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Government is eyeing an electric vehicle future: But how feasible is it to own one?

This week, a government-appointed panel recommended that electric car users in the country be permitted to pay for charging of their vehicles by digital means.

editorials Updated: Dec 02, 2017 07:11 IST
Hindustan Times
National energy policy,EVs,Fossil fuels
The assembly line of the Mahindra Reva green electric vehicle in Bengaluru. One of the biggest drawbacks of EVs is range: they can only cover a small distance on a single charge. (Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

This is a piece of news that may be music to the ears of the growing tribe of Elon Musk acolytes. This week, a government-appointed panel recommended that electric car users in the country be permitted to pay for charging their vehicles through digital means. This is the latest in the series of incentives being offered by the State to discourage ownership of vehicles which run on fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel and encourage those who want to make the shift to electric vehicles (EVs). According to India’s draft national energy policy, EVs have the potential to dramatically cut the demand for fossil fuels in the country. “If most Indian vehicles are electric by 2030, pollution levels in cities could drop 80%-90%, and India could save $100 billion, a sum over two times larger than the current defence budget,” says the draft policy. In one fell swoop, electric vehicles could also help address several major issues confronting India: Energy security, climate change and noxious emissions.

All revved up, the government seems to be eyeing an electric future. By 2020, the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan wants to ensure a vehicle population of 6-7 million electric and hybrid vehicles in India. By 2030, it is envisioning a scenario when all vehicles on the country’s roads are powered by electricity. Lower GST (goods and services tax) on electric vehicles at 12%, compared with 43% for hybrid vehicles, is a step in that direction. But the feasibility and ownership costs of EVs are the big question marks that may prove to be road blocks on the way to realising this dream. The number of privately-owned motorised vehicles in India is likely to reach 500 million by 2030. Charging them will require the creation of an enormous infrastructure. In steeply priced EVs, the battery is the most expensive item, sometimes as much as two-thirds of the cost. Their batteries use nickel, cobalt, aluminium, graphite and lithium, whose availability is far more scarce than coal and oil. Clearly, the rare earths and metals in earth’s crust are not enough to facilitate a complete shift from petrol and diesel. An innovative suggestion to mitigate the high battery costs is to lease the batteries.

One of the biggest drawbacks of potential buyers of electric vehicles is range anxiety: EVs can only cover a small distance on a single charge. Consumers, particularly in our metropolises, some of whom have monstrously long daily commutes, won’t invest in electric vehicles unless the fundamental need for charging stations at short distances can be met. According to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, India has only about 350 charging points, compared to China had about 215,000 installed at the end of 2016. Perhaps, public-private partnerships with clearly fleshed out revenue models could encourage car makers and help bolster India’s charging infrastructure. But for this they must get the backing of a supportive tax structure and policies. This still seems a long way down the road.

First Published: Dec 02, 2017 07:10 IST