Understanding The Importance Of EV Charging Infrastructure

India has approximately 5,300 operational public charging stations as of March 2023 and the government has set a target of having one charging station every three kilometre in cities and every 25 kilometre on highways

To fulfill its goal of becoming a global manufacturing destination, India must focus on reducing its overall cost of Logistics. At present, the cost of logistics in India is higher than those in most major economies. With rising fuel prices, transportation costs make up more than 50 per cent of the overall logistics costs. Commercial EVs are significantly lowering these costs and are a better transportation alternative to ICE vehicles, as the electricity charging costs for electric 3-wheelers, for instance, ranges between 50 to 60 paise per kilometre while the cost of fuel for IC engine-based counterparts can be upwards of Rs.5 per kilometre.

The Indian government set an ambitious goal of electrifying all new vehicles sold for commercial use by 2030 and drafted policies to encourage companies to transition towards all-electric fleets to foster environmental and economic sustainability. While major businesses and organisations with carbon neutrality mandates have been early adopters of EVs, the clear economic benefit of up to 70 per cent lower operating costs will prove to be the real driving force for the mass adoption of commercial EVs.

At present, last-mile applications have been driving commercial EV deployments primarily in tier-1 cities across India. These vehicles are typically charged overnight at hubs and are driven, on average, for 80km during the day, well within the range of most commercial EVs today. Therefore, intra-city last-mile commercial applications have not depended on public EV charging infrastructure since the practical matters of charging times and availability of the infrastructure have not mattered so far.

However, in order for commercial EV deployments to go beyond e-commerce logistics and penetrate traditional logistics applications that require longer run-time, “range anxiety” must be alleviated and energy must be available widely and on-demand, efficient charging infrastructure and a robust electric grid must be put in place to support the tremendous energy demand from EVs and finally, electricity from renewable sources must be used to energise EVs so that the sustainability benefits of EVs are truly harnessed.

The industry has been pursuing several static charging solutions such as fast charging and battery swapping. Even dynamic charging solutions such as electrified highways are being considered. For instance, a permanent electrified highway, likely outfitted either with an inductive or conductive system, has recently been announced in Sweden by borrowing ideas from Electric Trains and trams, one of the world’s most successful and widely deployed Electric Vehicles over the last century. Electric trains draw energy to power their electric powertrains either through an overhead catenary or through an energised third rail.

While some of these ideas are still on the drawing boards, innovations and investments in fast charging and battery-swapping infrastructure are already being pursued aggressively. The next few years will see an increased footprint of these technologies across tier-1, tier-2, and rural markets. Recently some innovative start-ups have started developing proprietary charging technologies that will reduce charging time to as low as 15 minutes. These technologies will dramatically improve fleet usage and even reduce the size of the battery packs in the vehicles, thus improving the operating economics of the owners of commercial EV fleets even further.

Taking into consideration both passenger and commercial EV needs, the Indian government has set a target of having one charging station every three kilometre in cities and every 25 kilometre on highways. 

According to the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, India has approximately 5,300 operational Public Charging Stations as of March 2023. At present, Karnataka and Maharashtra have taken the lead in deploying EV charging stations with other progressive states also laying equal emphasis. However, heavy commercial vehicles require high-voltage charging stations, which are usually deployed in commercial fleet hubs and depots. Such chargers usually operate at much higher voltages of 380-440 Volts. 

For India's EV industry to grow significantly, it needs to have a minimum of 20 lakh EV charging stations by 2030. Another critical factor that has to be borne in mind while planning the charging infrastructure is the ratio of fast charging stations to slow charging stations. At present, in India, less than two percent of Public Charging Stations are fast charging stations. To align with the growing Commercial EV sales, India requires a significantly higher number of fast charging stations.

In order to improve interoperability between different EV vehicles and types of charging stations, the industry and policymakers need to standardize charging guns and adapters so that end-users can charge their vehicles across a wider network. This will also reduce the cost of charging guns in the long run. At present charging guns average Rs.12,000-15,000 per unit for light commercial and passenger vehicles. This could potentially drop to Rs.8,000/unit within the next three to five years once volumes improve as a result of standardisation.

EV charging infrastructure in India must be supported by a robust electric grid that is designed to support EV integration. According to a report by Brookings Institute, India’s total electricity demand for EVs at 33 per cent EV penetration by 2030 will be 37 TWh, which constitutes less than 2 per cent of the total projected electricity demand by 2030. While this does not appear to be a challenge, expected demand for fast charging, likely volatility of the time of the day for peak EV charging demand, and geographical concentration of EVs will constrain power distribution capacity at a local level and can impact grid stability at a local and regional level. Policymakers and industry have been studying the distributed design of charging infrastructure, management of EV charging loads, and even off-grid charging stations powered by Solar.

The share of renewables in India’s power generation stands at 11.8 per cent in 2022-23 as per Government data. In order to meet global Net Zero goals, it is extremely important for EVs to be fueled by electricity generated from renewable sources. India’s renewable energy installed capacity is expected to grow from 165 GW in 2022 to 450 GW by 2030. However, favourable locations for the generation of renewable energy may not always be in close proximity to areas of electricity demand from EVs. Policymakers are planning investments in interconnected grids to move renewable power seamlessly across the country and are also encouraging off-grid charging solutions powered by solar energy.

Within the next few years, the EV ecosystem will mature and we will see the emergence of strategic partnerships between EV manufacturers, charging infrastructure developers, grid operators, and energy providers. Driven by the ambitious goal of 100 per cent commercial EVs sold by 2030, India’s EV ecosystem is gearing up through innovative intelligent EV designs by new-generation OEMs focused on lower energy consumption per kilometre per kilogram of payload, higher capacity batteries offering greater range, development of efficient and fast charging technologies, increased renewable energy capacity and supportive government policies to not only increase EV adoption but also to improve EV-Energy Grid integration.

The article has been written by Kalyan C Korimerla, Managing Director and CEO of Etrio Automobiles.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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