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Challenges for the EV sector: From charging to distribution to generation

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We also have to be conscious of the fact that to encash the environmental benefits of EVs, electricity generation also has to be eco-friendly.

Challenges for the EV sector: From charging to distribution to generation
The electric vehicle revolution is here and it is happening. More and more manufacturers are stepping onto the scene, better vehicles are being made available and appetite for these vehicles is rising among the consumers. This shift has tangible benefits for our environment, for reducing our petrol imports, for inflation and in turn for our economy. We also regularly hear of the infrastructural challenges around these vehicles and therefore it is important to understand where the gaps are and how we can fill them.
Looking at the current sales figures, EV’s are still a minor part of all the vehicles sold in India. However, the demand for these vehicles has been rising consistently over the last few years. This is particularly true of two-wheelers and three-wheelers where the cost advantage is substantial and the dependence on the charging network is lower. At the same time, a lot of activity can also be seen in terms of four-wheelers and buses. In fact, by 2030 India is expected to have 10 crore EV two-wheelers, 30 to 40 lac EV three-wheelers, over 1 crore EV cars and close to 10 lakh electric buses.
This proliferation of electric vehicles has a substantial impact on the energy infrastructure in India. We have to create capacity at various levels, from grid-level down to the battery storage and further to the manufacture of cells used to make these batteries. For a resource-constrained country like ours, we have to be very careful and smart in allocating resources in line with these requirements. Since the demand for electric vehicles is mainly led by high milage use cases like taxi fleets, delivery vehicles, public buses, etc., the resource demand per vehicle shall also be higher than average.
Starting from the grid, this will place a demand for an additional of approximately 300 to 500-gigawatt hours (Gwh) per day of electricity. This however does not mean that generation capacity has to increase likewise. It depends on factors like how fast and at what time of the day we are charging our vehicles. For example, if everyone charges their vehicles at the same time and if we all use ultra-fast chargers, then the load on the grid will be over a 1000 Gw. However, if we charge at different times of the day and we use slow charging along with fast charging, the additional load at any given time will be less than 50 Gw. Additionally, peak electricity demand happens in the day and the evening with demand falling by 15-20 Gw during the night.
Given that our installed generation capacity is over 380 GW, the additional load because of EVs is small and if we can push this demand to non-peak hours then that demand-supply gap reduces further. We also have to be conscious of the fact that to encash the environmental benefits of EVs, electricity generation also has to be eco-friendly. Additionally, EV’s can also act as storage of grid energy, thereby supplying energy during hours of peak demand and then recharging during non-peak hours.
On the distribution side also, the capacity addition is not substantial but we need to analyse where the additional requirement is coming from. Since a large part of EV growth is led by logistics and fleet users, cities are where the demand increases are higher. That may mean that upgrading the power distribution networks in the cities is needed. The demand placed by EVs on each city needs to be overlaid with the demand trends from other sectors and then only we can determine the exact requirement per city. This is, however, one area where local government needs to be proactive to make EVs a success.
By far the biggest discussion point around EVs is getting energy into the vehicle. This includes discussions like charging points, battery swapping networks, fast chargers etc. Many private companies backed with government support are already working on this piece of the puzzle. The number of charging points has been increasing exponentially from around 250 in 2019 to 1,000 in 2020 to over 1,800 more recently. Many companies are also setting up captive as well as public battery swapping stations.
The challenges in charging EVs vary per vehicle type. While two-wheelers and three-wheelers can use public charging stations or home charging using portable chargers or battery swapping, for four-wheelers and buses charging is the only solution. To add to that the industry is yet to arrive at a consensus on the right solution. Different battery chemistries, different battery sizes, connector type, charging voltages and current requirements all add to the complexity. This problem is particularly prevalent with two-wheelers and three-wheelers as each manufacturer wants to use a different battery specification and wants to create its own network of chargers with disregard for compatibility across other manufacturers. This is extremely resource-intensive from a macro point of view and will create major barriers around the proliferation of EVs.
The last link in the chain is around batteries required for these vehicles. This demand is likely to be 250 to 300 Gwh by 2030. To put that in context, the Tesla Giga Factory produced 24 Gwh in 2019 and the global output of these batteries was close to 400 Gwh in 2020. So, this is a major challenge where we need to step up. We can not move from being an oil-importing country to a cell importing country. We have to move forward on the assembly of these batteries and component manufacture including battery management systems (BMSs). At the same time efforts have to be channelled towards cell manufacturing and at R&D so that we can keep abreast with the newer battery chemistries and other upgrades.
To sum up, our industry along with the government has to make efforts in a number of directions. We need to work on sustainable energy generation, we need to have differential pricing between peak grid demand and non-peak demand and we need smart metering to enable that. We also need to analyse and execute the network upgradations required at the local level. The efforts on charging points and battery swapping locations are already underway. However, the industry needs to come together and find commonalities across this aspect instead of creating stand-alone networks that are not compatible with each other. Lastly, we need to channel our efforts in keeping up with technology on the battery side and in localising the manufacture of batteries.
All in all, EVs play a major role in our shift towards a more sustainable way of life, however, that will be incomplete till we solve some of these bottlenecks.
The author Ashish Aggarwal is the Founder and CEO at VA-YU. The views expressed are personal.