Driving Change

Industry stakeholders deliberate on the EV charging scenario

Governments across the world are deploying a carrot-and-stick strategy to drive auto sales towards electric vehicles (EVs) and India is not far behind. With a target to integrate 30 per cent electric vehicles (EVs) in the new sales of cars and two-wheelers by 2030, the government is actively taking steps to create an ecosystem for e-mobility. These include fiscal and non-fiscal measures to create demand for such vehicles as well as adequate supplies to ensure the development of charging infrastructure. Senior representatives from the industry discussed and debated the key trends and challenges in this space, highlighting their experience in the development and utilisation of charging infrastructure.

Atul Arya, Head, Energy Systems Division, Panasonic India

  Atul Arya

At Panasonic, so far, we have not gone for high capacity or DC-based installations. We are conducting pilots with slow AC charging and the reason for this is that we believe that it is the largest share of the market and whether we like it or not, there are not enough EV-four wheelers on roads. In the near future, the number of two-wheelers and three-wheelers would be higher than  electric cars. And, of course, electric bus deployment is happening at its own pace. That’s one of the reasons and it is a business decision to stick to that kind of segment. The second reason as to why we are doing this is because we believe that charging will be done at a user level. Given that electricity is almost ubiquitous, one can charge an EV at home, in office, in the mall, or anywhere one is. Therefore, there would be many instances where one would be in a position to tank up the EV or at least partly charge its battery. So, that is interesting. While we are conducting these pilots, we are also learning about what kind of load EVs will put on the grid. It is going to be a Herculean task to make that amount of electricity available.

Everybody has been struggling to find the right solution, be it at the charging station provider’s end or the user’s end. But over a period of time, we have seen two key trends. First, companies have understood the value of having e-chargers at multiple locations. There has been an increase in the number of locations of e-chargers and it has added to the comfort of the people who don’t want to come back to the same place for charging their EVs but can always find another more convenient spot.

Second, batteries are going to expand in size but not infinitely. Commercial fleet operators are confident that they would find charging stations at a number of places. Thus, many have started carrying lesser battery capacity, knowing that there will be a charger available somewhere. This way, fleet operators will be able to reduce their cost per vehicle in terms of initial capacity itself. That is a great advantage coming from this whole experience. Applying IoT on both chargers and vehicles has further added a lot of comfort.

Dr A.K. Jain, Managing Director, Rajasthan Electronics & Instruments Limited

A.K. Jain

Rajasthan Electronics & Instruments Limited (REIL) is a mini-CPSU under the Department of Heavy Industry, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises. All CPSUs work as a bridge between the industry and the government. For FAME India, REIL was entrusted with the responsibility to set up charging infrastructure three years back. The company has been present in the energy space for almost 38 years. We entered the renewable energy space as early as 1987-88 and since then we have been working on renewable energy development and now the company has its own plant in Jaipur. Just like solar was a few years ago, the EV market is now at a turning point and real-time sustainability will soon be achieved. The government has been treating EV adoption as a key mission and as far as the policies are concerned, they are aptly timed and focused. The industry response has also been equally encouraging.

EVs are estimated to require about 84 GWh of power by 2020 and maybe 69 TWh by 2030. So, there is going to be a significant electricity demand for EVs. But the segment faces many challenges, prime among them being the lack of adequate charging infrastructure.

However, adequate steps are being taken to address these. Across the country, around 500 charging stations have already been deployed. The FAME II scheme is very clear and focused. The programme’s objective is to work along with all the states to meet their transportation needs. It also has a provision for fleet operators (taxis, buses, etc.). All these segments have some role to play in FAME II, which has a huge budget.

On the charging infrastructure and equipment side of the e-mobility value chain, when the initial talks about charging equipment started taking place, the first thing we stated was that it should be manufactured in India. There was a huge reaction as to why. I said, why not. An EV charger is something that will be required by a farmer or an individual, or by a family, an apartment and or at every parking space. The capacity of the charger may vary from just 3 kWh to 150 kWh or more. We need to get serious about making it in India in order to give a boost to the Indian manufacturing industry and also support the global industry through partnerships with domestic companies.

To this end, REIL set up solar-powered chargers at a public place in Jaipur. What we saw there is noteworthy: a lot of e-rickshaw drivers who were otherwise paying Rs 50 to anyone that let them charge their vehicles, started queuing up at solar-powered chargers. That was a unique situation, and it worked out well. So, I proposed to install solar-powered chargers for some types of vehicles. E-rickshaws came forward and they started using this facility. Hence, there was no dispute in terms of who would provide the electricity as it was being generated using solar power and also in terms of the quantum of charges. The response was very good, and anybody visiting the Ramleela Maidan in Jaipur can see e-rickshaws queuing up at e-chargers; this has been happening for the past three years. So, we have achieved 100 per cent utilisation, I would say.

In yet another move, we have set up 200 chargers. Of these, 150 were AC chargers and 50 were DC fast chargers (Bharat chargers). We have partnered with oil companies, mostly their petrol pumps. We partnered with smart city organisations, DMRC, NDMC and the municipalities of Jaipur and Chandigarh. Initially, we found a lot of resistance. These organisations were worried as to who would pay for the operation cost, the electricity cost, etc. But such things came up during the initial stage of the project roll-out and now these issues have been sorted. All the 200 chargers are commissioned and are in a working state; however, the utilisation is hardly 7-8 per cent. The reason is not that the chargers cannot charge vehicles, but the low number of EVs on roads.

We had different kinds of experiences at different places. Like, when we installed a charger in Dwarka at the Delhi metro’s parking complex, it got a very good response. The e-charger could charge 400 vehicles in one day. The moment people realised that they were getting “no cost electricity” at a parking area, they started using it. There were other benefits too, such as people could have their breakfast while their vehicle was being charged. So, it was a good proposition in comparison to petrol pumps.

On highways, the response was initially not very good due to the low number of EVs. But after a few months their number increased. We had strategically covered three highways – Delhi-Jaipur, Mumbai-Pune and Delhi-Chandigarh. The moot point is that all stakeholders who were initially apprehensive have now joined hands in this mission. So, let’s not waste more time bothering about enough vehicles not being there, the economics of installing chargers, etc. because all the chargers that are deployed today will soon be fully utilised.

Awadhesh K. Jha, Vice President, Charge & Drive & Sustainability, Fortum Charge & Drive India

Awadhesh Kumar Jha

Fortum has explored a couple of business models in the EV charging space. One is of being the charge point operator. Currently, we are operating around 66 charge points including 20 of the 50 kV DC charging  stations based on CCS standards and 46 of the DC 001, 15 kV to 20 kV charging stations. Most of the 15/20 kV charging stations have been set up in Hyderabad and of all the 50 kV chargers, four are in Delhi-NCR, two in Mumbai, two in Bengaluru, one in Ahmedabad and one in Hyderabad. Besides this, we are offering the platform for managing recharging stations. All charging stations we operate have remote management systems. These are app-enabled smart chargers and do not require any manpower to be deployed. These work on 3G/4G-based modems. We provide these platforms for other charging operators, including REIL and EESL. In India, one of the largest OEMs is using our platform for testing its products including EV chargers. Some of the largest power utilities are also evaluating these platforms. And, we have the advantage of being the largest operator in Norway, owning and operating around 50 per cent of charging stations. These platforms have evolved over a period of 10 years, as the e-mobility movement began in Europe in 2010, and we also started our business around that time. Hence, we have the first mover advantage wherein we are able to tap into any and every opportunity that comes into the EV market. We have brought that expertise in our offerings in India.

Elaborating on the Europe experience, payment was never a concern but what was more important for us was that we started operations with the home charger. Being a cold country, every house has a garage with an electrical point. So, a new vehicle can be charged overnight. But a good point that we are seeing is the trend over the past couple of years of more and more public charging stations both in the combination of 20 kV as well as 50 kV. At some places, they have moved to 150 kV-350 kV and the utilisation rate of public charging places is increasing. People do not want to charge vehicles overnight for 12 to 15 hours. One has to understand that as battery technology is maturing,  more range can be accommodated in the same weight or in the same battery price but that will require fast charging. If you now have a 60-150 kWh battery, four years ago it was only a 20-30 kWh battery. The batteries used today require fast charging. So, Europe’s experience suggests that we need to move towards fast charging. As far as India is concerned, our experience has been fantastic. In the first year, we operated for free, but after that we have made the charging of EVs payable at our stations. For the past four months it is on a paid basis and still the utilisation rate has been increasing.

In terms of the number of vehicles per charging station, I think we will have to start with one charger per five to six cars. But, gradually, it will move to 15 to 20 cars serviced by one charger.

On the policy front, I personally believe that we need a more streamlined and directional policy framework. The reason being that in terms of charging infrastructure, the FAME scheme particularly promotes four-wheelers. However, demand is more for two-wheelers and three-wheelers that do not require public charging. So, this mismatch is very perplexing to me in terms of what one wants to promote. And, even for four-wheelers, the programme promotes charging infrastructure for commercial vehicles. In the commercial vehicle segment, it has set a target of 25,000 battery-operated electric cars and 10,000 plug-in hybrids. The plug-in hybrids again do not require public charging. So, it is only 25,000 cars for which the government has earmarked a subsidy of Rs 10 billion. I feel that the government needs to re-think its strategy.

Maxson Lewis, Managing Director, Magenta Power

Maxson Lewis

Magenta Power, which is seed funded by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, has been setting up charging infrastructure under the brand name ChargeGrid. In June 2018, we set up India’s first solar-based EV charging station on a commercial scale. In August 2018, we set up a charging station on the Bombay-Pune highway. Gradually, many more chargers have been set up. We have also set up the country’s first EV billing meter in a tie-up with Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited.

Our experience suggests that highway charging is one part of it but 80 per cent of the charging happens at four locations – homes, offices, malls and parking lots. Termed as destination charging, these four segments are what we are now focusing on. And, we are not taking the DC route or the fast charging route. We are focusing on AC charging. We have tied up with various real estate developers such as Lodha and Akshar. We are choosing the charging locations where we see business. We believe in the principle of made in India. Be it hardware or software, we believe that the Indian ecosystem for EV charging is unique and the solutions should, therefore, be developed in-house.

As far as the business model is concerned, there is no one right business model for EV charging. And if we ever wait for that, nothing will happen. One has to start from somewhere and eventually the response will turn positive.

In terms of technology evolution, currently we have a number of options available including swapping, fast super recharging and slow charging. I believe battery swapping is an intermediate solution and will eventually become obsolete. A historic example is of mobile phones wherein earlier we used to change the batteries but, eventually, it phased out due to closed phone cases. Hence, as a company we are not investing in swapping technology. We are going with charging as the technology. However, the bigger question is, within charging, where is the technology moving? While swapping has its own use cases for e-rickshaws and commercial vehicles, the widespread uptake of EVs will be based on charging. In the EV charging space, there is wireless and wire-based charging. Wireless charging has its own issues purely because of heat, dust and humidity problems in India. So, it is going to take time to become sustainable. Wired charging technology, meanwhile, is going to take off in a big way. I don’t see the market for 150 kV super charging taking off very quickly because while you may have that ready for commercial installations, there are not enough private four-wheelers to use that technology in the market currently. The other thing is that the majority of Indian users wouldn’t be able to afford these four-wheelers today. So, I believe, it is going to be in that mid-segment of 15 kW to 50 kW kind of charging which, I think, is going to take off in the charging space.

In the AC charging space, we are currently working on a concept called community charging. It is neither individual charging nor public charging. In fact, we are calling it community charging because in India we need to address the market of the people who stay in buildings, who do not have parking lots of their own, etc. This  will be a very India-specific solution.

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