By Mr. Priyank Agarwal
In the ongoing decade leading up to 2030, the proportion of electric vehicles (EVs) is expected to significantly rise. In most cases, these EVs will be charged at home. Nonetheless, away-from-home charging infrastructure (such as the workplace) would need to be easily accessible to support the growth momentum of EVs. Also, as EVs become mainstream, the users will expect the same level of ‘travel anywhere’ comfort that they have come to expect from their ICE cars – which means that public charging infrastructure will have to become much more available and accessible.
The Link between EV Sales and Charging Stations
According to Counterpoint’s forecast, worldwide EV sales are anticipated to cross 14.5 million units by the end of 2023. As per the latest Q1 2023 numbers, the US overtook Germany as the world’s second-largest EV market, with its sales rising more than 79% YoY in this quarter. Meanwhile, China retained its leadership with EV sales recording a remarkable YoY growth of 29%, despite an overall 12% drop in the sales of its passenger vehicles.
Needless to state, the expanding stock of EVs would lead to an associated rise in the sales of chargers. When it comes to building charging infrastructure, AC (alternate current) Level 1 and Level 2 chargers are the predominant technologies today. Provided by automobile manufacturers, L1 chargers come as standard EV equipment. On the other hand, L2 chargers are often purchased from car makers directly while these are mandatory in specific cities that have renovated or new buildings.
Benefits of Public Charging Points
Given the growing adoption of EVs, although most charging demand is being met presently via home charging, publicly accessible chargers should be provided to boost the convenience and accessibility quotient in driving higher EV adoption. In dense urban zones where home charging access is limited, public charging points can act as a catalyst for faster EV adoption. Globally, at the end of 2022, 2.7 million public charging points were in use, with 600,000-plus public slow charging points installed worldwide.
In this context, one must emphasise that publicly-accessible fast chargers, especially the ones installed along highways, permit longer journeys and help mitigate range anxiety – a big barrier in EV adoption. In 2022, fast chargers rose by 330,000 globally.
India Needs Institutional Support
Without a doubt, it will require government support to make significant investments. For example, in the commercialisation of charger hubs possessing a > 0.5 MW rated power capacity, substantial expenses will be incurred in installing and upgrading the grid since these hubs have high power needs. Moreover, as grid upgrades and transmission system interconnections need between four and eight years, the siting and construction of these high-priority charging hubs should begin at the earliest.
Another option for providing power to electric HDVs (heavy-duty vehicles) is through battery swapping or electric road systems. For instance, electrified roads could transfer power to buses/trucks either via inductive coils in a road or through conductive connections that exist between the vehicles and the road or the catenary (overhead) lines. Such charging systems are being piloted in Europe in several locations.
In India, battery swapping is gaining popularity among electric two- and three-wheelers due to the time advantages and convenience of charging. Apart from Asia, electric two-wheeler battery swapping is also spreading in Africa. For HDVs, battery swapping has advantages since it can be done within three to five minutes. Recently I had an opportunity to experience battery swapping in Berlin with a full size SUV from Nio, an automotive OEM – the entire process took <5 mins and did not even require me to exit the vehicle!
Programmes to Overcome Hurdles
Meanwhile, some hurdles must be overcome in promoting EVs. The first challenge is the ‘chicken’ and ‘egg’ problem for investors investing in charging infrastructure. Charging infrastructure companies have to be prepared for low utilisation on their assets for the first few years. These investments can be encouraged through subsidies, tax incentives, concessional financing or other fiscal and non fiscal incentives. Other challenges are the operational challenges of finding accessible spots for setting up charging stations, electrical load and connections, user ease of using the unmanned charging stations etc.
Of course, the government has already implemented schemes such as FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles), FAME Phase II and NEMMP (National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020) to give a fillip to EV production and adoption. But more must be done to accelerate EV growth, including the promotion of public-private partnerships to build more charging stations pan-India.
A Mordor Intelligence report notes that India’s EV charging stations market is projected to rise at a CAGR of about 25% between 2019 and 2028. For this to be realised, diverse technologies should be promoted, including smart charging, wireless charging and self-charging, among others. If India can tick all the right boxes in building cross-country charging stations, the nation could surely emerge as one of the global leaders in EVs.
(The author is VP of Business & Strategy at Exicom, Mr. Priyank Agarwal, and the views expressed in this article are his own)