Rajiv Chowk, a business hub in the heart of New Delhi, has over a dozen electric vehicle charging stations. Almost all of these chargers, installed by government-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), are non-functional with no power supply, broken displays, or missing guns.
Some of these public chargers are smeared with paan spits—the eternal challenge of India's ambitious Swachch Bharat Mission. Another EV charger on Sansad Marg, less than a mile from India's new Parliament building, lies dilapidated. There is no charging gun. A snapped power cord hangs out from the charger. The space in front is being utilised by a street vendor. The condition of chargers outside Prime Ministers' Museum and Library, formerly called Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, is no different.
The state of EV charging stations represents what's wrong with India's EV infrastructure—lack of coordination between the Centre and charging infrastructure players, between vehicle makers and Centre and between Centre and states or even within the government's own departments.
At the heart of this lies a grim reality—that despite over 30 lakh EVs plying on the roads, India hasn't yet decided the charging standards it must follow.
The Ministry of Power responsible for finalising the standard has left it open. Niti Aayog, the nodal agency tasked with charting a roadmap for the growth of electric mobility in India, has been holding meetings but hasn't made up its mind either. Hence, vehicle manufacturers are producing with whatever standard they feel appropriate and charging infrastructure companies continue to set up charging points with whatever standards they feel appropriate.
That's breeding incompatibility between vehicles and chargers—amidst competing standards and pressure from those representing those standards. As a result, a vast amount of money spent on setting up these charging stations in India so far—set up in a great rush to meet targets—lies in utter disregard and disuse.
For instance, most public chargers mentioned above have one thing in common. They are all based on the Chinese GB/T standard, which has been ironically rechristened as Bharat DC-001 in India. No manufacturer currently sells cars that come with this standard anymore.
According to Vishal Kapoor, CEO of EESL, a joint venture of PSUs under the power ministry, a lot of external factors contribute to the non-functioning of chargers. Public chargers are installed without security across different sites provided by municipal bodies, making them prone to tampering, screen damage and gun damage by anti-social elements, Kapoor says. "Public charging stations are also not manned at night. Commuters at night tend to mishandle the gun. There are several cases of gun theft as well," he says.
At locations where Bharat DC-001 chargers are functional, cars are rare to find as most passenger vehicle EVs in India have moved to the Combined Charging System (CCS2) connector — the European standard. EESL has 169 Bharat DC-001 chargers.
India has one more standard for fast charging—a system where AC power from the grid is converted into DC power for charging the battery. Chargers set up by EESL and private charge point operators also come with Japan's CHAdeMO connector—despite the fact that there are no cars compatible with the Japanese plug.
For the hapless customer, it's a throw of the dice each time he approaches with his EV to a charging station—will he meet a compatible charger, will he not! That's anybody's guess. What a mess!
As per data available with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and the Ministry of Power, a total of 9,878 public charging stations are operational in the country.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Heavy Industries (MHI) sanctioned ₹800 crore under FAME-II (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) scheme to oil PSUs—Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum—for setting up 7,432 public fast-charging stations across the country by March 2024. These include Bharat DC-001 and slow chargers.
THE MISSING INTENT
Resolving this isn't such rocket science, except that the intent is missing. "An official mandate around standardisation will probably give more clarity and will be more beneficial to the whole ecosystem," says Anant Nahata, managing director of homegrown charger manufacturer Exicom Tele-Systems.
Unlike Rajiv Chowk, EESL's public charging plaza outside Delhi's Chelmsford Club sees some activity, mostly catering to EVs deployed by nearby central government offices. The 142-kilowatt fast chargers installed here come with two guns — CCS2 and CHAdeMO. Of EESL's 441 functional chargers, around 190 are combo charges with CHAdeMO guns.
"When we had gone ahead with the FAME scheme earlier, there was a requirement of CHAdeMO. CHAdeMO has not picked up that much and still, we do have that option but as we go ahead I don't think there would be a case for going with CHAdeMO because it is not of any use," says Kapoor.
On replacing the unused CHAdeMO connectors, Kapoor says the take-up rate of chargers is not that high today. "So ultimately it is also a question of cost economics. We will change those guns and modify them to suit, depending upon the locations where the take-up rate is high," he says.
"It's going to be a business strategy rather than any kind of a policy across the board depending on the usage, we will take a call on whether to replace these," he adds.
Kapoor, who is also the CEO of EESL's subsidiary Convergence Energy Services Ltd (CESL), believes standardisation is an iterative process. "You cannot wait to standardise and then move ahead. Similarly, you cannot move ahead and just think that, okay, we'll standardise it later."
As one drives into the basement parking of Ardee Mall in Gurugram, a designated space for EVs is hard to go unnoticed. The parking slots here come with three types of EV chargers — CCS2 and CHAdeMO for fast charging as well as AC Type-2 for slow charging. Tata Power, which operates the chargers at Ardee Mall, has installed dual gun chargers with CHAdeMO connectors at more than 250 locations.
"Tata Power had earlier installed some chargers which had two different types of guns – CCS2 and CHAdeMO. As there are no cars with the Japanese protocol in India, we have stopped deploying CHAdeMO," says Virendra Goyal, head of business development - EV Charging at Tata Power. "One gun is capable of delivering the total capacity of the charger and therefore we haven't changed the CHAdeMO guns as yet," Goyal adds.
Tata Power has installed over 4,600 public and semi-public chargers (in offices and residential societies) across 350 cities.
If an EV charger can charge all the vehicles on the road, it is always going to give extended comfort to the user, says Nikhil Gupta, director of Sales at Delta Electronics India, the local unit of Taiwanese electronics manufacturing company Delta Electronics.
There is a need for some direction on what is an acceptable or permitted universe of standards to be followed, says Chaitanya Kanuri, senior program manager - Electric Mobility, WRI India. "A lot of our public tenders are not taking any of these factors into account. Some of the public charging tenders at the local level are still using CHAdeMO and saying these are essential."
"There are a lot of investment requirements as far as public charging is concerned. Now, whether that investment is coming from the public exchequer's pocket, or whether it's coming from a private company is a different matter," Kanuri says, adding that lack of standardisation of EV chargers may create problems in the future.
A plug war is currently raging in the U.S. where Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo among other automakers have committed to adopting Tesla's North American Charging Standard (NACS) for their future EVs, junking the rival CCS1 connector that is used in every EV sold in the U.S. apart from Tesla.
Things came to a head in June when CharIN, an association founded to promote the adoption of CCS connectors, said the global EV industry cannot thrive with several competing charging systems.
NACS is not yet a standard and does not provide an open charging ecosystem for the industry to build upon, said CharIN, the industry-wide coalition representing over 320 e-mobility stakeholders.
"The U.S. government has not intervened. You cannot adopt a standard made by a company. Standard is made by a common body. You don't know what Elon Musk will do next. People are walking into the trap of Tesla," says Kartikey Hariyani, founder and CEO, CHARGE+ZONE, a charge point operator which has installed over 1,600 EV charging stations. Hariyani says considering the tussle in the U.S., India should standardise things now, not later.
According to Exicom's Nahata, the U.S. is probably the only country in the world where this confusion has come about because Tesla has thousands of chargers on the ground following a different standard and people see some benefit in adopting that.
RELIANCE ON CHINESE STANDARD
"When electric mobility activity started in India, the initial vehicles that were launched came with the GB/T standard which comes from China. However, people soon understood that there are limitations in this platform and you cannot charge high-performance vehicles," Gupta says. Several cars including Tata Motors' Xpres-T EV and Mahindra & Mahindra's e-Verito are compatible with the GB/T. Most of these EVs are currently being used by fleet operators.
"Even though this standard was for the initial vehicle launches. But then those vehicles are running even today, and will continue to run for the next 10-15 years. So the chargers required for this particular platform may still be needed," says Gupta.
It's not just cars that use the Bharat DC-001 standard, commercial goods carriers, too, come with this charging system.
"For cargo EVs the major charging standard is still GB/T. If cargo vehicles and cars were on a common standard it would have made the job much easier," says Anmol Singh Jaggi, co-founder and CEO, BluSmart, an all-electric ride-hailing company.
"Cars in our fleet need more charging during the night time, and in the day time they are all out in the open, and most cargo vehicles, because of traffic restrictions, operate in the night time, and they are idle during the day time. It would have been great if cargo EVs and cars would have also been on the same platform, which is not the case today," explains Jaggi.
BluSmart is building a network of EV charging super hubs in Delhi NCR and Bengaluru. Its largest charging hub at Vasant Square Mall in Delhi has 400 chargers spread across 1,60,000 square feet of area powered by 1.8 megawatts of electric load. About 1,000 odd cars in BluSmart's fleet are compatible with GB/T while 4,000 EVs use the CCS2 connector.
"When we have cargo customers coming to us, we have to build separate charging infra for them," says Jaggi, adding that the company has already opened its charging hubs to a couple of corporate EV fleets.
Cargo vehicle buyers are extremely sensitive towards pricing, according to Jaggi. "One of the reasons why CCS adoption has been lower in the cargo vehicles is because GB/T is half the price of CCS," the BluSmart co-founder says. The company's charging hubs get 25% utilisation from its ride-hailing business.
Meanwhile, utilisation levels of various charge point operators are in the low single digits.
At Tata Power, a public charger's utilisation is less than 2%. "This is because we have created a large network of chargers already. Some of them are doing exceptionally well. Some of them are there in markets where EV penetration is happening or is likely to happen in the next few months," says Goyal.
Utilisation of EV chargers at Glida, formerly known as Fortum Charge & Drive, varies from 0-30%. "In some locations, we don't have much traction and in some locations, we see huge traction. The company's immediate target is to reach 12.5% utilisation levels across its portfolio," says Awadhesh Jha, executive director of Glida. About 51% of Glida's chargers are CCS2 while 18% are Bharat DC-001 and the rest are slow chargers.
Charge + Zone, which plans to set up 5,000 fast chargers on state and national highways by 2025, claims utilisation levels of close to 3%.
For EESL, the average utilisation of EV chargers is around 3-5%. "There are several locations where utilisation levels are pretty low. It all depends on where the chargers are," says the CEO of EESL.
While private players are partnering with fleet operators to capture some captive demand, PSUs are not necessarily looking at very strong business models, says WRI India's Kanuri. Location can make or break the viability of a charger, she says. "The general understanding in the ecosystem is that you need 35% for viability in terms of utilisation. You're not going to get 100% utilisation ever, but you need at least 30-35% for a green bottom line," says Kanuri.
According to Deepak Jain, partner, Bain & Company, charge point operators need at least 15-30% utilisation to be viable. "Right now, some are building supply in hope that utilisation will rise with time," says Jain. "There is merit in standardising the chargers because then it will lead to interoperability, which essentially means that the same network will be able to serve more cars, increasing utilisation. "From consumers' perspective, increase in utilisation will mean that they will have to pay less. The range anxiety will come down and lead to more cars getting sold," he says.
There is merit in standardising chargers because it will lead to interoperability, which essentially means the same network will be able to serve more cars, increasing utilisation, says Jain. "From consumers' perspective, it means they pay less. The range anxiety will come down and indirectly it will lead to more cars getting sold."
Tata Power expects utilisation at public chargers to improve as the EV penetration goes up. "We are in expansion mode. We are strategically deploying new chargers in places which have high footfalls like malls, highway pit stops, and restaurants," says Goyal, adding that more than a lakh four-wheeler EVs are projected to be sold this year.
Apart from charger compatibility, even locating an EV charger sometimes becomes a hassle as there is no common app to locate public charging stations.
A unified app for EV chargers is definitely needed, according to Rahul Walawalkar, founder and president of India Energy Storage Alliance. "Currently, there are different charge point operators who have deployed chargers across different states. So the EV user may need to keep checking different apps if they are moving across states," says Walawalkar.
"Many users have complained of issues related to live status of the charging stations and availability, which adds to challenges and range anxiety. So having a unified app that provides locations as well as other critical operating parameters can make it much more beneficial for users and help in accelerating EV adoption," he says.
Niti Aayog is planning such an app though. "The government think tank is asking charge point operators to share basics like where these vehicle chargers are and what kind of chargers are available at that charging station and whether they are working or not," says Chaitanya Kanuri of WRI India.
IT'S A COSTLY AFFAIR
A 30-kilowatt charger costs anywhere between ₹8 lakh and ₹12 lakh, excluding real estate and other civil works, according to Goyal. A 60 KW charger, which comes with two charging guns, costs roughly ₹15-20 lakh.
EESL's Kapoor says a 142-KW charger costs somewhere around ₹30 lakh including power supply, installation and commissioning. "The cost of the charging equipment itself is around ₹15 lakh. The cost of upstream infrastructure like transformers and electricity connection is somewhere around ₹15 lakh," he says.
Sanjay Aggarwal, president of Fortum India Pvt Ltd, the local unit of Finland-based energy giant Fortum, says the company would not like to keep chargers that are not utilised at all and that are there for the sake of optics. "If we feel that the EV adoption is going at a lower rate, then we would ramp it down. Why should we accelerate it? We would tune our infra with how the market develops," he says.
Aggarwal, however, remains optimistic, saying Glida has reached a stage where he sees long-term visibility. "By 2030, we would like to operate one-third of all charge points in India."
Almost all charge point operators in India currently cater to only four-wheelers and buses. The two-wheeler segment is a challenge because there is no industry-wide unanimity on which standard to follow and every OEM has its own proprietary charger, says Glida's Jha.
India's largest e-scooter maker Ola Electric has its own proprietary chargers, making its fast-charging Hypercharger network unusable for other EVs.
EV maker Ather Energy has set up India's largest two-wheeler fast charging network with over 1,300 chargers. Called the Ather Grid, the company plans to install over 2,500 charging stations by the end of 2023.
"There is a need for having a standard but it has to be OEM-driven," says Swapnil Jain, co-founder and chief technology officer, Ather Energy.
"We are working with a BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) committee to standardise EV chargers. The talks are at an advanced stage. It is not something that should be owned by one company. It should be agreed upon by all the OEMs," Jain says, adding that standardisation is inevitable.
Ather opened its charging connector patents to other OEMs in August 2021. A year later, Hero MotoCorp, which owns 33% stake in the startup, became the first OEM to use its connector.
"The integration of Hero MotoCorp's Vida electric scooters with Ather charging infrastructure is ongoing. The transition is not complete yet. It's a complex process to ensure interoperability between different OEMs," says Jain.
Ather's charger, which was originally proprietary, was made open but not everyone has adopted it, says Kanuri of WRI India. "Both Ola and Ather are trying to play the Tesla game. They are trying to build out their own network of chargers so that other two-wheeler OEMs come onto their charging network," she says.
India is targeting 30% of all new car registrations to be EVs by 2030. The Centre is also aiming to electrify 100% of two-wheelers and three-wheelers, which together comprise more than 80% of total automobile sales in the country. India has witnessed a shift in perception towards EVs over the past few years. A total of 8,96,664 EVs have been sold in 2023 till now, according to data from the VAHAN portal.
The country may need at least 13 lakh charging stations by 2030 to support aggressive EV uptake, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA) show that India's average annual investments in EVs and private chargers will need to increase from about $210 million in 2016-2020 to $19-33 billion in 2026-2030 to enable EVs to account for 35% of total vehicle sales by 2030.
Bain & Company's Jain says that reaching 30% by 2030 may be a challenge, but believes 15-20% is achievable given the current pace of progress. "The two-wheeler segment is moving at a faster clip but has slowed in recent months because of issues around (FAME) subsidies. It should touch 40%-plus penetration by 2030," he says.