RAJIV CHOWK, the heart of New Delhi, has over a dozen electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, installed by government-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd. (EESL). Almost all are non-functional. Reasons vary from no power supply and broken displays to missing guns. While the colonial white façade of Rajiv Chowk got a fresh coat of paint before the G20 Summit this year, the chargers remain dirty, some even smeared with paan stains. The charger on Sansad Marg, less than a mile from the new Parliament building, has no gun. The space in front has been occupied by a street vendor. The condition of chargers outside Prime Ministers' Museum And Library (formerly Nehru Memorial Museum And Library) is no different. In South Delhi, out of 10 charging stations that Fortune India visited, only four, near Safdarjung Enclave and Delhi Haat, were operational. Those in Green Park, Lodhi Garden, IIT-Delhi and Bhikaji Cama Place were not.

The dysfunctional charging ecosystem represents just what all is terribly wrong with India's EV infrastructure — lack of coordination between the Centre and charging infrastructure players, between vehicle makers and Centre, between Centre and states or even among government departments. It's not uncommon for EV users to find a dysfunctional charger or, worse, a charger that's working but is incompatible with the vehicle. An even bigger nightmare is to find it functional and compatible but unable to accept payment due to server crash. Anything and everything is possible in today's EV charging scenario, leading to perpetual range anxiety. EV sales cannot remain immune to a messy charging infrastructure.

If finding a functional charging point is a challenge, an even bigger concern is locating one that has the same standard as your vehicle. The reason: India has a mind-boggling number of charger types. While India got its first public charging station in 2017, the country has failed to adopt a charging standard that it intends to follow. Power ministry, the nodal ministry, has left the issue open-ended. NITI Aayog, tasked with creating a roadmap for electric mobility, has not announced an India standard. Hence, makers of EVs and chargers have gone ahead with whatever works best for them — the Chinese GB/T standard, European Combined Charging System (CCS2) or Japan's CHAdeMO.

For instance, the earliest public chargers installed in locations such as Central Delhi are built on the GB/T standard, ironically renamed as Bharat DC-001. No company sells cars with this standard anymore as most passenger EV makers have shifted to CCS2. EESL, though, says it has 169 operational Bharat DC-001 chargers. Chargers built by EESL and some private operators also have the CHAdeMO connector despite the fact that there are no cars compatible with the Japanese plug (See Graphic on charging standards).

No wonder India's EV charging infrastructure is in a mess, say experts. "In developed markets, penetration of EVs and charging infrastructure are co-related. Lack of adequate charging infrastructure is a key deterrent for EV penetration in India," says Vinutaa S., vice president and sector head, ICRA. That's not all. EV charging players also have to contend with poor quality of power from the grid and non-availability of land, especially at locations where demand is high. All this is surprising considering government's big plans for introducing EVs.

The Charger Chaos

Government think-tank NITI Aayog expects 30% four-wheeler EV penetration by 2030. Economic Survey 2022-23 says the domestic EV market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 49% between 2022 and 2030. But without an increase in the number of charging points, these targets will remain just that. "A mandate around standardisation will be beneficial for the ecosystem," says Anant Nahata, managing director of homegrown charger manufacturer Exicom Tele-Systems.

The type of charging point depends upon the battery capacity of the vehicle. AC chargers or slow chargers are usually installed in residential buildings and individual houses whereas DC chargers are designed for commercial places, national highways, expressways and other public spaces. The battery capacity of electric two-wheelers ranges from 2 KWh to 4.5 KWh, electric passenger vehicles from 17 KWh to 120 KWh. Heavy-duty vehicles such as electric buses and trucks are above 150 KWh.

All this is perfect recipe for chaos. Take EESL. It operates dual-gun DC chargers that come with CHAdeMO connectors. Unlike Rajiv Chowk, EESL's charging plaza outside New Delhi's Chelmsford Club sees decent action as its 142-KW fast chargers come with two guns — CCS2 and CHAdeMO. Around 190 out of EESL's 441 functional chargers are combo (CCS2 and CHAdeMO). "CHAdeMO has not picked up much. I don't think there will be a case for going with CHAdeMO," says Vishal Kapoor, CEO of EESL, a joint venture of PSUs under power ministry, adding that they will modify chargers in locations where utilisation rates are high. Kapoor, also CEO of EESL subsidiary Convergence Energy Services, says standardisation is an iterative process. "You cannot wait to standardise and then move ahead. Similarly, you cannot move ahead and think we’ll standardise later."

To understand the complexity involved, visit the basement parking of Ardee Mall in Gurugram that has a designated space for EVs. The parking slots, mostly vacant, have three types of chargers — CCS2 and CHAdeMO for fast charging and AC Type-2 for slow charging. Tata Power, which owns these, had installed CHAdeMO connectors at several other locations as well. "As India has no car with the Japanese protocol, we stopped deploying CHAdeMO," says Virendra Goyal, head, Business Development (EV Charging), Tata Power. The company has installed over 4,650 public/semi-public chargers in 350 cities.

A common charger will give users comfort, agrees Nikhil Gupta, director of sales at Delta Electronics India, a unit of Taiwanese electronics manufacturing company Delta Electronics. There is need for a direction on what is the acceptable universe of standards, says Chaitanya Kanuri, senior programme manager, Electric Mobility, WRI India, a research organisation. "A lot of public tenders are not taking these into account. Some are still seeking CHAdeMO saying these are essential," she says.

The U.S. is facing a similar plug war. Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have committed to Tesla's North American Charging Standard (NACS) for future EVs, junking the rival CCS1 connector, used in every non-Tesla EV in U.S. Things came to a head in June when CharIN, an association for promoting CCS connectors, said the global EV industry cannot thrive with several competing charging systems. NACS is not a standard yet and does not provide an open charging ecosystem for the industry to build upon, CharIN, representing over 320 e-mobility stakeholders, said. Anant Nahata of Exicom says Tesla has installed thousands of chargers following a different standard and companies see benefits in adopting that. "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 Tesla's trap," says Kartikey Hariyani, founder and CEO, CHARGE+ZONE, a charge point operator which has 1,600 charging stations. He says India must standardise as early as possible considering the mess in U.S.

Apart from charger compatibility, even locating an EV charger sometimes becomes a hassle as there is no common app to locate public charging stations. NITI Aayog is planning such an app though. "They're trying to do it through a simple payment mechanism that will be QR-based or similar," says Chaitanya Kanuri of WRI India. "This unified app concept is good because each operator's app shows only its chargers," says Delta's Nikhil Gupta.

The Transformation Challenge

However, even if India standardises in, say, the next few quarters, the older charging standards will need to be continued for cars already sold. "When electric mobility started in India, vehicles came with the Chinese GB/T standard. However, people understood it cannot charge high-performance vehicles," says Gupta of Delta Electronics. Several cars, including Tata Motors' Xpres-T EV and Mahindra & Mahindra's e-Verito, are compatible with GB/T. Most of these are used by fleet operators. "These vehicles will continue to run for next 10-15 years. So, the chargers required may still be needed," says Gupta.

Besides, commercial goods carriers are also using GB/T. "For cargo EVs, GB/T is still the major standard. A common standard for cargo vehicles and cars would have made things easier," says Anmol Singh Jaggi, co-founder and CEO, BluSmart, an all-electric ride-hailing company. "Our cars need more charging at night. Most cargo vehicles operate at night and are idle during the day. It would have been great to have cargo EVs and cars on one platform," says Jaggi.

BluSmart, which is building EV charging super hubs, has 3,800 chargers in Delhi-NCR and Bengaluru. The largest, at Vasant Square Mall in Delhi, has 400 chargers over 1,60,000 square feet. About 1,000-odd cars in BluSmart's fleet are compatible with GB/T while 4,000 use CCS2. "We have separate charging infrastructure for cargo customers," says Jaggi, adding they have opened their hubs to some corporate EV fleets as well. "One reason for lower CCS adoption in cargo vehicles is cost. GB/T comes at half the price of CCS," he says. BluSmart hubs get 25% business from the company's ride-hailing service. "The hubs are profitable because the company's own demand is high. As we open our infrastructure to other fleets and cargo vehicles, our profitability will increase," says Jaggi.

Low Utilisation Hits Viability

The mess in India's charging infrastructure means utilisation of various charge point operators remains in low single digits. At EESL, it is 3-5%. "There are several locations where utilisation levels are pretty low. It depends on where the chargers are," says Kapoor. At Tata Power, it is less than 2%. "This is because we have built a large network. Some points are doing exceptionally well but some are in markets where EV penetration is happening or is likely to happen over next few months," says Goyal of Tata Power. Utilisation at Glida, formerly Fortum Charge & Drive, is 0-30%. "Immediate target is 12.5%," says Awadhesh Jha, executive director, Glida. 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%.

There is another reason for low utilisation. "Public charging stations are not manned at night. There have been several cases of gun theft," says Vishal Kapoor of EESL. Lack of security makes them prone to tampering and screen/gun damage by anti-social elements, he says.

Deepak Jain, partner, Bain & Company, says 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 adds. Experts agree that range anxiety is one reason people are still wary of buying an EV. For example, Noida resident Rohit Sethi was stuck on the Gurugram-Manesar road in May as he could not find a charger for his Tata Nexon EV. Abhay Chaurasia (name changed) also faced range anxiety while travelling from Gurugram to Kanpur in Mercedes EQS 580. The 24-year-old saw just one charging station on Yamuna Expressway near Jewar Toll Plaza and missed the one on the Lucknow-Agra Expressway. He reached home with the battery nearly drained out.

Some companies are seeing this as an opportunity. "We are in expansion mode. We are strategically deploying chargers in places such as malls, highway pit stops and restaurants which have high footfalls," says Goyal of Tata Power. Standardisation can ease asset utilisation concerns, says Ravneet Pokhela, CBO, Ather Energy. "If every brand has the same connector, utilisation will be a lot more," he says.

"Given the relatively high capital and operating costs, asset utilisation is critical. ICRA estimates it will take at least five years for an EV charging station to break even based on current expectations of EV penetration and commensurate asset utilisation, without accounting for any subsidy," says Vinutaa. ICRA expects installation of 45,000-50,000 electric chargers by CY2025 with incremental capex of ₹10,000-12,000 crore from CY23-25.

The Target

India has witnessed a shift in perception towards EVs over past few years. EV sales crossed one million in FY23. A total of 8,96,664 EVs have been sold in 2023 till now, according to data from the VAHAN portal. India's charging ecosystem cannot support such numbers. Bureau Of Energy Efficiency and power ministry data says India has 9,878 public charging stations. "Globally, one charger is deployed for every four EVs. India is a long way off," says Hemal Thakkar, Senior Practice Leader -Consulting, CRISIL Market Intelligence & Analytics.

CII says with 22 lakh EVs, the ratio of public chargers to EVs in India is very low (around 1:223). India will need 13 lakh public chargers by 2030, it says. "By 2030, even in a business-as-usual scenario of 40% YoY growth, we would need to install more than four lakh chargers annually till 2030," it says.

The Ministry Of Heavy Industries (MHI) has 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. MHI has also approved financial assistance of up to 80% for setting up upstream infrastructure at charging stations to reduce upfront costs.

A Costly Affair

While dysfunctional charging stations torment consumers, they hurt the industry too. "It is estimated that 10-40% chargers in India are not in working condition. Either they have been vandalised or the IT system they are hooked onto has outages. That's a worry because OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and charge point operators have invested lakhs of rupees in installing these chargers," says Nahata of Exicom. The Gurugram-based company has sold 3,600 AC chargers and 1,400 DC chargers, deployed in 200 cities in India.

A 30-kilowatt charger costs between ₹8 lakh and ₹12 lakh, excluding real estate and civil works, says Goyal of Tata Power. A 60 KW charger, with two guns, costs ₹15 to ₹20 lakh. EESL's Kapoor says a 142 KW charger costs around ₹30 lakh, including power installation and commissioning. "The cost of charging equipment itself is ₹15 lakh. The cost of upstream infrastructure — like transformers and electricity connection — is around ₹15 lakh," he says.

As per CRISIL, installation of a public DC charging point requires an investment of ₹30 lakh to ₹40 lakh. AC points require between ₹65,000 and ₹1.2 lakh. CRISIL's Thakkar says costs will stabilise once the industry starts localisation and scaling up.

Sanjay Aggarwal, president of Fortum India Pvt Ltd, the local unit of Finland-based energy giant Fortum, says they would not like to keep chargers that are not utilised. "If we feel EV adoption is going at a slower rate, we will ramp it down. We will tune our infra with how the market develops," he says. Aggarwal, however, remains optimistic and says Glida has reached a stage where it sees long-term visibility. "By 2030, we would like to operate one-third of all charge points in India."

Rectifying Power Outages

While interoperability is crucial to get the EV charging infrastructure going, power downtimes and poor quality of supply from grids are not making the industry's task easier. "Most residential buildings don't have the load capacity to support charging requirements. Customers have to go to local municipal bodies for increasing capacity. This is a cost-intensive and complex process," says Pokhela of Ather Energy.

As a temporary solution to power outages, the industry is deploying solar modules as back-up. "Today, electricity consumed by EVs could be coming from conventional sources such as coal but solar electricity will solve the issue of power cuts as well as support green goals of companies," says Niranjan Nayak, managing director, Delta Electronics India. Taiwan-based Delta Electronics is one of the earliest entrants in India's EV charger manufacturing space with a market share of 15%.

There are other limitations, too. "Charging stations may not be optimised to handle high demand, resulting in slower charging speeds. Additionally, grid constraints can influence charging rates, especially in areas with insufficient power supply," says Nayak. "The type and capacity of equipment can also impact charging speeds. Vehicle battery capacity and technology, along with connectivity between the charging station and the EV, also plays a vital role in determining charging efficiency," he says.

Promised Land

Non-availability of land is another concern for EV infrastructure players. Most charge point operators either rent space or take it on a revenue-sharing model. The location is decided by charging point operators and land owing agencies. "One of the challenges is getting a good location," says Kartikey Hariyani of Charge + Zone. The Ahmedabad-based energy-as-a-solution company has installed 1,600 charging stations. Of these, 20% are slow chargers, whereas 80% are DC.

Issues around availability of land also hinder effective last-mile electric connectivity, say industry leaders. "Availability of land continues to be among the major challenges faced by the industry. Not only in terms of real estate but also in availability of location and sanction load. In many locations, customers don't find effective last-mile electric connectivity," says Maxson Lewis, founder, Magenta Mobility. The Bengaluru-based company deploys electric charging points for three-wheelers. The HPCL-backed company has so far deployed AC charging stations in more than 37 oil depots in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi-NCR. It claims to have deployed 1,000 stations in partnership with HPCL and Jio BP.

Power ministry stipulates that the land-owning agency will provide assistance to charge point operators in getting clearance and permits for charging stations. The agency is also responsible for obtaining separate power connections and enhancing power supply at each location. "Specific spaces should be marked for charging stations to ensure adequate density. Further, to manage costs, land leases should be long term," says ICRA's Vinutaa. Queries to government on land allotted for charging stations didn't elicit any response.

The Way Forward

Despite the challenges, industry leaders say the ecosystem will grow consistently in next three to four years. "As an industry, we have reached a stage where we will see an exponential take-off. There are enough electric vehicles on road to justify this as a standalone business. It is no longer a business that can pay off in 10-15 years. It will pay off in three-four years. So, there is scope for a lot of charge point operators," says Pokhela of Ather Energy.

Lewis of Magenta Mobility says charging infrastructure will be among the biggest consumers of electricity and hence require green energy.

CRISIL Ratings estimates that in order to achieve the country's dream of electrification of mobility, India will require approximately a million charging stations. "If by 2030, 6-6.5 million passenger vehicles are sold, 20% will be EVs. That’d be close to 1.2 million EVs. But overall number of EVs will be around three million. From this perspective, our estimate is that India will require close to 6,00,000 chargers only for passenger vehicles," says Thakkar. That sure is an ambitious target. But whether India makes it in EVs or not will depend upon how it tackles its raging charging infrastructure problems.

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