Electric Mobility is the next big transformation in India.Driven by factors such as government policy, new technologies, economics, demographics, and varying consumer choices, this revolutionary transition to a cleaner electric power train will be a massive disruptor. It will not just completely alter the way people and goods move today, electrifying mobility will also give India the opportunity to emerge as a leader in clean, connected, and shared mobility solutions, charging infrastructure, and be a pioneer in renewable energy integration. Significantly, the Indian auto-mobile industry—poised to be one of the top three markets in the world—employs nearly 37 million people and con-tributes to more than half of India’s manufacturing GDP.And, any powerful disruption is bound to impact society,the economy, and jobs. From a national perspective, too,the rapid adoption of sustainable mobility solutions such as electric vehicles (EVs) and shared mobility can help augment India’s efforts to contain the upward trajectory of our oil import costs, which shot up to $111.9 billion in 2018-19, from $87.8 billion in the previous financial year.
Societal and economic impact
If India continues on its course to shift from polluting fuels to clean energy in mobility and achieves a 100% market share in EVs by 2030, our annual petrol and diesel consumption can come down by 156 million tonnes of oil equivalent. The savings could result in substantial benefits of as much as $60 billion, even while cutting down 1 giga-tonne of carbon emissions. This can reduce pollution levels in our cities, considering 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. And, automotive emissions are indeed key contributors to rising PM2.5 [hazardous airborne particles] levels in cities. Today, Indian commuters want a new mobility paradigm that is environment-friendly, convenient, involves lower costs per km, and reduces congestion. EVs offer all of these benefits, but it is important to link EVs to renewable energy to truly make the mobility ecosystem sustainable. In this aspect, the government is targeting to install 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022; and is on track to achieve this target.
However, sustainable electric mobility will work in the long run only if we develop a supporting clean energy infrastructure. So even if all vehicles sold in 2022 were to be electric, they would require only a quarter of this additional capacity to power the entire fleet. By 2030, if India goes all-electric, we are targeting a generation capacity of 350 GW of renewable energy—more than sufficient to power the 400 million vehicles to be on Indian roads by then.On the employment front too, India’s vision for sustain-able mobility has positive spin-offs. For example, to sup-port the building of the EV ecosystem, the government has launched a skilling programme—to train people in various verticals of EVs, such as design, battery, testing, manufacturing, management and services, and infrastructure. This will generate 10 million jobs in the industry. The government’s Automotive Mission Plan 2026 is also expected to double the workforce in the automobile sector to 65 million.
The future of sustainability
The dawn of an era in transport has opened up a slew of new economic opportunities as well. In fact, India’s mobility transformation has been valued at anything upwards of $25 billion and there is a scope for India to develop into a global hub for manufacturing EVs and their components. The government has been pushing local manufacturing of EV components,such as motors, batteries, chargers, etc.
Buoyed by global trends that are quickly making electric mobility an economic choice, India has the opportunity to be a global differentiator and lead this transformation in mobility and come up with an “India-centric” solution.India’s needs are unique since it has diverse transport systems with buses, two-wheelers, and three-wheelers constituting more than 85% of the vehicles on our roads. Moreover, in India only 22 people per 1,000 own cars, while in the U.S., it is 980 per 1,000 individuals. So, it makes sense for India to first pursue the path of electrifying public and shared transport.
In India, acceleration of EV adoption is limited by high costs (largely due to steep battery prices) of vehicles. But, if we get used to the idea of delinking energy from its usage, batteries which account for 30-50% of EV prices, can be separated from the vehicle. This can significantly lower EV prices getting them on a par with their internal combustion engine equivalents.
Batteries can also be swapped quickly at a sufficiently dense network of interchange stations ad-dressing other hurdles such as range anxiety, long refuelling time, and lack of sufficient recharging stations. The EV user swaps a depleted battery fora fully charged one and pays just for the energy used to the station operator, who owns the batteries, thereby reducing the ownership cost. The positive impact on e-rickshaws in our cities using battery swaps has been considerable; for example,these new technologies are able to increase the earnings of an e-rickshaw driver by more than 20-30% as they can complete more trips daily since they do not have a range limitation.
India is, therefore, rightfully focussing on electrifying EVs particularly suited to certain vehicle segments and use cases such as fleets and commercial high mileage vehicles, which can capitalise on EVs’ low operating costs. The recent government announcement to compulsorily convert 40% of shared mobility to electric by 2026 should be seen as an opportunity for standards to be set, and for players to cooperate with authorities and work towards creating an India-centric solution.
It is critical for the automotive industry, the government, startups, EV infrastructure players,shared mobility providers, and cities to come together as an innovative ecosystem with new ways and smart technologies to do business. This needs to be seen as an opportunity—one that is collaborative in nature, with stakeholders in EV manufacturing, charging infrastructure, battery solutions, robotics, and energy solutions coming together to chalk out the road map for the future of sustainable mobility in India, where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.
The author is co-founder and vice chairman of SUN Mobility, an EV energy infrastructure solutions firm.
(This column was originally published in the July 2019 issue of the magazine.)