Rickshaws to jump start India's all-electric drive

September 17, 2017 by Megha Bahree
A sales executive talks about Mahindra's electric car "e2o Plus", on display at a showroom in New Delhi

India will roll out nearly 100,000 battery-powered buses and autorickshaws onto its sulphurous city streets in the coming weeks, setting it on the bumpy road to making new vehicle sales all-electric by 2030.

India, one of the world's most polluted nations, has one of the most ambitious plans to kick its fossil fuel addiction.

Analysts say the target is "daunting".

Transport is a major source of India's carbon emissions and the Greenpeace group blames at least 1.2 million deaths a year in the country on pollution.

Getting off diesel and petrol would improve the nation's health and bolster India's bid to meet the bold climate change targets it pledged in Paris in 2015.

India is not alone in wanting all-electric cars, though it is aiming to go faster than others.

Britain and France have said they want to end the sale of fossil fuel cars by 2040.

But electric and hybrid models make up just three percent of all cars on the road worldwide, say London-based consultancy firm PwC.

That figure is even lower in India, underscoring the enormity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's electric challenge.

On top of gradually bringing in electric rickshaws and buses in New Delhi, the government has issued a tender to auto makers for 10,000 cars to replace pollution producers at four government ministries.

"To go all electric is a daunting task," said PwC partner Abdul Majeed.

Ankur Bhatia (R), head of marketing at Mahindra Electric Mobility, checks his mobile phone while driving Mahindra's electric car "e2o Plus", in New Delhi
"Electric vehicles have a few huge challenges to deal with before they can take off in a big way."

Low-cost solutions

The government does not want to pay for a network of charging stations for millions of future green motorists to power up depleted car batteries.

Instead it hopes private energy companies will invest in "swapping bays", where drivers can exchange empty batteries for fresh ones, Ashok Jhunjhunwala, principal advisor to the power minister and the official spearheading the efforts, told AFP.

It plans to lease batteries separately for public transport and taxi fleets. It also wants more work on smaller, easier to use batteries.

Amara Raja Batteries, an Indian battery manufacturer, would be part of the "swapping model", said its chief executive S. Vijayanand.

"The headache of managing and charging the battery will not be with the driver then," he said.

Other ideas include setting tougher efficiency standards so new vehicles use less power.

"The idea is to keep it as low-cost as possible," Jhunjhunwala said. "Vehicles and chargers must happen without subsidies and must make business sense."

Mahesh Babu, chief executive at Indian conglomerate Mahindra, said it was an exciting project but government efficiency targets are "idealistic and might lead to compromise on consumer needs and safety."

Others are more optimistic.

Mahindra's electric car "e2o Plus" is plugged in for charging, at a showroom in New Delhi

Reductions in the size and cost of , coupled with rapid technological advances, mean India's ambitions were "very feasible", said Bill Hare, chief executive of the Berlin-based Climate Analytics consultancy.

'India's challenges'

Foreign car majors are not ready to bring their electric offerings to India.

Mercedes said it needs a reasonable timeline and improved incentives for motorists—currently a tiny sum that could be withdrawn at any time—to bring in electric cars.

Tesla boss Elon Musk—who in July launched Model 3, a mass-market version of Tesla's pricier cars—has postponed entry to the Indian market.

But at $35,000, even the cheapest Tesla is out of reach for most Indians. Most of the three million new cars added to India's roads every year are far cheaper, compact vehicles.

Nissan Motor is test driving its Leaf model to see how it performs on Indian roads and copes with pollution and extreme weather conditions.

That leaves the field wide open for Mahindra, currently the only company selling electric cars in India.

Its hatchback, sedan and van sell in Delhi from $11,000 to $15,000, after a subsidy of $2,300.

The company hopes to sell up to 5,000 units this year, including autorickshaws.

So far it has tied up with cab firms in a handful of cities, logistics firms and start-ups that offer a sharing system of self-driving cars.

"We want to meet India's challenges," Babu said.

Explore further: Tesla sets semi-truck debut for October 26

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3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2017
Adding electric cars onto the Indian grids is an interesting prospect

-32% of power produced is lost to theft and transmission losses, leading to repeated breakdowns and difficulties meeting peak loads, rolling blackouts, and some cities and towns only get electricity for 2-3 hours a day.

Of course it's possible to charge EVs in the more prosperous areas where the elites live.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2017
It's good to see governments rediscovering the virtues of '5-year' plans.
3 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2017
-32% of power produced is lost to theft and transmission losses, leading to repeated breakdowns and difficulties meeting peak loads, rolling blackouts,
Even more reason to hasten/facilitate localized/distributed stand-alone Solar/Wind Power farms!

Not only would it reduce dependence on fossil/nuclear grid, it would also reduce thefts/disruptions; as electric power would be more affordable by those otherwise forced to steal power because they cannot afford the fossil/nuclear grid/generation 'centralized monopolies' exploitative charges.
Of course it's possible to charge EVs in the more prosperous areas where the elites live.
No need for that, mate! This would also create NEW infrastructure: ie, widespread BATTERY CHARGING/EXCHANGE 'power dumps' which I already mentioned to @J Doug. This would make RENEWABLES 'work' even better than previously imagined!

Given even some of the support/subsidies/time that fossil/nuclear had, we could have had it all by now.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2017
I just got back from a trip to China a month ago. A large proportion of the vehicles in the cities are electric drive 2, 3, and (small) 4 wheelers. I was amazed! Does require a reliable electric grid, though.
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2017
Even more reason to hasten/facilitate localized/distributed stand-alone Solar/Wind Power farms!

You're still trading one problem for the same problem: intermittent power availability, and reliance on 'centralized monopolies' or in this case imported solar panels and wind turbines, and if people go to great lengths of personal risk to steal power from overhead cables, how much easier would they just unscrew your solar panels during the night? Solar panel theft is happening as it is even just to re-sell the panels, see for example:


But the point is moot, because the people who resort to stealing power from cables are too poor to afford electric cars in the first place.
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2017

Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, declared itself fully electrified in 2012, relying on solar panels or small wind turbines to cover remote areas

But theft and damage have plunged 288 villages and 1,500 hamlets in Maharashtra back into darkness, according to Saboo. "Most of the equipment is either stolen or not working," he said. "Now we have decided that a majority of these villages will be electrified in the conventional way"

When the first solar units were installed in Bhamana in 2010, most houses got a small photovoltaic panel connected to a battery that could power a light for five to six hours. Seven years later, only four or five houses still have working lamps. "We have no clue how to fix the equipment," said Achildar Pesra Pawra, a member of the Bhamana village council. "Some batteries stopped working within months
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2017
"The instances of theft and destruction of distributed renewable energy appliances has been very prevalent in programs especially run by aid agencies as part of corporate social responsibility or where the government provides a subsidy," said Jarnail Singh, India director at The Climate Group, a London-based organization promoting low-carbon solutions. "This is because there is no maintenance of equipment after installation."

The old adage applies here: you can't fill a dry well with water.

2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 17, 2017

You're too pessimistic/biased.

LOCALIZED, OFF-MAIN-GRID, solar/wind power supplier(s) automatically 'captured' by local customer base; they can't just sell power farther afield, as they're NOT ON-GRID (because that is what was too expensive/unreliable/unavailable in the first place!).

So locally-generated solar/wind farms MUST make THEIR power affordable for locals. Meaning LOCAL CONSUMERS will HAVE the MONOPOLY POWER (a reversal of existing situation with MAIN/CENTRALIZED GRID).

And the most probable situation will involve local councils/communities determining an acceptable supplier-customer 'balance of power' when first approving/creating a local solar/wind power farm.

When this becomes 'the norm' ALL OVER, people will have no need to steal power OR components; since both of these would by then be affordable/available to ALL, leaving no-one behind!

Wind/Solar EQUIPMENT providers will be EVERYWHERE by that stage; so competition will apply there!

OK? :)
5 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2017
You're too pessimistic/biased.

So what? Pessimists are never dissapointed.

locally-generated solar/wind farms

And how would the poor of India suddenly come up with factories and supply chains to make their own solar panels and batteries and wind turbines? No, they're absolutely dependent on other people, centralized government and business, to even have access to these technologies, and as the article points out they don't have the know-how to even maintain them as they break down, because they're more or less black box technologies that aren't even built to be maintained - only replaced.

When this becomes 'the norm' ALL OVER, people will have no need to steal power OR components

That would be true, but it will happen the other way around: first the people become prosperous, then they can afford the sustainable non-centralized energy sources. You can't "jump-start" a society simply by dumping solar panels on them.

2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 18, 2017
A village too poor to have electricity is too poor to have solar power, because in order to increase their economic prospects and productivity they need some serious source of energy - that's why earlier societies built themselves around rivers to have access to water wheels. The industry went where the power was available.

Solar power isn't that sort of power, because it requires batteries and sophisticated electronics, and neither the batteries or the solar panels, or the electronics, can be manufactured or maintained locally until the economy is already at a fairly advanced level with well-educated and well-connected people who can travel around the world sourcing chemicals and materials for import.

All the talk about decentralized locally sourced power is just smoke and mirrors. A village smith - if they know what they're doing - can hammer locally sourced iron into a steam engine, but that's about it - they can't make a microprocessor.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2017
Even more reason to hasten/facilitate localized/distributed stand-alone Solar/Wind Power farms!

You're still trading one problem for the same problem: intermittent power availability,...

This problem can be easily solved with off-the-grid energy storage and/or supergrids. We already know how to do that.
This contrasts with the problems caused by too much atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuels which certainly cannot be easily solved.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 18, 2017
intermittent power availability

I wonder: is there any country that is in the process of changeover that has actually reported a problem with this?

No, I don't mean energy producers screaming about problems, but *actual* problems where power security has dropped?

In germany we've gone from 0% to over 30% electricity from 'intermittent' sources. And the last time I had a power outage was...erm...can't even remember (decades ago?).

For shits and giggles I went to our national blackout tracker and all the blackouts one finds are blown transformers or a random power pole catching fire - but not a single one due to net instability caused by lack of input from intermittent producers (or their overproduction).

The reason is that intermittent doesn't mean 'unplannable'. Meteorological data is available which gives ample advance warning about cloudy or low-wind days. Even then - with a continent wide grid that is ever only local.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2017
Completely un-pollution regulated 2 stroke horrors still permeate Indian streets. Along with diesel vehicles which, as passenger cars should be BANNED world-wide.
1 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2017
rrander, Yup, got to start somewhere.
1 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2017
I nominate Eikka to be the Willie of Big Oil.
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 19, 2017

Still 'excluding' the extra costs of fossils in your 'comparisons'.

You include direct business costs but exclude social costs of climate change, pollution, running/sustainability etc etc.

For example: the poorest in India will suffer most as Himalayan glaciers recede, more water flows/floods more frequently, more violent monsoon season storms etc etc.

And you also do not realize that energy companies CAN BENEFIT their bottom line by using renewables where their costs to extend the grid is GREATER than giving FREE solar/wind power stations to remote customers/communities (it's happening NOW here in OZ).

Not only is your PESSIMISM blinding you to present/future developments that make your 'nitpicking' complaints moot; but your BIAS is still blinding you to the HIDDEN COSTS of carrying on as usual with fossil/nuclear when renewables are already HOLISTICALLY better, cheaper, safer, more sustainable re jobs/economy.

Wake up and Cheer up! Solve, not sulk! :)

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