What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

Electric Vehicles, Quo Vadis?

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Manish Gautam

Indian government is on a roll. Two years ago at Conference of Parties (COP) 21 at Paris, it surprised the world by setting up its renewable energy generation target of 175 GW by 2022.  This was one of its INDC (now transitioned to NDC) at the Paris COP, the other being the creation of an “additional carbon sink by increasing forestation and tree cover”. Recently the government indicated that it is planning to transition completely to non-hydrocarbon fuels based vehicles, i.e., electric vehicles (EVs). If one believes Mr. Nitin Gadkari, the Minister of Road Transport and Highways, after year 2030 the only vehicles on the Indian roads will be fueled by electricity, or else the government will ‘bulldoze’ the non-electric vehicles.

In year 2001, the total cars registered were numbered 5.3 Million (7.1 Million, combined number for Cars, Jeeps and Taxis). It had increased almost 3 times in 11 years, 17.5 Million (21.5 Million, combined number for Cars, Jeeps and Taxis) in 2012 as per the data on the website of Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. This number (combined figures for Cars, Jeeps and Taxis) stood 28.6 Million in 2015. The projection of total number of such vehicles in 2030 is difficult to make considering the factors that will drive such an increase; the prospects of having more than 60 Million carbon-emitting vehicles (of all kinds) is a rather scary thought! Also, it seems unrealistic, by any means that a major chunk of these 60 Million plus vehicles will run on electricity if we take Mr. Gadkari seriously. Amitabh Kant, CEO of the Niti Aayog, provide us a slightly better picture. He estimates that the country will see the sale of 7.3 Million EVs by 2030. Hoping that the adaptation to EVs will be fast even though the market may show some reluctance to embrace it, he projects that the sale of EVs will be 30.81 Million by 2040.

Will the country be able to achieve this target? Some are skeptical. An Economic Times article lists out few obstacles or ‘bumps’ in the road ahead of EVs target –  issues of scaling up and prioritizing of infrastructure needed for the functioning of EVs such as setting up the charging stations. There are few, for instance Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog, who are hopeful that the country can finally get rid of hydrocarbon fuels run vehicles and have a zero-emission future. A study carried out by the people from Rocky Mountain Institute and Niti Aayog outlines a vision for country’s efficient mobility by 2030 and it includes EVs in this roadmap. It emphasizes on the “concerted action at the central, state, and local government levels, enhanced coordination among central-government ministries, and collaboration with the private sector will be required for India to realize the full potential of a mobility transformation”.

Two important aspects of this entire discussion of EVs in India are missing or not being given much attention in news and other portals.  Is the electricity needed to run the EVs as ‘clean’ as the purpose of running EVs on the roads?  – the zero carbon footprint of the electricity needed for EVs along with the target of zero emissions from the vehicles? The Draft National Energy Policy does talk about “de-carbonisation through the twin interventions of energy efficiency and renewable energy” where deployment of EVs comes under its Energy Efficiency ambit.  

The other is the question of road congestion. How is the switch to EVs going to solve this problem that has been a nightmare for many? This question has not been addressed, let alone completely understood or analyzed. The RMI-Niti Aayog study try to address this problem that “adding vehicle or congestion fees in congested cities will reduce travel demand met by vehicles”. This solution in the report lacks elaboration and is unconvincing.

A future of transportation in the form of EVs sounds all hunky-dory. The urgent need of the country is to address the problem of having too many vehicles on its roads. Perhaps the zero-emission future lies not only in manufacturing and running millions of EVs but creating an equally efficient public transport system.

(First published in the IYCN Newsletter – August 2017 issue)




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