Originally published on May 13, 2021 in DigitalFirst Magazine.

The 2010’s have seen the rise of the Electric Car as a force to be reckoned with in the automobile industry across the world. Large technological change driving Battery Performance, fall in prices of battery packs driving a cheaper EV and a market leading company driven by a technological leader with a mass following – Tesla and Elon Musk, have been some of the key factors behind this charge by EV’s in the industry. By 2020, a small set of modern EV’s have entered the Indian 4 wheeler market as well and we are slowly seeing the established trends in the West entering the Indian market. Exciting new entries in the 2 wheeler EV space are also making the Indian market an exciting one to watch.

While pollution has always been an alarming issue in all the major and densely populated cities and towns of India – with the terrible air quality constantly coming into focus in the winter months across the North Indian plains, the real drive towards EV vehicles (both 2&4 wheelers) will be an economic one. India has always spent a massive amount of money on the import of crude oil from overseas and this import along with the associated forex costs and the huge state taxes have meant that India has one of the highest rates for automotive fuel in the world. Operating costs of EV’s today are easily 1/5 to 1/8 of what it costs to run a similar ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) automobile. With the introduction of a new wave of EV vehicles in the Indian market, we will not only see a gradual move towards EV adoption and a corresponding reduction in pollution levels – lowering of battery costs (driven by technology advances and greater demand) will reduce the current gap in the capital costs of buying an EV.

The Indian government has been reasonably proactive with the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of EV) scheme by the union government and various state policies including waiver of road tax and reduction in GST rates – a lot of thought and some concrete policies need to established for one of the critical challenges in mainstreaming EV’s – the challenge of Charging Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles.

Challenges of EV Charging Infrastructure Market in India

India today has a robust network of fuel stations (numbering over 70000) catering to ICE vehicles. They span the length and breadth of the country and anyone travelling anywhere does not need to fear being stranded without fuel.

The paradigm of “fuel” in the context of EV’s is different – it refers to the “Charge left in your battery”.

In today’s world of smart phones, we are all familiar with the fear of running out of charge, and we always have spare chargers kept everywhere – one in the bag, one in a car and one at the office and home. To supplement the fear of not finding a power outlet, we also carry “Power Banks” or energy capsules in our bag.

In a similar way – an EV is also susceptible to running out of “Charge” and hence we need infrastructure to allow us to charge “On the Go”.

A short analysis of where people charge their electric vehicles in more mature markets in the West suggest:

Over 80% of charging is “Captive” – being done at the vehicle owners’ home or residence; with the balance required for road trips and cross city travel requiring top ups at different locations.

Charging stations:

EV batteries are much larger than cellphone batteries and hence take longer to charge. The typical EV 2 wheeler in the country has a 2-3Kwh battery, while a 4 wheeler battery would range from 30kwh to 45 kwh. As battery technology evolves, these batteries will get larger and also more efficient. A Level 1 charger plugged into your home 5amp or 15 amp power supply will take quite some time (15hours +) to charge your 4 wheeler.

Hence L2 Smart chargers are the need of the hour at homes, offices and retail locations – these would charge your typical 4 wheeler in 5-7 hours thereby enabling you to be confident of the charge levels in your car.

DC Fast chargers have always been in the news because they allow your  4 wheeler to be charged up to 80% in half an hour – but these chargers are very expensive to buy and deploy due to the huge amount of power – upwards of 100kw and up to 400. The real use case for DCFC’s is in inter city travel and should be the kind of chargers deployed by oil distribution companies at inter city outlets.

Given the number of hours it takes to charge a car even in an L2 environment, it means that we need the deployment of a large number – range from 2-3X the number of EV’s on the road at different locations to make it a fully functional infrastructure for EV’s to be a mainstay of transportation.