Despite a growth in sales in FY 2018-19, and exponentially decreasing battery prices, not all is well in the Indian EV or electric vehicles industry. The government’s FAME subsidies notwithstanding, the Indian EV industry is still battling on the technology front and struggling to incorporate gradeability, range, and the top speed in an affordable manner on par with conventional vehicles running on fossil fuels. Plus, the recertification for some electric vehicles at the beginning of the financial year has hampered sales since April.
While the central government is yet to replace the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 (announced in 2012) with a new Action Plan as it said it would in 2017, the new charging infrastructure norms are set to be formalised after the General Elections conclude and the new government is formed.
Speaking to Inc42, a senior NITI Aayog officer working closely on the framework said, that it will be announced in June or July this year.
“The work is still under progress so I can’t reveal much. Charging infrastructure is something that the Ministry of Power is looking at. We are coordinating but it is under the ambit of Ministry of Power to make an announcement in this regard,” said the NITI Aayog officer.
It is worth noting that the government has announced plans to invest INR 1,000 Cr of 10,000 Cr budget allocated under FAME II to boost charging infrastructure. The FAME II has also proposed to provide one slow-charging station for every electric bus and one fast-charging station for 10 electric buses.
Setting Up Public Charging Stations
In December 2018, the Ministry of Power had laid out some guidelines. The main pointers were:
- Setting up a public charging station will be de-licensed;
- Any person seeking to set up public charging stations will be given electricity connections on priority;
- While every public charging station will need an exclusive transformer, a clearance certificate is essential to operate;
- The guidelines recommend at least one charging station in a grid of 3 Km x 3 Km and one charging station every 25 Km on both sides of highways;
- The tariffs for the supply of electricity must not exceed the average cost of supply plus 15%;
- State governments to fix the ceiling of services charges
Charging Infrastructure: Issues On The Ground
Despite some measures, frameworks and subsidies released by the central and various state governments including Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the Indian EV industry, which includes EV rentals, ride-hailing platforms and vehicle makers are facing a plethora of issues inhibiting the rise of this sector in India.
Ratan Tata and SoftBank-backed Ola’s $8 Mn EV project in Nagpur hit a snag last year. Over a dozen Ola electric car drivers told Reuters that they have either returned their electric taxis and switched to diesel, or are planning to do so.
Ola had planned to install 50 charging stations in Nagpur, however, it took the company over five months to get government clearances. Plus, protests by residents angered by traffic jams caused by drivers waiting in line to charge vehicles also contributed to the lukewarm response.
Standardisation of batteries is another issue. In the existing scenario, different EVs have different batteries which require different charging specifications. It is almost impossible for a charging station to cater to such varying needs.
Speaking to Inc42, Anand Ayyadurai, CEO and cofounder of VOGO bike rental platform, said, “The government must look into standardising the EV-related infrastructure. For instance, what should be the battery voltage which currently varies from 12V, 24V, 36V, 48V to 60V? Similar is the case with their current specification. The battery size should also be standardised. It varies from one manufacturer to another. This will help develop modular infrastructure, which will make things easier for buyers.”
Ayyadurai added that the government needs to clarify what kind of infrastructure it is going to promote — charging or swapping — which will attract investments or at least give businesses a focal point.
Responding to these queries, the NITI Aayog officer told Inc42, “It is not the government’s job to support one model or the other. It’s about the evolution of two different models. And, our effort is to lay out the best norms for both the models to help them evolve.”
“Similar is the case with standardisation of batteries which are completely dependent upon the OEMs who decide what’s the best specification for their vehicles. Fixing the battery specification will hinder the technology. Remember, how mobile chargers finally have standard ports, It’s up to EV market forces to come up with a standard solution,” the NITI Aayog officer said.
Yulu’s Swapping Model
While VOGO has to install charging stations for its electric two-wheelers or escooters which require more room and land acreage, another Bengaluru-based micro-mobility rental platform has employed a swapping model for charging its escooters.
Amit Gupta, CEO and founder of Yulu told Inc42, “The reason behind us going for swapping infrastructure is that when you have to bring the vehicle to the charging platform, it increases the cost and space requirement. It’s very expensive for us to bring the vehicle and then put it back. Such a business model won’t gonna work.”
Gupta added, “We have created our own charging stations. They are as small as refrigerators which require very little space and can even be installed at small shops compared to charging stations for EVs. Our charging station can charge 12-15 batteries within four hours. All you need is a 15A power supply. These stations are also tracked by GPS. The app shows the batteries’ availability at various stations which help Yulu staff to track.”
Currently, for every 100 escooters, Yulu keeps 30 charged batteries, depending on their consumption pattern. Thus, the company needs only three charging stations to meet the requirements of 30 escooters.
The company has currently deployed over 500 escooters in across Koramangala and Indiranagar. HSR layout is the new addition where Yulu launched its scooters recently.
Yulu electric two-wheelers are light and don’t need any RTO registration and driving license. The batteries are also lighter than the batteries used in Okinawa and other electric two-wheelers. But this also means that Yulu escooters are not eligible for FAME II subsidies.
“I don’t wanna go to them (government) without full preparation. It’s ok for me not to get the financial assistance in the meanwhile. We are still working towards the best market fit products. Once this is established, we will go to Niti Aayog and the ministries of transportation and Power and show them what we have achieved with these five thousand vehicles.”
Why Swapping May Not Be Scalable
As said, Yulu batteries are very light and are suited for escooters which are built for ferrying a single passenger. However, for larger EVs such as buses and cars, batteries are not only heavier but are also larger in size. This makes them unfit for swapping. In contrast to lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion/polymer batteries are compact and light; however, such battery packs are mostly used in a set of combinations and are costlier. Further, such swapping stations will need huge investments.
Establishing charging stations like petrol pumps is the only answer to meet such demand. And, this needs a lot of parking space where 15-20 cars could be parked and charged for 5-6 hours. We saw in the case of Ola charging stations, how residents living nearby forced the company to shut down the charging station, so it’s not just about getting the land but also managing the demand.
Tarun Mehta, founder and CEO of Ather Energy earlier told Inc42, “Instead of charging stations being made roadside like petrol pumps, it is better to install the charging infrastructure at parking stations. In the case of Ather Energy, we have been wisely choosing places nearby restaurants, malls and coffee shops which have adequate parking spaces. The benefit of such stations that it allows consumers to do their usual stuff while their bike is charging.”
Vision 2030 For Indian EV Industry
The Indian government’s flip-flop on electric vehicles is well established by now. The government after initially announcing to go all electric by 2030 took a U-turn and said it was targeting to make only 30% of all vehicles electric by 2030.
Now, according to the government data, there were 210 Mn vehicles registered in India by 2015. The domestic sales of the vehicles for 2018-2019 was 26.2 Mn, increasing at a pace of over 5%. As per FAME-India, the total number of electric vehicles sold till date is 2,78,691 (under Fame-India).
Thus, to go 30% of all electric of the registered cars by 2030 India will need at least around 100 Mn electric vehicles on the road, whereas it has just a few lakhs EVs right now. And, to meet the goal of EVs making up 30% of the sales annually, India will need to consume roughly 12 Mn EVs annually by 2030.
By both the standards, the Indian EV industry seems to lag far behind. The NEMMP 2020 implementation, which was built with the purpose to sell at least 6-7 Mn EVs, has clearly been in jeopardy. Suzuki which holds 50% of Indian car market share is yet to roll out electric cars for the Indian market.
With an aim to replace NEMMP with a dedicated EV policy, the Indian government clarified that it would instead go with an EV Action Plan in early 2018. NITI Aayog in its paper ‘India’s Electric Mobility Transformation: Progress to Date and Future Opportunities’ asserted that If FAME II and other measures are successful, India could realize EV sales penetration of 30% of private cars, 70% of commercial cars, 40% of buses and 80% of two and three-wheelers by 2030.
On March 7, 2018, the Centre launched National e-Mobility Programme, and as part of the programme, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) was tasked to procure electric vehicles in bulk to get economies of scale. EESL had earlier floated tenders to procure 10,000 EVs in 2017 too. With these 20,000 electric cars, the centre expects to save over 5 Cr litres of fuel every year leading to a reduction of over 5.6 lakh tonnes of annual CO2 emission.
However, government officers refused to use the cars procured by EESL citing poor performance and lack of charging infrastructure.
The Ad-Hoc FAME Scheme Keeps Investors Away
The Indian EV industry players contend that FAME scheme is being run on an ad-hoc basis which does not help attract large corporates and investors to invest in the sector for a longer run. That’s something an EV policy or Action plan should address.
However, Yulu’s Gupta points out, “There is a very formal distribution of duty at the centre level, state level and even city level. We won’t be like until you put the policy in place we won’t start. We, while keep working at our own, will continue to advocacy based on the facts and data. This according to me brings better results rather than shooting in the dark. We are very hopeful and we know how to play this game. However, our business will be better and stronger if these incentives come through.”
“Bengaluru Metro offered to provide space electricity for EV charging at every station. It’s a step by step sequence. We will keep on nudging,” Amit Gupta, Yulu cofounder
Gupta believes the path to electric mobility won’t happen because of consumers buying electric vehicles but the big push will come from platforms offering electric mobility as a service. The mobility companies are best placed to create the charging infrastructure, according to him.
Be it providing land for parking and charging, subsidies to manufacturers and battery makers, driving investments, or increasing the manufacturing capacity and breadth of services, there’s a lot of work to be done in this space. The need now is for the stakeholders, which includes the government, city managers, OEMs, battery manufacturers, suppliers and service providers to work together to fulfil India’s grand EV ambition.