India requires setting up 46,000 EV charging stations by 2030 to reach the global benchmark, according to a whitepaper by Alvarez and Marsal India. Currently, the EV/public charger ratio is 6 both for China and the Netherlands; 19 for the U.S., while it stands 135 for India—which means there is one charger per 135 EVs in India as compared to six in China. However, the whitepaper also reads that India needs at least approximately 3,000 new public chargers to fulfil a 'base scenario'—where there will be one charger for 100 EVs. India currently has 2,826 public charging stations that are operational in the country, Nitin Gadkari, the union minister of road transport and highways, says in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.

Most electric carmakers in India provide charging solutions in India, either by facilitating charging facilities at home or providing fast-chargers at dealerships or affiliates, which is an unfortunate state of affairs, Abhijeet Sinha, project director of National Highways for Electric Vehicles (NHEV), tells Fortune India. "It is unfortunate that we have made charging stations such a complex activity to venture into that the mantle is taken up by carmakers themselves," says Sinha. Manish Saigal, managing director, Alvarez and Marsal India, concurs. "It is indeed unfortunate that the OEMs in India also need to worry about charging infrastructure as well," Saigal adds.

Tata Motors, for instance, has tied up with Tata Power—which has set up 2,200 public chargers and more than 13,000 home chargers in 250 cities—to provide home charging facilities to its consumers. Even though EV OEMs can take up the mantle to set up their own charging infrastructure to promote EV adoption—a strategy followed by Tesla in the U.S. by setting up fast-charging networks—setting up charging stations in India requires huge investments and because of the low utilisation, the unit economics is unfavourable, and it is difficult to achieve profitability in the short-term.

According to Sinha, there ought to be greater clarity and transparency in the nuances of setting up a charging station. "Do carmakers also provide fuel for their IC engine vehicles? It's because the process of setting up a petrol pump is well-known to the public. The moment applications for a license are open, people make a beeline for procuring the license. It is because they know the cost which will be accrued in setting up a petrol pump; they know the time period it will take for them to reach the breakeven point," he explains. Sinha argues that these figures currently do not exist for charging stations. According to Sinha, during the pilot runs of the charging station prototypes developed by NHEV, the cost of setting up a charging station comes to around ₹5 crore, excluding the cost of acquiring land. "With 100 chargers and 576 EVs, we have been able to achieve a utilisation rate of 72%," Sinha claims. As per internal estimates of Alvarez and Marsal, a charging station needs to target more than 20-25% in order to achieve profitability for a charging station.

Apart from NHEV, Convergence Energy Services Limited (CESL)—a wholly owned subsidiary of Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) under the Ministry of Power—is roping in the private sector in building India's electric mobility ecosystem. It has discovered prices for setting up 810 electric vehicle charging stations (EVCSs) across 16 Expressways and National Highways covering 10,275 kilometres across the country. The selected corridors include busy routes such as the Mumbai-Pune highway, Ahmedabad-Vadodara highway, Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway, Eastern Peripheral Expressway, Hyderabad ORR Expressway, and Agra-Nagpur highway.

CESL is using a service procurement model for setting up these charging stations. In this public-private partnership model, CESL will partner with companies whose job will be to invest in and operate these charging stations across the expressways and highways. These charging stations are expected to be established in the next 6-8 months. "CESL is working to enable the participation of private enterprise and markets in building India’s electric mobility ecosystem. The use of government subsidies such as in FAME II allows such leverage to be achieved," says Mahua Acharya, managing director and CEO, CESL.

It may also be noted that the Ministry of Heavy Industries has already sanctioned 2877 charging stations in 68 cities across 25 states/UTs under Phase-II of FAME India Scheme. As per the Ministry of Power guidelines, there shall be at least one charging station at every 25 kilometres on both sides of the highway and at least one charging station for long Range/Heavy Duty EVs at every 100 kms on both sides of the highway. For cities, at least one charging station will be set up in a grid of 3 kilometres by 3 kilometres.

According to Abhishek Kochar, senior director, Alvarez and Marsal India, the charging conundrum is a big enough problem for multiple players—from startups to OEMs to public-private partnerships—to solve. "The space is there for everyone. A single company cannot solve it single-handedly," he adds. Saigal also says that discoms with a large, nationwide footprint, such as Reliance, Adani, and the ilk, need to take the plunge to ramp up public charging infrastructure in India. State utility firms such as BESCOM and MSEDCL have also been involved in setting up charging stations. The government has also set up a mandate for every state to appoint a state nodal agency for building infrastructure—which, in most cases, will be the state discom.

More recently, Exponent Energy, a start-up that espouses simplifying energy for EVs, has announced a partnership with Altigreen Propulsion Labs. "Our e^pack & e^pump make EVs charge faster and last longer with 15-minute rapid charging and 3000 cycle life warranty (a new industry standard)," claims Arun Vinayak, co-founder and CEO, Exponent Energy. The company recently raised capital from a clutch of investors including Pawan Munjal, chairman, and CEO, Hero MotoCorp—who invested an undisclosed amount—and is ramping up its e^pack production and setting up 100 e^pumps across Bengaluru in its first leg. Other cities will follow, in association with Altigreen.

An adequate charging infrastructure is tantamount to giving the carbuyer the impetus they need to take the leap of faith and buy EVs because it also addresses a critical issue—range anxiety. The paranoia of consumers of not being able to find a charging station in the vicinity, or the battery running out before reaching the destination is pervasive because of inadequate charging infrastructure. "64% of Indian drivers agree range anxiety is a significant barrier to mainstream adoption of EVs," says a recent consumer survey.

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