Authored by: Sameer Jaiswal
The future of travel is electric. This phrase has been heard countless times across the country and it is a phrase that is well-believed. The government of India has been very enthusiastic about the adoption of electric vehicles. Due to the growing number of polluted cities in the country, the need to reduce emissions has encouraged the government to invest a staggering 1.4 billion dollars to create incentives for the manufacture of electric vehicles.
The push to adopt EVs is being carried out on a nationwide scale. We can see this in the number of vehicles that were sold in 2019. As many as 1.56 lakh units were sold in FY 2019-20 as compared to 1.3 lakhs in FY 2018-19. Out of this, 92 percent or 1,52,000 units were two-wheelers with 3400 units being electric cars and 600 being electric buses. These numbers show that the adoption of EVs is growing at a steady pace.
Along with this growth, the growth of electric vehicle charging stations is also happening in parallel. The government has released technical guidelines for charging stations with the help of BIS, ARAI, EESL and other bodies. Original specifications such as the AC-001 and the DC-001 have already been developed and deployed at selected locations across the country.
Although the growth in charging stations is an incentive for people to buy electric vehicles, the numbers are not enough to fulfil the growing needs of the EV population. Many charging companies are tying up with petrol pumps to bridge the gap, but the overall penetration leaves something to be desired. The bigger problem here is not installing charging stations, but finding them. People are relying on petrol pumps, but there is no guarantee that every pump will have a charging device installed. The shortage of space is the biggest roadblock that the EV industry is facing in a country like India.
Building a robust infrastructure is going to be a big challenge for the government. Let us look at this scenario from an EV owner’s perspective. Awoke person can be encouraged to buy an electric vehicle to contribute to a greener environment. These vehicles are reasonably priced, easy to maintain and easy to use. The only problem is access to charging stations. If a vehicle does not have easy access to charging, people will be reluctant to buy it.
EVs are still in the early stages of adoption in India. Hence, people do not always realise the benefits that they could be reaping from using them. As an example, not every potential vehicle buyer is aware that charging an EV is cheaper and more sustainable than buying combustible fuels like petrol or diesel. This lack of information along with an underdeveloped infrastructure limits the industry from growing more rapidly and eventually overtaking the traditional internal combustion automobile industry.
So what are our options?
Simply installing charging stations in petrol pumps or at select locations in cities is not going to be enough. The vision should be to install charging stations on every street of every city in India. The shortage of space is acute in tier 1 and tier 2 cities. Real estate is the biggest challenge in setting up charging infrastructure. The only way to solve this problem is through a win-win means of public participation.
Premises like small shops, restaurants, hotels and commercial showrooms have space that can be used for this. More often than not these spaces are under-utilised. People do not realise the potential that even a small amount of commercial space can have. PCO boxes of yesteryears are a good example of this. If the government or private organisations can find a way to collaborate with these businesses, we can give birth to a new business model. A model where everyone benefits.
Utilising available space is an important but first step. The next step is to help people find a charging station near them. With the help of technology, we can create resources that will help people locate the nearest charging point.
This will, eventually, have a cascading effect and feed the growth of this model. If businesses can earn supplementary incomes through charging stations, this will lead to a greater demand for installations and so on fuelling growth. Finally, the availability of more charging stations will in itself boost demand for electric vehicles.
It is predicted that one impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a boost for the EV industry. According to SMEV(Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles), people will be encouraged to buy greener and safer options like an electric two-wheeler than rely on public transport. This can be a turning point for the industry and developing infrastructure will play a crucial role in sustaining it.
—Sameer Jaiswal is Co-Founder, Kirana Charzer. The views expressed are personal