Main purpose of this article from Socio-Tech Academy (STA) is to highlight serious concerns regarding penetration of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in India. Authors believe that Indian entities promoting EVs have not paid enough attention to potential negative implications, specific to Indian scenario, and are primarily driven by peer-pressure. STA urges Government of India to address concerns raised from a holistic pollution-mitigation and security standpoint.
Electric Vehicles can be extremely DIRTY
The global hype around EVs is substantial and it is branded as a zero emission and environmentally friendly transportation alternative to fossil-fuel burning vehicles. It is very important to understand that this may not always be the case. EVs use electricity and therefore particulate matter pollution and greenhouse gas emissions due to EVs are tied to the source of electricity. The net environmental impact of driving EVs in Norway or Sweden will be vastly different from driving the exact same vehicle in India or China.
The Hindu quotes Mercedes-Benz India Managing Director and Chief Executive Roland Folger asking for India to learn from Europe’s mistakes with EVs. Forger states that a kilowatt-hour energy consumed by EVs that is “generated from coal and gas as compared to a litre of oil is more polluting than a Bharat Stage IV vehicle.”
India’s power generation capacity is projected to more than double from existing state to an estimated 670GW by 2030 with more than three-quarters of this new production is to be met by new coal-based capacity. Despite India’s ambitious commitment to 100GW Solar capacity by 2022, and its pledge to generate at least 40% energy from renewable sources, the reality is, there is likely to be a net increase in coal based power generation. While coal power is losing its economic attractiveness when compared to wind and solar, the fact is, India increased its coal imports by 12.4% to 18.49 million tonnes (MT) in January, 2018. This is without significant EVs penetration. Indian Institute of technology, Ropar estimates a need for 166 GW of additional generation capacity for total electrification of Indian transportation sector.
Coal has been identified as the single biggest source for pollution and resulting deaths in India after poor biomass burning practices. Unless India rapidly accelerates towards nuclear power (there is no clear indication of that happening), EVs in India are on track to be directly responsible for increase in India’s coal power output. The worst part about this is the fact that India’s coal power plants have extremely poor pollution controls. Only 10% of Indian thermal power plants have basic pollution controls (desulphurization, particle controls) when compared to 75% in European Union and 60% in the United States.
To sum it up, hyperbole aside, EVs in India are likely to be the dirtiest mode of transportation on planet earth.
Over-burdening Indian Power Sector
In 2015, there were 311 million Indians without access to reliable power, and Indian grid infrastructure has transmission and distribution losses averaging 26%. Even without plugging in a single electric vehicle, India’s power sector needs significant investment and resources to provide power to all and to do it efficiently. In order to do this while not worsening the currently unacceptable pollution levels, it will take strong political will and nothing short of a miracle.
Those blinded by the EVs hype need to be educated on the fact that globally and even more so in India, there is dearth in understanding the grid impacts caused by the EVs. Better understanding its grid impacts and integrating EVs, means diverting more money and resources and over-burdening the already strained Indian power generation and distribution sector.
Contradicting its own Government, Niti Aayog – India’s premier policy making body – challenged aggressive pursuit of EVs with the reasoning that they are neither cost-effective nor sustainable. Dr. VK Saraswat, a Niti Aayog member and a former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief, seems to agree with us that electricity is not the answer to India’s clean transportation needs.
Energy Security and Resiliency
The advert of Smart Grids – over-laying Information and Communication (ICT) technologies over the power grid – has created new vulnerabilities from a security and privacy standpoint. It should not be hard to understand that connecting more devices to the grid creates more entry points (a larger attack surface) for hackers and cyber criminals. Large scale EVs integration will only add to the vulnerabilities. Total dependence of transport sector on electricity means creating a single point of failure for both power and transportation. Decoupling the two should improve energy security and resiliency.
Get Priorities Straight
Embarrassingly, India is tagged among the worst polluted countries today. Given India’s unacceptable and lethal pollution levels, doing nothing is not an option. Our recommendation is for India to get its priorities straight and shift towards an aggressive yet more pragmatic pollution mitigation approach. It is important to recognize the difference between a climate risk mitigation approach and a pollution mitigation approach. While there are overlaps
in sources (coal power plants and diesel fueled vehicles for example), there are also differences and the potential impacts of global warming are vastly different from particulate matter pollution choking Indian cities today. Once again, recognising the difference and planning accordingly will be critical. United Nations giving a strong political intent in December 2017 to combat pollution, is a step in the right direction. India needs to proactively play a leadership role in such efforts on the global stage.
Time for India to open its eyes on the real dangers that come with overambitious EVs goals and join other global powers in pushing towards a safe and sustainable future in a pragmatic way.
Rather than putting all of India’s energy eggs in the electricity basket through EVs, we recommend that India should divide and conquer its pollution problem.
India should pursue separate goals for power and transport sector along these lines:
- Allow power sectors to integrate as much solar and other renewables as possible as a replacement for dirty coal generation NOT to meet additional demand from EVs.
- Modernize grid to improve efficiency and lower losses while ensuring that growing security vulnerabilities and privacy concerns are adequately addressed.
- Focus on improving mass transit instead of selling EVs hype.
- Aggressively pursue alternative fuels that take India towards a cleaner environment while leveraging existing liquid fuel distribution infrastructure such as the ones owned and operated by Indian Oil. Indian Oil is already leading the drive for cleaner fuels and working on production pathways for Hydrogen as an auto fuel.
Global Developments on Hydrogen Society
Our recommendations are consistent with global developments to transition to a cleaner transportation while pursuing energy diversification through a transition towards a Hydrogen Society. Japan plans to showcase its state-of-the-art hydrogen infrastructure when it hosts 2020 Olympic Games. Norway, among the fastest adaptors of EVs is racing Australia to produce Hydrogen fuel for Japan. German city Hamburg has already established Hydrogen fueled public transit systems. Lastly, the Trump Administration led US Department of Energy has committed resources to overcome technical challenges in Hydrogen delivery, Fuel Cells and other relevant domains.
As we have already pointed out, based on projections EVs in India will only increase coal power generation and therefore directly lead to further poisoning of India’s overall air quality. EVs will overburden Indian power sector and increase security vulnerabilities. It will be criminally callous for Indian authorities to ignore health, security and economic dangers that this brings to India.
To put all this differently, India’s overambitious plans towards 100% EVs maybe be akin to drinking poison when thirsty.