Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming, at least it seems like, the single-point answer to many challenges we are facing today; like, hydrocarbon-induced global warming, volatility in crude prices and related international politics, dwindling current account balance due to high energy import cost in many countries and many more.
Is it the reality? Will electric and hybrid vehicles make our future brighter, safer and sustainable? We shall try finding answer to these in this article.
What is an EV?
In technical language, any vehicle that uses electric traction motor, one or multiple, for propulsion is an electric vehicle. Source of electricity can be on-board or off-board. For an example, electric locomotive is an EV with off-board power supply; it draws electricity through a collector system from overhead lines. All modern electric cars, even the hybrid ones, are with on-board battery as source of electricity. Batteries can be recharged using external power supply or by on-board petrol, diesel or gas-burnt electricity generators. These are generators with much smaller engines compared full-fledged car engines; so, they burn less fuel.
Benefits of EVs
- First of all, electric vehicles reduce tailpipe emission or, simply speaking, reduce exhaust of gases from vehicle engines. Some of the extremely harmful components of exhaust gas are NOx, Carbon Monoxide, Benzene and particulate matters.
- In US, 70% of oil is consumed by personal vehicles; in India 70% of diesel and 99.6% of petrol consumed by cars and other roadways vehicles. In petroleum importing countries, like India, this means recurring pressure on current account balance and significant dependency on other counties or bloc of countries for keeping the nation mobile. More and more EVs on road signify less dependency on fossil fuel.
- EVs also generate a lot lesser noise cutting down noise pollution level on roadways.
- Electric motors are much more energy efficient because of their mechanical simplicity. In terms of energy conversion efficiency, electric motors can reach even 90% over a wide range of output levels. Besides, we can use regenerative brakes with electric motors for converting kinetic energy into electricity in the process of slowing vehicle. Unlike combustion engines, electric motors can be more effectively controlled.
What makes Government of India (GoI) so ambitious about EVs?
Recently, Indian government has expressed its ambitious plan of replacing all fossil fuel-fed vehicles – personal and commercial – on Indian roads with their electric and hybrid alternatives by 2030; that’s 100% change over to EVs. It might sound too ambitious to be true at this moment but definitely not without merits. EVs are extremely beneficial for India.
- A considerable shift towards EVs will cut down country’s dependency on strategically important commodity like crude oil.
- A major import that continuously drags down India’s current account balance is crude oil. Less import of crude oil means better balance of payment for the economy.
In a fast developing country like India, number of cars on roads is rapidly increasing for their aspirational values among Indian population. It is impacting quality of air in major metros and upcoming cities downgrading living conditions. More and more EVs on Indian roads mean improve in quality of air. Way back in 2013, GoI launched National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) to create a road map for promoting EVs on Indian roads and encouraging adoption by vehicle owners. Later Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric vehicles in India (FAME-India) was introduced within NEMMP for expediting the process in 2015. Fame-India is a 6-year scheme which would support market development and building manufacturing eco-system for EVs/Hybrid vehicles in India. Some of the components government is relying on for this purpose are:
- R&D on technology platform
- Building testing infrastructure
- Indigenization of components
- Incentivizing demand
- Building charging infrastructure
- Pilot initiatives
Automobile industry in India as a whole and share of EVs
Automobile industry contributes roughly 7.1% of total GDP in India producing nearly 24 million vehicles every year. The number is growing at a rate of 2.5% annually. However, percentage of EVs is negligible; even less than 1% at present.
However, things might change sooner than anticipated. Inherently, there is an immense upside to grow for EVs in already thriving Indian automobile sector. Replacing even 50% of combustion engine vehicles with electric and hybrid alternatives within 2030 will be a huge goal and achieving that goal would require huge investments and, simultaneously, offer ample business opportunities for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) as well as ancillary industries. It can be the next sunrise industry given the policy boosts, government is lining up for demand as well as supply sides.
Is there any drawback of EVs?
Almost nothing in the world comes only with pack of goodies. Same is applicable to EVs.
- EVs do not cause any tailpipe emission. However, that does not solve the entire toxic emission problem. It is also important to use electricity from renewable and least toxic sources for recharging EV batteries. Otherwise, if we are using electricity sourced from coal-fed power generators then emission issue persists.
- Modern EVs do not use toxic lead-acid batteries; instead they use lithium compounds along with cobalt and nickel. Large amount of copper also goes into electrical wiring inside an EV. These metals may not be as toxic as lead-acid; but mining this minerals and processing them has lot of environment implications. Copper smelting is known to impact air, ground water and soil quality in the surrounding regions.
- Depending on various technical factors, battery lives in EVs vary considerably. Once the battery life is over, disposing them off is also a cause of environmental concern. Recycling all the metals and other materials in batteries involve extra monetary cost too.
However, benefits of EVs and hybrids dwarf these drawbacks.
Electric vehicle: the road towards sustainability
Being a third largest producer of electricity, India is self-reliant in terms of power generation. Fuelled by low per capita electricity consumption, electricity tariff is considerably low here compared to many developed and developing countries. So, from owners’ perspective switch to EVs and hybrids is surely beneficial; running cost will be much lesser than the running cost of diesel and petrol.
Installed capacity of coal-fed power plants is nearly 58% of total electricity production capacity in India; the country is self-reliant in coal production and a net exporter of coal. Diesel-fed power generation is very negligible and used only during peak demand. That makes India least dependent on imported fuel, like, crude oil, for domestic electricity generation. It makes EVs a natural choice for Indian roads. Also, share of electricity production capacity in India from renewable sources is growing; currently it is roughly at 32.2%. Non-polluting EVs combined with electricity supply from non-polluting sources would be definitely the best bet to support global efforts in fight against climate changes in a country of billion plus population.
Also, the country is covered by a wide area of synchronous grid. EVs and hybrids with smart charging technology can help stabilizing such a wide area network of transmission and distribution lines. While plugged into power grids they can help feeding peak demand by sourcing power from on-board batteries and schedule battery recharging only during lean hours, i.e., at night. Such direct plugging to grid network can make the need for new power plants redundant.
So, in India, adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles is surely a major decisive step towards strategic self-reliance and tangible economic benefits. Though, there are sizable infrastructural bottlenecks at present. With demand peaking up and availability of new affordable battery technologies, EVs and hybrids will gather much-awaited steam and occupy center-stage in the Indian automobile sector.