Tech View

Plugging Indian cities to e-mobility

Moving away from gasoline based vehicles to electric is not a lifestyle option anymore. It is already an imperative.

By 2050, two out of three people will be living in cities. Around the same time, 60 per cent of India’s population will also be living in cities. By 2050, India is expected to overtake China to become the most populous country in the world, with 11 out of the top 101 most populated cities being in India.

With cities covering just 2 per cent of the planet’s land mass, the rapid mass urbanisation of the world’s population (and India’s) raises serious questions about how we are going to manage the enormous carbon footprint that human habitation is going to leave behind.

Cities currently contribute to over 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions and according to some recent (2013) estimates, the transportation sector (people and goods) alone contributes to nearly half of the global carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides emissions. Over the next two decades, projected vehicular population in India is expected to nearly quadruple to 550 million from the current 160 million. It is, therefore, not just desirable but imperative that we move away from fossil fuel-based transportation to more environment-friendly mobility solutions such as electric vehicles (EV).

The change has began
Battery and plug-in hybrid EVs are fast becoming a vital component of the emerging transportation landscape. Already, progressive and forward thinking cities and nations (such as California and China) are electrifying buses and cars and trying carpooling programs to ease the burden created by polluting tailpipes. Top electric vehicle markets and associated local utilities are deploying public charging infrastructure, as well as, promoting infrastructure by requiring that buildings and parking facilities be enabled to support EVs. China and Norway are emerging as exceptional templates for future e-mobility solutions. China remains as the lead market where industrial policies are driving battery-electric vehicle technology forward. China leads the world in terms of the number of new sales with 142,445 electric vehicles purchased in the first quarter of 2018, a 154 per cent increase over the same period last year. Meanwhile, Norway’s share of registered electric vehicles rose to an astonishing 48 per cent, up from 35 per cent last year. In some of these markets, preferential access is provided for electric vehicles to parking, bus lanes, carpool lanes, and toll roads to steer the vehicle fleet toward an electric alternative. But, currently, only less than 1 per cent of global vehicle sales is electric.

The anticipated growth in the EV sector is now pushing the need to create a reliable network of EV charging infrastructure (known as electric vehicle supply equipment or EVSE), at homes, streets and commercial spaces. As cities look to capitalise on the opportunities that EVs can deliver from lower maintenance cost for consumers and better air quality in general, they too must lay the groundwork for their communities to become EV-ready.

Towards an electrifying future
Even with an approximately 30 per cent penetration across two-wheelers and four-wheelers in India by 2030, EVs may need only 3 to 4 per cent of today’s power generating capacity. There is a need to identify concerns emerging from additional requirements on the existing grids. For instance, short-range vehicles such as personal cars could to a large extent be charged at home, which will require a stable power supply.

Proactive analysis and planning could help prevent issues with the network infrastructure. According to NITI Aayog, India’s revamped Planning Commission, the country can save 64 per cent of anticipated passenger road-based mobility-related energy demand and 37 per cent of carbon emissions in 2030 by pursuing a shared, electric, and connected mobility future. The savings in oil imports alone from this can be as much as 3.9 lakh crore (approximately $60 billion) in 2030 or approximately five times more than what the Indian government spends on education.

According to a recent study by US-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), cities will need 4,900 direct current fast charging (DCFC) stations while highways will need around 400 DCFC stations. Cities must aim to build a seamless network of electric charging stations to make it easier for people to adopt EVs and be future ready. For example, setting up smart charging infrastructure at public parking areas (as it is happening in Mumbai) would enable users to make the best use of their time while their car charges.

Such charging infrastructure could be the key to ramping up EV sales in India. In 2016, India had fewer than 500 EV charging stations spanning major metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. Assuming a 30 per cent EV penetration in an estimated car population of 10 million by 2030, a city such as Delhi alone will need around 300,000 fast chargers with an estimated investment of around $1-1.5 billion.

All hands on deck
While global EV sales remain low, examples from other countries indicate that a mix of push and pull could determine the pace of EV penetration in India. This includes a supportive government ecosystem that also establishes strict regulations on carbon emissions and regulations driven by a strategic intent (for example, reduce current account deficit and geographic dependence driven by crude oil import) pushing for a higher adoption of EVs. Advanced technology can reduce battery costs, increase efficiency and improve driving range, making EVs more accessible and attractive to vehicle owners and investments in charging infrastructure.

Easy and affordable access to charging infrastructure—both standard AC charging as well as rapid DC charging—is a key to meet customer needs. By laying down a foundation of support, innovating on business models (for example, leasing of batteries, swapping infrastructure, deploying fast chargers), making the economics of fast charging infrastructure work, providing stable power supply and grid stability, power companies can enable easy and rapid charging and drive EV adoption. Automobile manufacturers for their part can play a crucial role in catalysing this by investing more in research and development of EVs which would change the current product
mix, improve performance of batteries and building scale.

Thus, a concerted effort by governments, industry and consumers can truly make Indian cities EV ready.

Authored by_

Mr Praveer Sinha, MD and CEO
Tata Power

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