India’s electric vehicle (EV) sector is growing at a phenomenal pace with annual EV sales expected to hit 630,000 by 2027. Despite these optimistic estimates, there are concerns related to range anxiety, high prices (especially of four-wheelers), battery production capabilities, electricity consumption and shortage of charging stations. The lack of a robust electrical charging infrastructure is the most significant drawback.
The Indian EV landscape predominantly consists of small-scale AC and DC chargers. The slow charging infrastructure is mainly installed at residences, workplaces and public places. It requires a very low investment as compared to fuel stations. To improve the charging infrastructure in India, large-scale public charging stations have been planned across the country and the adoption of EVs has been incentivised. These expansion plans are also set to benefit from developments in software and IoT-based technologies. There is also a need for continuous support from the government, utility grid authorities, and automobile companies.
With the growing EV adoption in India, the burden on local grids will increase. All vehicles cannot be charged simultaneously as it will overload the capacity of local grids. The country is moving towards a market where the price of electricity varies hourly. In this scenario, EVs can help provide stability to the grid rather than destabilising it. However, if charging is not monitored, the cost of power to charge the rising number of EVs could increase significantly. If vehicles are charged during peak hours, the overall peak could increase by as much as 100 per cent.
Role of software
A technology that can potentially drive the growth of EV infrastructure is smart EV charging or intelligent charging. It broadly refers to a system where an EV and a charging device share a data connection. Traditionally, charging devices are not connected to the cloud. Smart charging allows the charging station owner to monitor, manage and restrict the use of its devices remotely in order to optimise energy consumption. Using cloud-based solutions, a smart EV charging service can be modified to add and remove features to create a system that can cater to the varying needs of consumers. Further, new features can be added and updated to existing charging stations as per the changing demands.
Smart charging requires an electric car driver to identify the charging station, which is one of the biggest challenges in the Indian context. The customer then pays for the charging service and the money is automatically directed to the relevant charging station owner. For EV drivers registered to the charging service, identification is simple as it only requires consumers to log in to a mobile application and start charging or show their RFID tags at the charging point. Unregistered users can also use the stations and pay with a credit or debit card. The charging event is driven by settings made by the station owner.
Benefits for stakeholders
The smart charging economy offers several benefits to all stakeholders in the EV value chain. The biggest benefit is for EV drivers as it solves the problem of finding charging stations. Through a mobile application, charging spots can be found and reserved. Through the portal, availability is monitored in real time. These systems are designed to automatically use the maximum amount of energy available, typically 22 kW. However, they may not be suitable for fast charging, which requires a maximum power of up to 150 kW. Further, a smart charging device is a safer option for consumers as it automatically tests the connection between the vehicle and the device before charging. Smart charging points can be monitored in real time and controlled remotely, in case of any issues. They can relay information to both the user and the operator. Above all, the technology provides complete accountability of the amount of power as it uses an automated billing system based on customer identification.
All stations are connected to a central charging platform, which allows for easy management. This can help in limiting the charging power of a station group. Pricing packages and charging station information can also be edited conveniently. For governments, smart charging unlocks the means to maximise the potential of the national grid while minimising the risks. Smart charging events can be controlled; charging can be automatically started when electricity demand is lowest. The ability to control charging based on different energy production and consumption signals contributes to efficient grid management.
In July 2021, Tata Power partnered with Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) to provide end-to-end EV charging stations at retail outlets in multiple cities and on major highways across the country. As per the agreement, Tata Power will provide its EV charging infrastructure at HPCL petrol pumps. The charging will be enabled by the company’s EZ Charge Mobile platform, which makes it a seamless experience for vehicle owners.
Recently, Mumbai-based EV solutions provider Magenta announced its plan to set up the country’s largest public EV charging station in Navi Mumbai as part of its goal to provide 4,000 charging facilities by March next year. The station will have provisions for both fast charging, which is less than 45 minutes, as well as slow charging, under which vehicles may need to be charged overnight. The plan to develop an integrated charging station along with a manufacturing unit will make Magenta an opportunity to become an end-to-end socket-to-software EV solution provider.
The integration of renewable energy is imperative for the expansion of a EV charging infrastructure. In view of this, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, developed a modular, scalable and environmentally friendly smart EV charging station with inbuilt solar PV interface capability. The smart charging station has a capacity of 20 kW and can charge a wide range of EVs like cars, three-wheelers and two-wheelers. The scalable multifunctional charger is designed to cater to the EV charging needs of the present and future. The platform has a slim design with low maintenance requirements and a user-friendly interface.
Currently, in India, EV charger operators can only choose from a limited set of prefabricated charging options. They incur significant costs if they want to scale up their charging output. Thus, smart charging technologies could prove to be a game changer for the EV sector.
Other emerging technologies
EV range anxiety is a global concern. One unique solution is to use the roadways to transfer energy from the power grids to EVs. This concept of dynamic charging of vehicles on the move can be carried out by using on-board inductive units to draw a charge from power sources placed either on or under the road. The EV battery can be charged by creating an electromagnetic field down the middle of the driving lane and placing a conductor on the EV’s underside. One of the few dynamic charging routes using subsurface cabling is located in South Korea. The 24 km long service route between Gumi and Seoul predominantly caters to electric buses. Sweden, too, has implemented a 1.6 km stretch of inductive electric road, compatible with all types of EVs.
Innovations have also been made with stationary charging solutions using wireless technology. Such a system has been implemented in Oslo, Norway, where charging stations have been set up for the city’s EV taxi fleet, allowing them to charge wirelessly at pick-up and drop-off stations. Meanwhile, Qualcomm has developed a technology that charges EVs aligning induction coils in a plate on the ground with a receiver plate on the underside of the vehicle. As the car parks over the plate, it begins charging. The technology has garnered interest from automotive companies and fleet owners as they have the potential to maximise revenue.
While the EV sector in India is expected to grow in the coming years, the uptake of e-mobility will still largely depend on policy interventions, private sector participation and technology development. Given the concerns of grid stability, smart charging infrastructure must be set up for optimal power management. That said, adding software means an extra layer of infrastructure that involves higher costs. The software needs to be robust enough to account for the supply- and demand-side variables, which will change over time. They will be even more challenging with the large-scale integration of renewable energy into the grid.
The benefits of software-based and innovative charging platforms outweigh the challenges. They can go a long way in promoting EV adoption in the country. As EVs become more affordable, a strong charging infrastructure will be essential to facilitate the switch to carbon-free vehicles.
By Rithvik Kumar