The Centre is reportedly planning a major policy initiative to rev up usage of electric vehicles. The game plan is to sell automobiles without batteries. This would slash costs by as much as 70 per cent. Further, what’s proposed is a nationwide leasing of batteries, for rapid diffusion of e-vehicles and change in the techno-economic paradigm.
The way ahead is to install solar-powered vehicle chargers in the main urban centres for starters, and with the express purpose of opting for green energy, especially in public transportation. It would be path breaking and innovative. Speedy policy implementation is key.
A focused initiative to boost solarpowered charging of e-vehicles would meet several policy objectives. It would step up the supply of environmentally benign power in our commercial energy mix.
It has the potential to very substantially reduce fossil fuel imports. And widespread plying of battery-powered buses and e-rickshaws in dense urban areas can proactively bring down pollution levels, particularly if there’s solar charging.
Reports suggest that battery technology for automotive use is set to make rapid progress in the medium term and beyond. This would reduce costs and boost demand for e-vehicles. Hence the need to have a forward-looking policy in place for convenient solar charging. What’s required is a solid business case for installing solarpowered e-vehicle chargers widely.
However, it is a fact that neither the global oil majors nor the main automobile companies seem particularly bullish on e-vehicles. A recent report mentioned that one of the biggest oil retailers expects the global e-vehicle fleet to add up to no more than 11 per cent, by 2040. Another oil major reportedly expects e-vehicle numbers to be a lowly 6 per cent in 2035.
Automobile majors seem more sanguine about the prospects of e-vehicles, but expectations vary. So, while one major manufacturer expects every fourth car sold globally to be an e-vehicle by 2025, another has maintained that the phase-out of fossilfuel vehicles will stretch to 2050.
Nevertheless, there’s progress on the battery technology front, and we need to fast-forward the usage of e-buses and e-rickshaws as environment-friendly public transport. Already, graphene battery technology is said to be far more productive than the lithium-ion route. The former costs far less too.
Besides, the internal combustion engine has an efficiency rate of only about 20 per cent when it comes to converting fuel into useful energy. Its umpteen moving parts and systems make it prone to breakdowns. In contrast, e-vehicles are vastly more robust and energy efficient. Which is why it makes eminent sense to step up the policy push for e-vehicles and solarpowered chargers.
The way forward is to rapidly set up charging infrastructure, initially for public transport, by leveraging funds from, for instance, the clean environment cess corpus. We need to install rapid solar-charging stations, fast chargers and ultra-fast chargers, to have a network of charging points right across the board.
Fast and ultra-fast chargers require more power, and will wear out batteries sooner. But with an attractive leasing plan in place for e-vehicle batteries, the quicker wear-out should actually accelerate efficiency improvement and productivity gains.
It would lead to a virtuous cycle, and would step up both the demand and supply of e-vehicles going forward. The costs of solar power have been tumbling and falling for quite a while now. It is possible that with policy-induced demand for chargers, the economics of solar panels would further improve.
We need to put in place norms and standards for the solar charging infrastructure. One Britain-based oil major says it would start installing solar-powered e-chargers at its fuel stations this year. The mavens suggest that rapid chargers, which can recharge e-vehicle batteries in half an hour or so, need solar panels of about 50kW.
Also, we need ultra-fast chargers to recharge on the go — in, say, 15 minutes — with 350kW solar power. Such chargers need to come up, to begin with, in bus depots. There’s also the need for dedicated charging points for e-rickshaws.
There’s the further need to have solar-powered chargers along highways in a phased manner, in keeping with the diffusion of e-vehicles on the ground. At the same time, we need slow chargers, to charge e-cars overnight, with, say, 3kW solar power.
Additionally, residential colonies will need perhaps 20kW installed to recharge e-cars in 3-4 hours. More generally, we need to encourage through policy solar-powered inverters in homes, with dedicated solar panels of, say, 0.5-1kW to make solar-powered backup systems an essential household gadget. It would shore up supply of solar panels and chargers, and purposefully drive zooming e-vehicle usage nationwide.