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Addressing Uncertainties in India's Fledgling EV Infrastructure

By Rajeev Tiwary, Business Development Director, Black & Veatch India

Don't doubt the Indian government's determination to switch to electric vehicles (EVs), "I am going to do this, whether you like it or not. And I am not going to ask you. I will bulldoze it," Union Minister Nitin Gadkari recently told the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

The government plans to make India an all-electric passenger vehicle market by 2030. By 2040, India may have 31 million EVs. The strategy aims to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce oil imports. The initiative could cut diesel and petrol consumption in 2030 by 156 million tons of oil equivalent, and carbon emissions by 37 percent.

 

Exploring Business Models for EV Charging Infrastructure

There is no clear business model for operators of charging infrastructure for private EVs. To attract customers to its malls, DLF offers some free charging. EV manufacturer Mahindra Reva has an agreement with Gopalan malls for free charging points. In summer 2017 Tata Power launched Mumbai's first commercial EV charging station, with customers paying rates set by the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission.

Maharashtra Power Company is looking to use its substations in prime Mumbai and Pune locations as commercial EV charging stations. High costs, though, led Bangalore Electricity Supply Company to reassess plans for an EV charging network. As yet no one has tried Volta's model, in the United States, of offering free charging and generating revenue through advertising at the charging stations.

Community charging stations are intended to proliferate charging stations outside cities. Businesses and organisations 40-70 kilometers outside cities are encouraged to set up grid-fed 15-amp charging stations. There are currently 222 such stations, some offering free charging to attract visitors. Others operate on a pay-to-charge commercial basis.

There is also growth in charging stations for large fleet operators. Typically such stations are at hubs like bus depots or taxi ranks. Taxi aggregator OLA, which operates EVs in Nagpur, has set up 50 charging points in the city.

Preparing for Power Demand

Affordability means two- and three-wheeled vehicles account for 80 percent of India's domestic vehicle sales. To ensure electrification does not make such vehicles prohibitively expensive, the government is encouraging the sale of vehicles with smaller, cheaper, batteries; while users ensure they have sufficient range by swapping low batteries for charged ones en-route. Battery swapping stations, like charging stations, have yet to develop mature business models.

Technical requirements for charging stations differ. Commercial charging stations require payment systems, which are unnecessary at sites offering free charging. Private vehicles typically use gun connections, while larger vehicles – busses for instance – use pantograph chargers. Fast chargers, such as Tesla's Supercharger, require more advanced technology than a community or battery swapping station.

All EV charging stations demand a reliable power supply. Because load shedding and power outages remain common, much of the Indian EV charging infrastructure will need supplementary energy sources.

Solar is expected to play a significant role. As EV evangelist Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala commented, "We don't have oil; sunlight we have." The ability to generate, manage and store power – from renewable and grid sources – makes microgrids a likely feature of EV charging stations.

Developing India's Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

Those developing India's fledgling EV charging infrastructure face a lot of uncertainties: business model – free or revenue generating? User – mass transit or private EV owner? Type – battery swap, community charger or high-speed super charger? Power source – grid, solar, or a microgrid managed hybrid. Ensuring the right delivery partner is central to success, so here are five things to consider when planning your project:

  • Business Model

    Choose a partner with the experience of delivering EV charging programmes for all business models. They will be best placed to understand what is required to meet your specific goals.

  • User

    Virtually every aspect of mass transit charging infrastructure will differ from that for private EV owners. Be sure your partner has experience in creating both so it can draw upon best practices from a variety of sources.

  • Type

    Not only will the charging technology differ across types of stations, planning, permitting, design and construction needs will also vary. You need a partner who can demonstrate experience in every aspect of the project.

  • Power Source

    EV projects stand or fall on the reliability of the power supply. So you need to choose a partner with considerable expertise in both power generation and power supply projects – from grid and renewable sources – and the proven ability to integrate them into an EV charging station.

  • Experience

    The best partner will be one with experience in every aspect of an EV charging programmes life cycle: from concept through to asset management. This will be the partner best able to deliver maximum value at every point in your programme.

 

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