Given how Indian cities are reeling under pollution—Delhi, according to WHO, is the worst among 1,600 cities—it is not surprising that the government is pushing for more electric vehicles on the road. While transport minister Nitin Gadkari had announced the introduction of electric buses about a year ago, NITI Aayog states that pursuing an electric- shared- and connected-mobility policy on transportation can cut 64% of energy demand and 37% of carbon emissions by 2030. It lays down a three-stage process to move towards this goal, starting with the government introducing electric vehicles (EVs) and building an infrastructure to support these.
While getting a large enough proportion of vehicles to run on electricity sounds tough, it may not be, though it will certainly take time. With cars running more on single charge—they are up to nearly 180 km already, and Tesla is talking of double the distance on its newer cars—the need for charging stations gets reduced. And while setting up charging points is cumbersome, there could be other solutions. A network of petrol pumps, like IOC/HPCL/BPCL or simply service stations, could charge a monthly maintenance amount and simply replace car batteries with charged ones.
The larger question is whether replacing a large enough part of, say, Delhi’s fleet with electric vehicles running on power purchased from a thermal plant in Haryana will transfer the same amount of emissions there. If it does, the plan is a non-starter. Indeed, a study by US-based National Bureau of Economic Research found subsidies given to electric vehicles didn’t reduce pollution in American states that had a lot of coal-based power plants. So, if electric vehicles are to help reduce pollution, it means there will have to either be more use of non-conventional energy or thermal plants will have to be less polluting—they could achieve this by using cleaner coal, more anti-pollution equipment and also having higher generation efficiency.
While there is work happening on these fronts, the Centre will need to convince states too—there are obvious savings to be made by going electric, but there are large savings to be made from shared mobility as well. While car pools are one form of this, shared taxis/autos are another. Yet, states like Karnataka have cracked down on both OlaShare and UberPool. Given the magnitude of the savings and the impact on the environment, this is clearly a future that is worth working towards.