India contributes up to 7% of the world’s emissions and is making significant efforts to address its climate change commitments. Emissions from the high dependence on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, a significant carbon-dependent energy-mix, and rapidly rising urbanization, pose unique challenges. Transportation contributes ~10% to India’s overall emissions with the landscape for mobility fuels requiring a more comprehensive evaluation.
For instance, electric vehicles (EVs), which are one element of the ‘mosaic’ of solutions, may seem desirable, given the lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the tailpipe, promise of a step-change in urban pollution, and reduced dependence on crude. However, to fully understand EV efficacy, one must address the critical issues in the upstream part of the energy value chain. While tailpipe emissions from EVs are zero, 78 % of emissions in the ‘well to wheel’ lifecycle for EVs happen while battery charging and 22 % of emissions while battery manufacturing.
India currently produces 62 % of its power through conventional or fossil fuel-based sources which include coal, gas, and lignite. To increase the efficacy of EVs, we are moving as a nation to a less carbon-dependent power generation-mix, with the growth in renewables. The Government of India has taken a step in the right direction by announcing plans of ramping up renewable power generation capacity to 450 GW by 2030.
While tailpipe emissions from EVs are zero, 78% of emissions in the ‘well to wheel’ lifecycle for EVs happen while battery charging and 22 % of emissions while battery manufacturing.~
Further actionsHowever, to create a significant impact on emissions through mobility fuels further actions like large-scale proliferation of low carbon energy sources must be considered.
Firstly, to accelerate investment in renewables in a sustainable manner, contracts such as ‘Contract for Difference’ can be implemented with Center- or State-backed counterparts. To increase private sector participation in renewables, ‘voluntary green certificates’, in addition to the ‘compliance certificates’, should be allowed to be traded as is done in the UK. Other solutions, such as increasing the role of traders in the power markets and allowing renewable players to participate in real-time markets (RTMs) for deviation in supply must also be considered.
Secondly, the transition to renewables will take time, and considering the variability of renewable power and grid stability issues, conventional power sources in some measure will continue to be a part of the power-mix. In the interim period, specific measures will have to be taken by conventional power generators to reduce GHG as well as non-GHG (SOX, NOX, PM10) emissions. On the latter, it is imperative that FGDs (or fuel gas desulphurisers) are mandated to be installed in all power plants (to reduce SOX emissions) with strict adherence timeframe. Similarly, installation of electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) for ash removal and installation of selective catalytic reducers (SCRs) to curb PM10 and NOX emissions respectively should be mandated.
Thirdly, there is a hidden problem in India’s transmission and distribution (T&D) losses, which significantly reduces the impact of EVs. India’s T&D losses are ~20%, which is twice the world average and three times that of the US. While rapid strides have been made to curb T&D losses through the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) and the National Smart Grid Mission, several additional elements need to be put in place. To reduce technical losses, it is crucial that transmission companies leverage digitization across the value chain, e.g. sensor-based predictive O&M of transformers.
To create a significant impact on emissions through mobility fuels further actions like large-scale proliferation of low carbon energy sources must be considered.~
Capex to de-stress the ageing infrastructure in specific areas is critical. To curb commercial losses, distribution companies should deploy tighter circle control and audit, implement smart metering at scale, and regularly rotate circle manpower.
Finally, the advent of EVs needs to be led by ubiquitous charging infrastructure. It is not just about adding more charging points, but redrawing the electricity distribution grid within the city to enable fast charging. Fast charging may require upgrading power feeder lines from 11 kV to 33 kV which in turn will require rebalancing of loads and overhauling of existing substations.
In order to build a successful ecosystem for EVs in the future, solutions need to be constructed keeping both the automotive and the energy sectors in mind. A comprehensive view is to be developed to deliver a sustainable and economic impact on climate change in India.
(Sharad Verma is managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, and Abhinav Mishra is a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. Views are their own.)