EV vision now depends on getting charging & energy mix right
Both the Centre and the states have shown resolve to push electric-vehicle (EV) adoption, which ties in well with India’s climate ambitions. From subsidising purchases through the FAME scheme and tax rebates to exempting EVs from registration and renewal fees, the measures should go a long way in encouraging buyers. Recently, Karnataka lowered land-acquisition costs for EV-component manufacturers. Last year, the Delhi government had announced a slew of incentives, including subsidies for purchases and road tax waivers. And, the Centre’s Rs 18,000-crore PLI scheme for battery manufacturing should spur large-scale battery manufacturing in the country, if the pain-points of the scheme—high-localisation requirement, penalty, etc—are addressed. Sadly, however, earnest as these efforts are, EV adoption will remain hobbled until there is concrete action on charging infrastructure and charging stations’ reliance on coal-based thermal power is ended. The underlying vision of cleaner transport too will remain unrealised.
Recent projections by ICRA of future EV sales offer one indication of how crucial charging infrastructure is—ICRA says electric two- and three-wheelers will constitute as much as 40% of the new vehicle sales in three years. Bear in mind these are typically used for small-distance commute and are viewed to be not as dependent on commercial charging infrastructure as larger EVs. McKinsey, in 2018, had estimated India would need about 5 million public charging points, at an investment of close to $6 billion. How moderate the efforts on this count are can be seen from India’s target of 69,000 charging kiosks at petrol stations across the country by 2030. Even against the modest aim of 2,600 charging stations in 62 cities by 2023, India currently has managed to put up just over a third.
Indeed, an article published by the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council posits that not only must India ramp up charging infrastructure exponentially, it will also quickly need to standardise public and private charging infrastructure. At present, India allows numerous charging connector standards (for fast-charging) which can be challenging for interoperability and thus lead to sub-optimal use of infrastructure. Given the dynamics in India, there is also a need to work on contactless charging, quite like what is being done in China and South Korea.
The other aspect of the EV ecosystem that needs immediate attention is connecting charging infrastructure to renewable power. Indeed, as this newspaper has pointed out before, the heavy reliance on coal-based thermal power undermines the EV vision significantly. Even natural gas is no great substitute, since the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions don’t significantly differ between a battery-operated EV and an ICE-operated (fossil-fuel consuming) vehicle in such a scenario, as ICRIER researchers have pointed out in this newspaper earlier. To that end, if the government really wants to put India among the EV leaders, it will need to ensure that it gets it right on both charging infrastructure and energy mix for charging stations.