Discoms require significant capacity building to be able to seamlessly handle the increased load in day-to-day operations that will occur from more and more EV charging stations
he outlook for electric mobility in India has been slowly becoming more optimistic in recent years. The growing advocacy around electric vehicles (EVs), conducive policies, and falling battery prices have had a major role to play in this.
In fact, ‘The BNEF Electric Vehicle Outlook 2019’ envisages around 57 per cent of all global passenger vehicle sales, and over 30 per cent of the passenger vehicle fleet, to go electric by 2040 . While we cannot deny the role of EVs in reducing vehicular emissions and their relative ease of use (subject to provision of ample charging infrastructure), a more granular understanding of e-mobility ecosystem’s impact on the various stakeholders is needed. A prerequisite to wider acceptance of EVs among consumers is electricity supply for charging these vehicles. Power distribution companies (discoms) have a pivotal role to play in this.
The rapid adoption of EVs and creation of supporting infrastructure comes with its own set of challenges. Currently, there is a general consensus about the creation of a robust charging infrastructure as it can address the critical issue of range anxiety that affects potential and current EV consumers. Taking cognisance of this, the Central government recently amended its guidelines, setting a target for at least one public EV charging station to be available in a grid of 3×3 sq km within cities that have a population of over four million people .
However, the nature of electricity demand from these charging stations is unpredictable. This is mainly due to the uncertainty in charging requirement of consumers who would charge their vehicles at variable locations and for varying periods, as they require. This impacts the grid, both in terms of power quality and increased asset stress on the power distribution network. Close involvement of discoms during the planning stages of large-scale adoption of EVs is essential in order to streamline power supply for charging. This will enable the grid to be robust for the additional demand, arising from mass adoption of EVs.
It is also important to keep in mind the uncertainties to the grid arising from mass usage of EVs. Issues such as unforeseen peaks in power consumption and consequent power quality issues, including increased flow in power cables, transformer overload, voltage drop and voltage imbalance, along-with harmonics injection, might take place due to the skewed nature of power demand. It will be critical to boost grid infrastructure symbiotically with the rise in charging stations. Artificial intelligence and machine learning-based modelling approach can be utilised to predict and analyse the load pattern and consumption of the variable power demand from EVs. With the government looking for a complete shift to electric mobility, appropriate financial provisions and incentives have to be provided to discoms through tariff rationalisation in-order to ramp-up the grid infrastructure and develop technological solutions. As a stepping stone to a smarter grid, smart meters, and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) can also play an important role in grid management purposes.
While significant roadblocks exist for discoms with the rise in EV adoption and a major overhaul of the grid is essential to its alleviation, certain tailwinds can help spur the process. The flexible nature of EV batteries can assuage the challenges to some extent. Additionally, the ability to re-purpose the batteries for a second life in the power sector will also have favourable outcomes  such as providing reserve energy capacity to maintain a discom’s power reliability at lower cost by displacing more expensive and less efficient assets, and deferring transmission and distribution investments. It can also take advantage of energy-arbitrage opportunities by storing renewable power for use during periods of scarcity, which can greatly improve grid flexibility. 
Thus, discoms must be given a ‘leadership’ role in facilitating the adoption of EVs at scale. However, discoms require significant capacity building to be able to seamlessly handle the increased load in day-to-day operations that will occur from more and more EV charging stations. This would require a collective push and concerted efforts on the part of both the Central and state governments.
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About Alekhya Datta
Alekhya Datta is fellow and area convenor, electricity and fuels division, TERI. He has earlier worked in projects Solar Resource Assessment and in developing the solar rooftop programme in India under the National Solar Mission