14 January 2016 14:22:24 IST

India has the opportunity to lead the world

Globally, EV sales have increased from 45,000 a year in 2011 to 300,000 in 2014, but with enough tax and policy push India can become the world’s largest market for EVs. Plug-In Hybrids Charging at San Francisco City Hall.

We can show the way towards curbing greenhouse gases by encouraging the use of electric vehicles

If you look at it closely, you’ll notice know that today, solar power is much more than a source of clean energy. It is a shining (literally) example of how steeply prices can (be made to) drop (you know the story… solar electricity was ₹18 in 2010, and last year, it fell to ₹4.63). Unprecedented.

After solar, we are now seeing such a vertiginous drop in crude oil prices — what was upwards of $110 a barrel in the first half of 2014, is now $27. And every pundit believes it will kiss the $20 low.

These instances of solar and oil ought to give us the confidence that prices can drop very steeply, much faster than conventional wisdom would consider possible. Today, the current Big Thing is renewable energy. And the next in line is an adjunct of it — storage. The third big thing will be electric vehicles.

The next big thing

Now, apply the counter-intuitive knowledge of the possibility of a ‘steep fall in prices’ to electric vehicles, and you will know that EVs are just round the bend.

The next generation, for sure, will be riding or driving electric vehicles. And that, like no other, is the solution to the vexing problem of pollution in cities. You may have read a recent report which says 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, with Delhi topping the list. The need of the hour, therefore, is to catalyse what is inevitable — bring in the EVs.

The issues

But there are three problems with EVs. One, they are costly. Two, there needs to be a charging infrastructure, like we have petrol bunks. And finally, the time they take to charge needs to be brought down drastically.

While technologists are furiously working on the second and third issues, it is really up to the government to solve the first.

India’s grand plan

India does have a grand plan. The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) wants to see seven million EVs on Indian roads by 2022. The plan was formulated in 2013, but in the last three years little has happened.

Why? Simple. Because of funds — or the lack thereof.

The promised ₹800-odd crore has not been allocated to the mission. You need these funds to ginger up EV activity — some subsidisation, creation of a network of charging stations, and other such steps. After all, ‘solar’ shot into prominence only because it was heavily subsidised in the initial years. Same goes for ‘wind’. The Indian wind industry subsisted on the tax sop called ‘accelerated depreciation’ for many, many years; without the sop, the industry wouldn’t exist today.

The benefits

The benefits, in terms of reduction in air pollution, are obvious. A petrol vehicle sends up 0.232 kg of carbon every km it runs; a diesel vehicle spews 0.273 kg. An EV, if the electricity that is used to charge the batteries is derived from coal, emits 0.103 kg per km. And if that electricity is from renewable sources, an EV emits zero carbon.

Furthermore, EVs together are a great storage contrivance.

How to implement it

Adopt time-of-day pricing for electricity, or charge less during lean hours of the day and more during peak hours. That way, a large number of EV owners can be pushed to charge their batteries during off-hours (typically, nights). Since clean sources of energy are often shut down during lean hours because of lack of demand, EVs present a good opportunity for them.

The policy push is absolutely necessary. For instance, why not mandate that by a certain year — say, 2022 — all taxis and auto-rickshaws in a city shall be only electric-powered? Perhaps the cost per km to a customer might be a tad higher, but the environment needs to be taken into consideration. Or why not mandate that at certain times of the day, in certain areas of the city, only EVs will be allowed to ply?

Here, again, is an opportunity for India to leap-frog the developed countries and lead the world. Globally, EV sales have increased from 45,000 a year in 2011 to 300,000 in 2014, but with enough tax and policy push (as happened with solar), India can become the world’s largest market for EVs, and benefit from cleaner air.