India looks to electric vehicles as the future of transport, but problems remain

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Indian Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari is trying to encourage people to buy electric vehicles instead of vehicles powered by carbon-based fuels. During a recent parliamentary debate, he assured law makers that electric cars will only cost the same as petrol cars within two years.

“I have favoured a green transition in fuel while rapid strides in green fuel technology will reduce the cost of electric vehicles (EVs), bringing them on a par with petrol-run vehicles in a short time,” he said.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), powered by hydrogen, are one of the best clean energy alternatives used in vehicles, whose manufacturing has begun in India.

Road to an electric future

They are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles and produce no tailpipe emissions, reducing pollution levels while only emitting water vapour and warm air.

Observers believe this could potentially allow India to save on crude oil imports worth over 12 billion euros annually. Rapid adoption of two- and three- wheelers EVs is expected to lead the way to this transition.

According to NITI Aayog, the government’s apex public policy think tank, by 2030, 80 percent of two and three-wheelers, 40 percent of buses, and 30 to 70 percent of cars in India will be electric vehicles

Simply put, industry experts maintain this would mean 102 million EVs that would need deployment of 2.9 million public chargers.

However, the country’s road to a fully electric ecosystem still has a few hurdles including high cost, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of high performing EVs which are reasons for the slow adoption of electric mobility.

No charge

One of the biggest impediments to EV adoption is the lack of charging infrastructure. According to a poll conducted by Grant Thornton Bharat-FICCI, India would require to set up 400,000 charging stations by 2026 to meet the demand from two million EVs on the road.

“While the electric vehicle programme has begun to receive policy attention at the national and state level, it has not yet been able to catalyse the market to build scale,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director at Centre for Science and Environment.

In her reckoning, EVs are still less than one percent of the new vehicle sales and the ongoing incentive programme needs to be backed by a regulatory target and zero emissions mandate at the national level to build confidence and scale in the market.

Overall, the challenges of inadequate charging networks, limited EV models in the market, uncertainty around the battery cost especially battery replacement, and weak consumer awareness are some of the key factors that are impeding accelerated electrification.

Auto industry shake-up

The Indian government has allocated incentives to a scheme, Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India (FAME) and has introduced several supply and demand side incentives to facilitate the switch to EVs.

In fact, some states have also set their own ambitious EV targets: 18 out of 28 states have either a draft policy in place or have already notified one.

“EVs can help achieve not just that but also help reduce the country's oil imports and preserve foreign exchange, taking India to the next level of self-reliance,” said Piyush Goyal, the minister of commerce and industry recently.

Experts believe that vehicle electrification is bound to play a pivotal role in emission reduction from India's road transportation sector and supporting the fight against climate change.

With India’s commitments at the COP26 summit to achieve net-zero emissions status by 2070 and lower its emission intensity by 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, EVs could help realize these goals and play a pivotal role in its green narrative.

The transport sector accounts for 18 percent of total energy consumption in India which translates to an estimated 94 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE) energy.

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