Green Technology: How Electric Vehicles (EVs) Will Push India Towards Cleaner Mobility
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Environmental Cleanliness has two distinct and sometimes unrelated facts or dimensions. One related to Carbon has slightly longer term implications however is already being manifested in severe climate events across the globe. The other more immediate is Particulate Pollution and is already choking cities, particularly in urban conglomerates such as the NCR
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC - an International Technical body on climate change) has sounded several warnings, the latest in its AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2022, where it has warned of “Severe climate events” with a very high probability. “Poor” Air Quality days in NCR was 300 days in 2016 where the AQI is greater than 200, compared to an acceptable level of 50. The International Labour Organisation has estimated that the mandays lost due to Pollution is maximum in India amongst all major economies. It is no surprise that the probability of lung cancer in NCR is same for a smoker as for a non-smoker due to Particulate Pollution. The most distressing however is the impact of hydrocarbon Pollution on brain development of children as articulated lucidly in the research paper by UNICEF “Danger in the Air”.
What is required therefore are Technology solutions that would eliminate Pollution on both dimensions sector by sector, rather than incremental solutions that not only rescind back to the status quo but also gives the perception of improvement while the reality points to the opposite direction. As the IPCC states the need of the hour is “Transformational solutions”.
While the data on what causes Particulate Pollution and Carbon Emission is varied the most realistic estimates point to Vehicles contributing over 60% of the Particulate Pollution and over 20% of the 260 billion tonnes of Carbon Emissions in India. Over 30% of the Vehicular Particulate Pollution is caused by Heavy Trucks and are possibly the single largest source of Particulate Pollution in Urban conglomerates such as NCR. More critically the impact of Vehicular Pollution as a cause for Lung cancer, stunting brain development in kids and Ease of Living in general is debilitating as anyone who has lived in NCR for example experiences.
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Having established the irrefutable linkage between Clean air and Vehicular Pollution one needs to address a couple of rhetorical questions. What is one Action that could be the equivalent of planting five hundred Aravali ranges (the Aravali range constitutes about 4,00,000 trees) in say 2-3 years. What is one Action that could bring down NCR’s Particulate Pollution to “Safe” levels. What is one Action that by its sheer Audacity could catalyse Action in other sectors. And ALL this while funnelling in stakeholders organically by inherent economic incentives in the Approach.
The discussion on adoption of Electric vehicles in India has inadvertently focussed on cars and two wheelers. The challenges of charging infrastructure and the supply led restrictions for ICE have been major impediments as the debate has gone back and forth without any tangible change on the ground. What if the Approach is turned on its head and a Demand Pull Approach is implemented.
The Economics of buying and operating the single largest Polluter, a Truck, is governed solely by commercial factors. The cost per km of an Electric Truck is one fourth to one fifth of a Diesel Truck and this has been well established in commercial operations. The Profit margins are therefore 4-5 times higher for anElectric compared to Diesel. The additional Capital cost of Electric shaves off hardly 10-15% of these enhanced Profit margins. More than50% of the time, Heavy Duty Trucks run on concentrated routes and therefore charging infrastructure is infinitely easier to install compared to the distributed charging infrastructure for cars and two wheelers. Charging time of sub one hour are eminently possible for the largest of Trucks with ranges of over 300 kms. In the bulk of Heavy Commercial Vehicle usage for Medium Haul Logistics, there is no impact on usage whatsoever as idling time of truck due to no entry restrictions is much more than the charging time. Critically the economic incentive of profit margins in Electric which are several times that of Diesel will lead to a Demand led surge of adoption of Electric, more so because of the business usage of these stakeholders as opposed to personal usage in case of cars and two wheelers. This in itself would bring down say NCR Particulate Pollution to safe levels and would be the equivalent of planting five hundred Aravali ranges in NCR alone. The Charging infrastructure for these concentrated routes are already being set up and Heavy trucks are already commercially being operated on these routes and there are concrete plans for more routes as word spreads and there is a strong Demand pull from existing Diesel Truck owners to switch to Electric.
Such a Technological transformational solutions not only cleans up the air and restore the lungs in one Innovative swoop but also catalyse other sectors to Innovate and implement such solutions as opposed to the incremental Approach now which more often than not rescinds back to the status quo of causing lung cancer and impacting kids brain development or simply choking residents.