India, like many nations of the world, is promoting electric vehicles (EVs) with the aim of reducing vehicular emissions that contribute to air pollution and climate change. The adoption of EVs depends mainly on three things: the cost of the cars, the range of EV models, and the availability of charging infrastructure. The issues of pricing and variety have been reasonably addressed over the years. Charging infrastructure, however, still needs work in terms of developing viable commercial models and technologies.
Charging requirements in cities
EVs, when they are adopted, are likely to be an urban phenomenon first and will necessitate the establishment of a widespread public fast charging network in cities. Public fast charging should be complemented by AC chargers of capacity ranging from 3 kW to 22 kW at workplaces, shopping malls, movie multiplexes and restaurants. These charging stations must be usable for all kinds of EVs. CCS is gradually gaining recognition as the leading global fast charging standard and Indian four-wheeler OEMs are also moving in the same direction. On the AC charging front, Type-2 charging would make the charging station completely interoperable.
Technologies for charging EVs on the move
The fear that EVs might run out of power bet ween charging points is leading the industry to explore alternative ways of sourcing power. One of the possible solutions is to use the roadways themselves to transfer energy from power grids to EVs. This can be accomplished by using on board inductive units to draw a charge from power sources on or under the road surface.1 The EV battery can be charged by having an electromagnetic field down the middle of the driving lane and a level-controlled armature on the EV’s underside.2
South Korea operates one such dynamic charging route, using subsurface cabling. Electric buses ply on this 24 km long service route between Gumi and Seoul.3 Sweden, too, has implemented a 1.6 km stretch of inductive electric road4, compatible with all types of EVs, in Visby. EVs get charged as they drive along this stretch.5 A big advantage of such systems is that they allow for significant reduction in battery size and cost. For billing purposes, each EV can be identified by means of a vehicle-mounted barcode and scanners located at the starting and end points of the charging lane.6
Charging stationary EVs
Charging solutions are being developed not only for EVs that are on the move but also for those that are stationary. One such system already exists in Oslo, Norway, where charging stations have been set up for the city’s EV taxi fleet, allowing them to charge wirelessly, without needing to go off-route. These taxis can charge their batteries at the pick-up and drop-off stations, while they wait for their next fare.7 Technology company Qualcomm, meanwhile, has developed an application that allows energy to be transferred from induction coils in a plate on the ground to a receiver plate on the underside of the EV. For charging to begin, the car simply needs to be parked over the plate.
Controlled give and take between EVs and the power grid
From a grid perspective, EV charging technologies are being developed along two lines: managed charging and vehicle-to-grid charging. In managed charging, a charging station will have an upper limit for the power it draws from the grid (say, 100 kW) and multiple charging points of lower capacity (say, five charging points of 50 kW each). Whenever there are more than two cars using this station, all the charging points will automatically dispense power at levels lower than 50 kW. This will ensure that the total load does not exceed 100 kW and the grid is not destabilised. Meanwhile, as India enhances its solar power capacities, vehicle-to-grid technology can help in balancing the grid by us ing EVs to draw power during peak generation hours, store it in their battery when not running, and transfer it back to the grid when needed. As the power grid becomes “greener” and battery technology evolves, EVs will help India move towards a sustainable future for both mobility and power.
In an EV ecosystem, communication between the battery and the charger, and between the charger and the grid, is essential for the safety and reliability of both the vehicle and the grid. There is as much need for developing smart charging infrastructure as for upgrading the existing electricity infrastructure to make it EV ready. In the coming years, the uptake of e-mobility in India will depend on policy interventions, private sector participation, and technology development on the EV charging front.
The efforts of the industry and the government to drive EV adoption and create a nationwide EV ecosystem have so far met with only modest success. However, it is still an ongoing process, and India could look at other countries for ideas.
EV adoption and response by world economies
Norway has the highest per capita representation of EVs in the world. Over the past couple of decades, the government there has exempted EVs from various taxes and tolls, and offered them free parking in large cities. High-emission vehicles pay higher taxes while low- and zero emission vehicles pay much less. Norway has also invested heavily in charging points and infrastructure, and is welcoming private investors.8
California, which accounts for about half the EVs on American roads, offers a point-of-sale price reduction on EV purchases, depending on battery capacity.9 The state has invested heavily in putting battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars on its roads.10 The Californian Governor has also issued an executive order mandating sale of only zero-emission passenger vehicle cars by 2035.11
China, which accounts for half the world’s EVs sales, achieved its numbers on the back of generous subsidies offered by the government since 2009. Last year, China instructed automakers that EVs should constitute 40 per cent of their sales by 2030.12 China is planning to augment its large EV charging station network on the back of an infrastructure stimulus package announced last year.13
The policies and strategies of Norway, the US or China may or may not be replicable in India, but they do open new lines of thought.
Positives in India – EV tax, tariff and policy regimes
The government has taken measures to encourage the development of an EV ecosystem. The first and very significant step was to treat EV charging as a service and to delicense the setting up of charging stations. The other was to treat “EV charging station” as a separate category under tariff orders by electricity regulators. The Ministry of Power (MoP) issued guidelines allowing multiple charger types to be deployed at public charging stations – a positive development that will enable charging infrastructure players and OEMs to launch products of their choice.
India currently charges 5 per cent GST on EVs, a minimum of 28 per cent on internal combustion engine vehicles, and in excess of 50 per cent for some vehicle types. This is a significant arbitrage. India’s EV tax regime, in this respect, is even better than Norway’s. Power discoms across the country have been advised to create a database of public charging stations and make separate metering arrangements for public charging. The tariffs for EV charging are different in different states and many states have declared EV as a separate tariff category.14
This is a good thing because any entity or individual can now set up charging stations, creating an additional revenue channel for discoms. Recently, the MoP came out with a draft regulation on sourcing power from greener sources through open access. As and when it gets effective, it will pave the way for sourcing power from solar/wind/hydro through an EV charging station even when the load is 100 kW and more. This will make the EV completely driven by clean sources of energy.
Salient features of an ideal EV policy
Future EV policies should encompass some important aspects. First, public spaces should be identified across each city and charge-point operators should be authorised by the government. A large network of public charging points should be established to cater to a large EV fleet. This should ideally take the form of a plug-and-play model, which seems to work best globally. Second, the operations of such services must be entirely digitalised, right down to the mode of payment for end-users. Third, the revenue sharing model between location partners and charge-point operators should be such that it only invites participation by competent players who intend to be in the business for the long run. Last but not least, tariffs for EV charging should be designed in a way that allows discoms to recover their costs while also making EV charging affordable for consumers.15 Ideally, EV charging should neither get a subsidy nor subsidise any other customer.16
India has embarked on a transition to clean energy. The developments in this space will have a significant bearing on the prospects of the EV industry too. There are areas where both can benefit from each other. The shift to e-mobility is inevitable and there will be a tipping point somewhere that will give it the required push.
14 http://dufindia.com/Reports/Electric%20Vehicles%20- %20Perspective%20of%20DISCOMs%20and%20Stakehold ers.pdf
15 https://aeee.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020- Dissecting-India%E2%80%99s-Electricity-Tariff-LandscapeFor-EV-1.pdf
16 https://aeee.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020- Dissecting-India%E2%80%99s-Electricity-Tariff-LandscapeFor-EV-1.pdf