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Business News/ Opinion / First Person/  Why electric mobility trumps hydrogen and hybrids in India

Why electric mobility trumps hydrogen and hybrids in India

Hybrid vehicles are a stop-gap solution at best, and since we already have a robust electrical grid, EVs could be rolled out faster than hydrogen cars, which would need an entire ecosystem to be built from scratch.

Operating costs of EVs are extremely competitive, which makes a strong case for their use in fleets and public transport.Premium
Operating costs of EVs are extremely competitive, which makes a strong case for their use in fleets and public transport.

The government’s push for electric mobility has generated intense debate over the past few years. One argument is that hybrid vehicles should be promoted as they may be more acceptable to buyers for now, and less likely to cause much disruption in the labour-intensive auto manufacturing industry. It has also been argued that promoting EVs is increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the short term as India presently generates over three-fourths of its electricity from coal.

Let us look at this closely. India’s medium-term strategic goals require substituting fossil fuels with renewable energy as much as possible as we are constrained when it comes to local availability of oil and gas. No doubt our electricity grid is heavily dependent on coal, but it is projected to go green quickly, with the share of generation from RE expected to grow from 24% in 2022 to 45% in 2032, according to the National Electricity Plan. Generating nuclear energy from thorium is still under development, so solar is currently the king of renewables for India.

India launched its National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 in 2013 to address three key concerns: energy security in view of the huge dependence on oil and gas imports, the imperative to combating global warming, and the health hazard from air pollution in our major cities.

EV technology has just started picking up (only about 1% of transport energy demand worldwide is met by electricity), and we are already seeing near price parity between EVs and petrol cars. Operating costs of EVs are extremely competitive, which makes a strong case for their use in fleets and public transport. They also address the challenge of air pollution in cities, with attendant public-health benefits.

Full-scale adoption of any new technology takes time and requires sustained incentives to promote both demand and supply, along with local manufacturing and support systems. China is a big player in the EV industry today because of 20 years of hard work. The country prioritised electric mobility as an area of research as early as 2001. We already have a robust electrical grid and EV technology could be rolled out faster than a transportation, storage, and distribution ecosystem built from scratch for another, more expensive green fuel – hydrogen.

Incentivising hybrids, which is a stop-gap solution at best, will only delay the transition to an emissions-free future and extend India’s dependence on imported oil. The country will soon face scrutiny from the world as the second-biggest carbon emitter after China. EV technology is a much more feasible and affordable option for India’s transport sector in the near to medium term. Even in trucking, electric vehicles are emerging as a feasible option for several applications. We now have an unwavering national policy in favour of electric mobility to attract investors in EV and battery manufacturing, and to set up public charging infrastructure. This is the singular course we must diligently follow.

India has several other advantages on EV adoption, such as a large potential market and expertise in auto manufacturing. China has about five million jobs in its auto industry compared to about 1.4 million in India.

We need to prioritise a quick roll-out of an electric mobility ecosystem, including enhanced public funding for charging infrastructure, interoperable chargers, standards for battery swapping, a national program for reskilling of our workforce in this new technology, aggressive efforts to acquire critical minerals such as lithium, and ‘smart charging’ of EVs. Transitioning all government vehicles to EVs in the next two years would send out a loud and clear message.

Former union power secretary Alok Kumar also chaired the G20 Energy Transitions Working group during India’s presidency.

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Published: 17 Apr 2024, 11:45 AM IST
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