While the EV push is welcome, there has to be an equal thrust on multiple clean transport solutions
With the Indian government talking about a rather ambitious target of selling only electric vehicles (EV) in the country by 2030, there is palpable excitement as well as anxiousness in the transport industry. A number of players in the automotive space are now working to introduce more efficient EVs. However, it is also pertinent to analyse our collective readiness towards this bold target. It is not difficult to foresee that replacing the entire fleet of petrol and diesel vehicles with EVs is easier said than done. We must ask will our infrastructure be ready by 2030 to support the colossal change? Will the new-age EVs ensure high degree of efficiency and smooth running? How are we going to ensure that this transition is smooth?
It is also important to underline that while the thrust on EVs is welcome, it must be accompanied by multi-pronged strategies that will not only incentivise buyers to buy EVs, but also help reduce people’s dependence on private automobiles. These measures must include improving public transport systems, improving last-mile connectivity, and investing in environment-friendly fuels and urban planning measures such as making roads bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.
The road to 2030
Norway, one of the pioneers in adopting EVs, started the process way back in the 1990s. The country, much smaller than India in size and population, brought about the change gradually and smoothly, with its target of selling only EVs set at 2025. The Nordic country, which has a highly-efficient infrastructure to support EVs, has transitioned its transport space over a period of 25 years. The example was meant to highlight the fact that India’s 2030 target seems highly ambitious. If all the vehicles on the road have to be electric, there need to be sufficient charging points. The UK, for example, has 4,900 charging points, and another 3,000-4,000 are likely to come up in the next two years. India needs far more charging points, and then there have to be stations where vehicle owners can drop off drained batteries and pick up the charged ones. Power to ensure uninterrupted supply is another major requirement that needs to be achieved at charging points. Significant improvement in EV technology is also a major precursor to the radical shift.
Gradual approach of transition
While there are no two opinions on the need to cut dependence on fossil fuels, it is advisable to avoid disruption that a sudden change can bring about. A better approach would be to phase out diesel vehicles first, while allowing some more years for petrol-run cars, and thereafter look at phasing out vehicles run by comparatively cleaner fuels such as CNG and auto LPG. This will ensure that the transition happens smoothly and gives sufficient time to the government and industry to put in place a robust infrastructure to support EVs.
Invest in EV technology
The EV market in India is at a nascent stage, with limited R&D. While there has been considerable improvement in the performance of batteries over last 8-10 years, a greater focus on making them even better needs to be in place, and now. It needs to be demonstrated over the next 5-10 years that owning and maintaining an EV is just as convenient (if not more) than those running on conventional fuels. For this to happen, the government and industry must join hands to put in significant investment in improving EV technology. While the current thrust seems to be on cars, an equal focus is required on commercial vehicles, which are a major source of unclean emissions. A lot more R&D needs to go into making viable electric commercial vehicles.
The government should play an active role in incentivising truck and bus makers to invest more in R&D. Typically in India, trucks run 24 hours, with drivers changing their duties. In such a scenario, quick charging or battery changing would be required so that there is little or no downtime for these vehicles. Fast-charging stations have to be equally spread in cities and on highways.
Financial support for start-ups
Setting up charging and battery changing stations requires a significant investment on the part of entrepreneurs. The investment bears fruit only when there are substantial numbers of EVs on the roads to use them. On the other hand, proliferation of EVs depends on the presence of sufficient stations and charging points. The government will have to step in to help the first generation of entrepreneurs who are keen to invest in the field. The help must come either through a seed capital, or sharing of investment amount or making loans easier for such private players.
Start incentivising buyers now
It is important to start incentivising buyers now itself to turn to EVs, rather than waiting for the next decade to pass. The idea is to make it attractive for people to own and maintain EVs. There must be a large number of EVs on the roads before 2030 to make it lucrative for private players to invest in infrastructure. Incentives can include subsidies, offering free parking and waiver of toll charges for, say, 10 years, interest-free loans for buyers, among others. Offering tax breaks to cab companies who choose to operate EVs is another attractive option.
Reduce dependence on private cars
It’s also extremely important is to encourage people to minimise the use of private cars. This will also help reduce traffic congestion. Improving the state of public transport, offering last-mile connectivity and promoting the use of bicycles has to be done simultaneously. We must not forget the need to make our roads friendlier to pedestrians and bicycles so that more and more people can opt these for short distance travel.
Writer is CMD, Hero Cycles