Are EVs really clean?

Are EVs really clean?

Are EVs really clean?
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N. MOHAN is Head - EV Charging Infrastructure at EESL & AISHWARYA RAMAN is Associate Director at Ola Mobility Institute

India is set to become a global hotspot of electric mobility. This is a result of the government’s vision and collective action, ranging from central, state-level electric vehicle (EV) schemes to manufacturing and operation of EVs, and creation of a robust charging network by private and public sectors.

As a leader in the e-mobility domain, EESL, for instance, has already deployed more than 1,500 electric vehicles and set up 68+ public charging stations - it plans to install 1,500 public charging stations all across India by 2021 . This palpable sense of urgency surrounding India’s goal of large-scale electric mobility stems from the increasing rates of pollution, growing concerns over climate change and an ever-growing oil import bill, all of which can be combated by zero-emission, battery-operated electric vehicles (EVs). While measures towards electrification abound, sceptics wax eloquence on the fundamental question, “Are EVs really clean?” To test if a vehicle is clean, vehicular emissions are measured at two levels: a) direct, and b) across the lifecycle of the vehicle and the associated infrastructure. Direct emissions include emissions a) from the tailpipe, b) through the evaporation of the fuel, and c) during the fueling process. Lifecycle emissions include emissions across the lifecycle of the vehicle and fuel source.

Thus, conventional vehicles do not just have direct emissions but also have lifecycle emissions produced during the manufacture and sale of vehicles and during the extraction, processing, and consumption of petroleum products. EVs, on the other hand, have zero direct emissions. This attribute alone is a huge improvement over conventional vehicles, since a majority of air pollution deaths in India are linked to exhaust emissions of diesel vehicles . EVs, thus, make Indian cities more liveable.

A deep-dive into the indirect emissions, i.e. lifecycle emissions of lithium-ion-based electric vehicles reveals the following. A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in 2017 evaluated the India scenario of electrification of 100% new vehicles by 2030, wherein 30 million electric two-wheelers and 10 million electric four- wheelers are expected to be sold. The study presented four major findings to establish that EVs are clean because they are inherently efficient and do not excessively increase electricity demand. One, EVs are inherently more energy-efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles. Energy efficiency is the amount of energy from the fuel source that is converted into actual energy for powering the wheels of a vehicle. About 59-62 % of the electrical energy from the grid goes into turning the wheels of an EV, whereas an internal combustion engine only converts about 17-21% of energy from burning fuel into moving the vehicle. An EV is three times more energy-efficient than ICE . Thus, EVs require less energy for operations compared to ICE vehicles. Two, in the scenario where 100 % of new vehicles in India are EVs, the growth in electric vehicles will only generate an energy requirement of ~3.3 % of the total energy demand and will only add 6 % to the peak electricity demand. In other words, the introduction of millions of electric vehicles is sustainable since it would not result in excessive electricity demand.

Three, through smart charging, which allows bidirectional control on charging behaviour - EV charging time can correspond with solar and RE generation. Thus, EVs offer an opportunity for low-cost integration of renewables with the Indian power grid. Four, since EVs are inherently more energy-efficient than ICE vehicles, EVs require less energy to power them compared to ICE, and therefore, the emissions reduce significantly even in the current coal-heavy grid scenario. And if India continues its renewable energy efforts under Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of having a substantial Wind-cum-Solar share in the electricity mix, EVs alone would reduce emissions by over 40-50 %.

Speaking of renewable energy, its role to achieve 100 % sustainability of the EV value chain cannot be emphasised enough. India, on its part, is all set to achieve a clean grid through its thrust on renewable energy. According to data from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India now has over 150 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy generation capacity either installed or in the pipeline. India has an NDC target of 175 GW of renewable energy capacity to be installed by 2022, and has proposed setting up Ultra Mega Renewable Energy Power Parks (UMREPPs) along with storage systems. The government also targets setting up 40 GW of rooftop solar by 2022.

Here, charging stations constitute an ideal ground to promote both RE and EVs. There is precedence in the form of rooftop solar panels installed by Ola Electric at public charging stations in Nagpur, solar EV charging stations on Delhi-Chandigarh highway installed by the state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), and a solar EV charging station set up by Magenta Power set up in Navi Mumbai. This form of integration of renewable at the source of charging EVs not only leads to an emission-free world, but also helps reduce the electricity expense of the EV charging operator .

With the threat of climate change growing, customers - individuals and businesses alike - demand to know the source of the goods they consume and act responsibly through the purchase of sustainable products. In the EV domain too, this is a reality. Off-grid storage solutions for personal use and introducing solar panels at charging stations are a few ways in which consumers can be assured of clean energy to power their EVs. With the advent of smart meters, DISCOMs and charging or battery swapping service providers (i.e. energy operators) can ensure batteries are charged during green slots or green schedules when there is 100% RE supply. Manufacturers, too, on their part can insist on sustainable ways of production, extended/secondary life, recycling, and urban mining which allows rare metals to be recovered from discarded electrical and electronic equipment. The Indian government has recently introduced rules for battery waste management to ensure there is no damage to the environment.

One advantage India has compared to the West is that as a nation we depend more on two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and small cars for our mobility needs. Manufacturers, therefore, would be invested in designing small batteries suitable for Indian use cases and thereby reduce their carbon footprint. Adoption of charging solutions such as battery swapping, too, would incentivise this move. Further, there must be collective efforts globally to reduce the EV industry’s dependence on scarce and costly raw materials, thereby reducing the environmental impact of mining and shipping such commodities around the world.

With these measures, coupled with the push to increase clean km travelled by promoting electrification of high-utilisation vehicles, India is well on the path to decarbonising its transport sector. EVs are indeed clean. As the principles of circular economy gain credence the world over, India can heavily rely on EVs to drive the change to a clean future.