India’s electric vehicle sector is finally sorting out the basics

Going green.
Going green.
Image: Reuters/Jorge Silva
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India’s fledgling electronic vehicle (EV) sector may just have received a shot in the arm from both the government and the private sector.

The Narendra Modi government, on April 13, tweaked the licensing policy for EV charging stations, clearing out a major infrastructure hurdle that had held back the industry. Meanwhile, cab-hailing firm Ola, which has been experimenting with EVs at scale for nearly a year now, has announced plans to deploy a million such vehicles over the next three years.

Together, these measures may be just what the Indian EV sector needs.

The new government licensing push

On April 13, the ministry of power clarified that entities that wish to set up EV charging stations would not require licensing (pdf) from the ministry.

Till now, EV charging stations were considered to be selling electricity, which would require a license under the Electricity Act. This was hindering the proliferation of charging stations and, in turn, throttling growth in the sector.

India currently has just 350 EV charging stations serving about half-a-million vehicles. This restricts the distance one can travel in an EV, limiting its use. Moreover, it takes at least an hour for an EV to get recharged, making it essential for users to factor this in while planning their commutes.

“It was being called a chicken-and-egg problem—will you have the right (vehicle) models first or (the) charging infrastructure first? (Ideally,) first, it has to be the charging infrastructure,” Kanv Garg, director for renewables and electric mobility at consulting firm EY, told Quartz.

“Now, the main government-side roadblock has been removed…this is almost like 70% (of the) battle won…It gives a sense of what the government is thinking…that we don’t want to keep control of the market. And that’s a good thing,” he said.

Meanwhile, those who did experiment with EVs, too, have struggled.

Private sector push

On April 16, Ola launched “Mission: Electric” under which it plans to put 10,000 e-rickshaws and electric auto-rickshaws on Indian roads over the next one year, and a million EVs by 2021.

“Ola is in discussion with several state governments to create an appropriate policy environment to deploy electric three-wheelers. The company is also talking to OEM (original equipment manufacturers) partners and EV innovators globally to bring vehicles on the road in a planned and phased manner,” the company said in a release.

The announcement comes months after Ola launched an $8 million pilot project in Nagpur, Maharashtra, in May 2017.

Nine months on, the firm was battling an acute shortage of charging stations. Its drivers had been complaining about the long wait-times at charging stations, which translated to a loss of business. Many of them even wanted to return their EVs and switch to regular cars, Reuters reported on March 09.

However, the company has said that it has now addressed these issues.

“With new technologies like battery swapping, the charging experience has been improved,” a company spokesperson said. “Additionally, we have also installed charging dockets at the residences of our driver partners to help them charge the batteries of their cars in the convenience of their homes.”

If its plans get back on track, Ola’s 10,000 EVs will be the biggest order yet for car-makers. “This goes a long way in boosting India’s EV push than whatever the government has done till now,” Deepesh Rathore, director at automotive advisory firm Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors, said.