sulabh swatchh bharat

Thursday, 14-December-2017

The age of e-cars

With India committing to produce only electric cars by 2030, we will need a huge infrastructure push

At the end of April this year while addressing the CII Annual Session, Union Power Minister Piyush Goel claimed, “We are going to introduce electric vehicles in a very big way. The idea is that by 2030, not a single petrol or diesel car should be sold in the country”. This aim put India in line with many other countries across the world where there has been a major push towards electrification of vehicles. Goyal said that converting all vehicles to electric would help the country save Rs 6.5 lakh crore in fuel bills annually. He said, “According to a study conducted by the Government, India can power its entire vehicular traffic in 2030 on solar power by using only 1% of the land area of Rajasthan.”  

Though we have not set a hard target and carmakers continue to set up manufacturing units to produce traditional cars running on petrol and diesel, most experts feel that switching to electric on such a scale in 13 years time is ambitious. 

It requires a major shift in the country’s energy infrastructure. In 13 short years, a nationwide network of charging stations will have to be built, that is capable of recharging automobile batteries within a few minutes. Simultaneously an intricate transport fuel distribution and storage system will become redundant, causing substantial losses to the distributors. The number of charging stations that will have to be created is mind boggling. In 2014 there were 51,780 petrol pumps. Another 35,600 were projected to be added by the end of this year. At the current rate of growth this figure is likely to treble to 250,000 by 2030, and the majority will have to be in small towns and along highways, where there is no reliable power supply today. 

A 90-page report prepared with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) titled ‘Transformative Mobility Solutions for India‘, has urged the government to make a radical transformation towards a transportation system geared completely around electric vehicles.The report proposes a 15-year plan for making the shift which will begin by limiting the registration of conventional vehicles through public lotteries, and complement that with a preferential registration for electric vehicles, similar to policies followed in China. To kick-start the shift, the report suggests an initial bulk procurement of electric vehicles, building standardised, swappable batteries for two- and three-wheelers to bring down their cost and having favourable tariff structures for charging cars.

International Energy Agency (IEA) in May said that India would need nearly eight times the global stock of electric vehicles in order to meet its target.  The country would need to sell more than 1 crore cars in 2030, compared with the almost 1.3 million (13 lakh) on the road worldwide in 2015.” Nearly 38 lakh cars were sold in India in 2016-17 as against 31 lakh in 2011-12. India is expected to be the fourth largest car market in the world in the next two years and is already an export hub for leading carmakers globally.  As compared to this, the country had a meagre 5,000 electric vehicles on  its road at the end of last year, IEA said. The report seems to be aware of these problems. That is why it has tried to sweeten the pill by pointing to the fact that in addition to lowering carbon emissions by one billion tonnes a year, the shift will also save $60 billion in foreign exchange due to less oil having to be imported. This inducement only works if electric vehicles are a real alternative to conventional vehicles in India. As Tesla’s decision to bypass India shows, this is not currently the case. There is, though, an alternative fuel which could make this a reality: methanol.

 Over past five years, electric car manufacturers, such as Tesla, have taken massive strides in dealing with the image of electric cars. The first was to deal with the so-called ‘range anxiety’ — the worry that electric car owners have, that their vehicles will not make it. With improvements in battery technology and car software to improve performance, many modern electric cars are more than capable of doing a long daily commute. However, to ensure that this is made as easy as possible, there needs to be investment in ‘supercharging’ stations where an electric car can be sufficiently charged under half an hour, a feature similar to those some smartphones offer. However, all-electric cars, despite subsidies, continue to have a huge sticker price and remain playthings of the wealthy. For a country dependent  on external sources for oil to run its vehicles, pushing for electric vehicles answers very pertinent questions about its finances and foreign policy. Recent push for solar power has already started delivering some results. India is already the world’s largest market for solar power and government’s rules of making power companies compulsarily buying solar power is further helping cleaner generation of energy. 

The e-car wave is sweeping across continents. Leader in e-car segment Tesla has already launched its new model which will be commercially produced at a breakneck speed. Tesla plans to hand over the keys to 30 cars at a launch celebration on July 28. It then envisions building 100 cars during August. September will bring another 1,500 cars, and the ramp will build to a rate of 20,000 cars a month by December, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. It’s an aggressive schedule that will more than double Tesla’s total production rate in six months, and then quintuple it by the end of next year. If Tesla achieves all of Musk’s targets, it will build more battery-powered cars next year than all of the world’s automakers combined in 2016.