Business Today

Electrifying Challenge

The dream of having only electric vehicles on Indian roads is an extremely difficult one to realise by 2030.
twitter-logo Chanchal Pal Chauhan   New Delhi     Print Edition: July 2, 2017

Power Minister Piyush Goyal's dream of selling only electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in India by 2030 is a laudable objective, but at the same time, a formidable challenge. "The idea is that, by 2030, not a single petrol or diesel car should be sold," said Goyal.

This would drastically reduce urban pollution, considering that around 30 per cent of it is due to vehicular emissions. It would also strengthen India's position considerably at global climate talks. It would also substantially reduce the country's import bill, since 80 per cent of the crude India uses is imported.

But is it feasible? EVs, such as Mahindra's Reva, have been in the market for more than two decades but have never found popular acceptance. The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) aimed to have 400,000 electric vehicles by 2020, but not even half of them are ready yet. Indeed, sales of electric vehicles and hybrids declined to 25,000 units in 2016/17 from 32,000 the previous year.

Whether auto manufacturers would risk investing the vast amount required, and whether car owners would be willing to make such a shift, is itself highly questionable. Whether these vehicles would be up to the mark is yet another issue. Mahindra recently pulled its EV, E20, out of the UK market, following performance and cost issues.

Again, a switch to EVs would steeply increase the power demand in the country. India generated 1,050 terrawatt per hour (TwH) of grid power in 2012, according to the latest figures available. It would need to produce over 5,000 TwH of power, almost as much as the US' or China's current output, to meet this demand. For a country which has not even been fully electrified yet, it is certainly a tall order. Even without EVs, India will have to increase its power generation by nearly 300 per cent by 2035.

Power distribution companies in Delhi panicked as recently as March 30 this year when demand unexpectedly shot up by 5 per cent. What would be the impact on the grid if, say, 50 per cent of Delhi's fleet of all-electric vehicles were put to charge at night? Further, charging would require charging points to be as ubiquitous as gas stations. This is the case in Japan and some European cities like Amsterdam, but it has been a major stumbling block in other markets of Europe and in the US and would certainly be a tough proposition in India.

Nothing is impossible, but the Indian auto industry would certainly need much more time than the 13 years Goyal envisages to go fully electric. The NEMMP having failed, new policies, which include generous subsidies and incentives to companies making EVs, may be required. The expertise of the likes of Toyota, GM and Nissan, which have sold EVs in large numbers could be harnessed. "The government should either develop complete EV solutions or provide incentives for import of such technology," says Parthaa Bosu, Innovation and Future Strategies Head at DFAG, a South-Asian think tank.~


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