The potential and the potholes in India’s journey towards green mobility

Moneycontrol, November 09, 2023 

By Pradeep S Mehta and Pracheta Acharya

India is gradually moving towards greening the transport sector by adopting electric vehicles (EVs) as a strategy to combat climate change, and meet its nationally determined commitments to reduce the environmental burden.

The country’s commitment towards EV adoption is reflected in the government’s aim to grow EV sales and capture 30 percent of the private car market, 70 percent of the commercial vehicles market, and 80 percent of the two and three-wheelers market, by 2030. However, a top-down approach of imposing EV quotas in the commercial sector, or forceful consumer adoption, is unlikely to work. Instead, a more thoughtful bottom-up understanding of the challenges and interventions is necessary.

The transition to green mobility must address various socio-economic, infrastructural, and technical complexities. A lack of green infrastructure is a vital issue that needs immediate attention. Even today, one finds long queues of vehicles at CNG stations though the eco-friendly fuel was introduced long ago. One wonders how the administration functions.

People Focus
Perhaps electric charging stations may not meet the same fate as CNG supply infra. Per the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), there are 11,107 charging stations across India as of October 2023. But that will not suffice. The number of charging stations needs to be upscaled to at least 1.32 million by 2030 to meet India’s EV targets, per a report of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). In this regard, the smart grid system and solar-operated charging centres are also worth exploring to meet energy grid loads from charging stations. This infrastructure can be promoted through efficient public private partnerships (PPPs).

Besides the infrastructure gap, other concerns associated with the ‘just transition’ to e-mobility include gender exclusion and job losses. The transport sector, in general, lacks gender sensitivity, which is evident from the discrimination against transgender individuals and sexual harassment of women in public transport. The job losses associated with the transition require the labour force to be skilled through comprehensive retraining programmes, as over 3.7 million new jobs are expected to be generated by 2025 due to environment related changes.
Another relevant aspect of the ongoing discussion is the urban bias in EV adoption. India, with its predominantly rural population, needs to promote e-mobility in rural areas for a successful transition. But, like many things, EV adoption in rural India significantly lags behind urban areas due to infrastructural gaps, high upfront costs, and limited awareness of the economic and environmental benefits of EVs.

Think Policies Through
EV manufacturers also need incentives in the form of loans and land to invest in electric mobility. Non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) and banks are vital for facilitating loans, but currently they are not too enthusiastic about investing in e-mobility. It is necessary to communicate the economic potential of EVs to these financial institutions.

Simultaneously, the government should provide tax breaks and lower goods and services tax (GST) rates on EVs to reduce their higher upfront costs, which often deter customers from purchasing them. Furthermore, self-help groups and farmer producer organisations, which have proliferated, can be mobilised to establish and run charging and servicing stations.

The resale market for EVs and batteries significantly affect overall cost considerations. India currently lacks a well-established market for either of these. Regulations and proper monitoring of the battery market are necessary for efficient resource utilisation. Furthermore, India must consider the limitations of batteries, particularly the low energy density of lithium, which results in heavy, expensive batteries for electric cargo vehicles. Promoting emerging hydrogen-based solutions for cargo transportation may be a feasible solution until there’s a better alternative.

The future of electric mobility in India depends on the success of the green infrastructural revolution, and addressing the e-waste generated by batteries. Academic studies predict a substantial increase in the purchase of EVs in India over the next few decades, assuming infrastructure improvement. However, one often overlooked aspect is the future threat of massive batteries contributing to the e-waste problem in India, as the country lacks proper recycling and e-waste management facilities. In this effort, rural collectives can offer a systemic solution.

Unless the above issues are addressed through policy and market interventions, all efforts to decarbonise transport cannot be justified from a socio-economic and environmental perspective. We need to overcome the hurdles to the adoption of EVs so that India can progress towards realising its environmental and economic aspirations.
The authors work for CUTS International, a leading global public policy research and advocacy group. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

PRADEEP S MEHTA is Secretary-General at CUTS International. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

PRACHETA ACHARYA work for CUTS International, a leading global public policy research and advocacy group. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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