EV’s to revolutionize Urban Transport in India

In a decade or two, nearly 50 per cent of 1.3 billion people in India will live in urban areas and transportation is perhaps going to be a major hurdle particularly in major cities, which are already choked. Lately there is a new dimension to this problem, that is, pollution to which vehicles are a major contributor. It is medically proven that Indian children have 30 per cent less stamina because of pollution especially in cities like Delhi where air pollution is far beyond safe limits during winter.

So experts have already started working on how to tackle this problem. There is a crying need to fast track development of public transport and this is one of the reasons that metro is being expanded in a big way in major cities but last mile connectivity is critical for the success of public transport and this is perhaps a major hurdle for which solution could be in electric vehicles. Presently Electric vehicles have not caught on to the desired level because of prohibitive cost of batteries and need for frequent and time-consuming charging.

E-rickshaws provided a simple, easy and pollution-free solution. But its full potential has not yet been fully realised even though it is slowly catching on in Delhi and several north Indian states replacing cycle rickshaws. In a matter of few years E-rickshaws have grown to 15 lakhs and expected to double by 2020. E-autos and E-bikes and E-scooters too are slowly picking up. Though e vehicle technology is simple and cost effective, the cost of battery is quite high and also it required frequent charging and that required huge infrastructure, which is not easily available. For example E-rickshaws, which can be manufactured in a small shed, cost a little over Rs one lakh but lithium battery in it costs Rs 60,000. Lead acid batteries may costs much less at Rs 20,000 but its life is one tenth besides more frequent charging. Apart from setting up charging stations, which are expensive, the high battery cost makes operation of e vehicles not that attractive.

To overcome this problem, a start-up has come up with a bright idea to have Battery Swap Stations that is expected to revolutionize use of electric vehicles for last mile connectivity especially in major cities. This will virtually reduce the cost of e-rickshaws by half as battery no longer needed to be owned but leased for a rent on a daily basis. There are mere 100 E-autos in the country against half a million petrol, diesel and CNG autos. Because of the emrgence swap stations, use of E-autos is going to grow manifold and within a year or two, majority of autos in country are going to be E-autos. This is because without battery, which will now be leased out, the cost of e-autos, would drastically come down.

The start-up, Lithion Power, is perhaps the first to launch Battery Swap Stations in the country. To begin with, It has established battery swap operations in Delhi, to be specific in the national capital region, for public electric vehicles, particularly E-rickshaws. The Swap stations will provide batteries for e-autos and e two wheelers as well. The company has established five stations in North and North West Delhi and by end of March, the company proposed to have 20 such stations.

Unveiling the Company’s plans, Director of Lithion Power Piyush Gupta indicated that by 2019, Lithion customers will not be more than 2 km away from a Lithion swap station in NCR. The company proposed to set up at least 500 swap stations in the capital. It will be setting up more than 10,000 such swap stations in the country. If this model is successful the company proposed to set up such stations in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and perhaps several countries in Africa.

Gupta believes that Electric Vehicles will be predominant mode of transportation by 2020. This is because of economics. EVs would be cheaper to manufacture and operate besides solving urban pollution problems. With economies of scale operating, the cost of e-vehicles as well as leading of batteries will fall further as in the case of solar power, mobile phones and LED bulbs in the country.

There are at present only about half a million e-two wheelers in the country. This is now expected to grow exponentially to several millions in the next few years with availability of leased lithium batteries every nook and cranny in the country. “Lithion Power has commercialized a model which simultaneously solves an economic need for its customers and a societal need, without relying on funding from the Government. We believe we are the first EV company, in the World, to make a sustainable model. Lithion aims to become the largest supplier of power to Electric vehicles Worldwide,” Gupta claimed.

The pollution from two wheelers contributed to nearly half of vehicular pollution in Delhi and hence E two wheelers, E autos and E rickshaws will make big difference besides being much cheaper than fossil fuel driven vehicles. This also created huge opportunity for manufacture of lithium batteries in the country with more battery swap stations dotting all over the country. With Swap stations being set up in the country, E buses and commercial vehicles too will become a reality in major cities in the country, providing cheap solution to public transport problem plaguing most cities. Just as Mobile telephony created huge employment, battery swap stations too has tremendous potential for job creation.

(K R Sudhaman, a senior journalist and former Editor of Press Trust of India and Economics Editor of TickerNews and Financial Chronicle)