expensive today. However, fret not. Battery costs are coming down regularly and it is expected that it would soon cost around INR 9,000/- per kWh within the next 3-5 years. This means that the cost of
an electric car could come near its fossil fuel driven counterpart in the next decade. Till then, battery costs are prohibitive and given their limited life, a little impractical at the moment. It is like using an electric saver at the moment – seems to be quite a fad but you do not know which all parts of the body you can use it at, at the moment and cannot quite replace the conventional shaver.
2. Battery recycling
It is a known fact that India has no laws on recycling. Thousands of tons of e-waste is generated every year, and is simply dumped into landfills, or sold off to Kabariwalas, who in turn just resell them. This is most crucial when it comes to batteries. Most of the batteries used in e-ricks are of the Lead Acid type, something that has been
abandoned in the rest of the advanced world. Prolonged exposure to even minute amounts of lead can lead to brain and kidney problems, besides blindness. The question remains, how do we dispose of old batteries, which are junk? Will we need an Aadhar card?
3. Charging Stations.
While currently, the government is pushing e-rickshaws and their like, it is clear that there is no infrastructure to recharge electric vehicles. Even the currently running e-ricks, which you see running amok near Metro stations, malls and other public service places, are largely stealing electric energy from the main grid. Most of these vehicle
owners simply spike into a mains supply to charge their vehicles, mainly using lead-acid batteries. This leads to voltage fluctuations in your household/commercial supply and even load shedding. There are many challenges with setting up charging points and/or stations. Where should they be located? Who will pay for them? If a paid model is adopted like advanced countries, what kind of a metering system needs to be set up? A majority of our urban population is now moving into high-rises, so how do you charge your electric vehicle in your apartment? Or for that matter at your place of work? Cities like London are modifying many of their street lighting poles into base
charging stations, but in India, such an implementation is some time away. We are still looking to feed black cows in the morning.

4. The Environmental Question
While it is well known that electric cars are not at all polluting unlike petrol or diesel vehicles with their zero tail pipe emissions, what is not very well documented is that fact that electric cars only make sense if the electricity generated for them is from environmentally friendly sources. You might be thinking solar, which is a good source. Or even hydroelectric at places that permit such generation. The point is that today, there are no environmentally-friendly ways to generate electricity in India as most of it is being done through thermal generation, which uses coal and is pumping back more pollutants back into nature. The greater the demand for re-charging electric vehicles, the more will be this type of rogue generation. Unless we switch to nuclear power production, using thermal generated electricity does not make a case for charging electric vehicles in India. Also let us not forget that whatever claims are made by our ruling chiefs, plentiful power is still not available pan-India. Even capital cities like New Delhi suffer power outages from time-to- time, so one can guess what the situation in the rest of the country is like. No, we need to find viable and sustainable sources for power generation in India. Even if we have to share it with the Ram mandir. Worldwide, electric cars have just started out in a small way. True, many Scandinavian countries are promoting their usage in a big way but their usage is still low, as fears like range anxiety and lack of recharge stations

Unless we switch to nuclear power production, using thermal generated electricity does not make a case for charging electric vehicles in India. Also let us not forget that whatever claims are made by our ruling chiefs, plentiful power is still not available pan-India. Even capital cities like New Delhi suffer power outages from time-to- time, so one can guess what the situation in the rest of the country is like. No, we need to find viable and sustainable sources for power generation in India. Even if we have to share it with the Ram mandir. Worldwide, electric cars have just started out in a small way. True, many Scandinavian countries are promoting their usage in a big way but their usage is still low, as fears like range anxiety and lack of recharge stations exist. China too is promoting them in a big way, because; a) the Chinese themselves produce most of the components; and b) citizens dare not go against what Chairman Mao said many moons back. In India we need to ‘Make in India,’ through our previous forays into Main Battle Tank (MBT) “Arjun” and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) “Tejas” have proven that we definitely need to work a little faster.
The other unique challenge for countries like India is the public transport system. It may run on CNG for big state capitals like Delhi, but in most other places public transport runs on diesel and this is seen as a polluting fuel. If electric vehicles are the way to go, what needs to be developed are buses, mini-trucks, and lorries etc., which also run on electricity. To think that there will be a day not too far when all of these will cruise on an electric highway seems to be a bit of far-fetched idea at the moment. Just imagine a Jugaad chugging away silently on electric power alone…
Global automotive manufacturers are ready to take on the challenges of electric mobility, but need a bit of a prod to do so in India. Unless the Government cracks its whip, technology and safety of automobiles in India will not improve significantly, and this is the same when it comes to electric cars. For electric vehicles to succeed here, battery technology needs to come down in price and sustainable electricity generation needs to happen. And
oh yes – we still need to figure out where to put those charging stations on
the roads, don’t we? The future is in silence…

 

Author: Ranojoy Mukerji is an automotive writer, analyst and hedonist with over 20 years of experience in motoring journalism. He is also a passionate Car collector and his hobbies include fine single malt whiskies and cigars.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent those of The Indian Express Group or any employees.

  1. Lakshman Kumar
    Sep 27, 2017 at 7:21 pm
    One more model is delinking car and battery. Battery will be available on Hire purchse/leasing.. recharging... ( new business opportunity) Probably petrol bunks will become charging stations!!! or for that matter, if it is viable every grocery/small shops also will put up charging stations...
    Reply