Electric Mobility: A Critique


Why a Critique?

Suddenly, every opinion and policy maker has jumped in the ring with different narratives to address India’s pollution problem with WHO report ranking 20 most polluted cities of the world in 2014 and 15 cities in 2018 with most of the cities being from India. 

The electric vehicles have been projected as the Silver bullet for the pollution ills of the country. Every corporate house including the Navratna companies have come up with investment plans to have a piece of the EV pie in order to remain relevant in the evolving energy landscape.

Niti Aayog has set a ambitious target wherein 100 percent public transport and 40 percent private vehicles to become electric by 2030. SIAM also came with a vision to have 100 percent electric vehicles by 2047, the hundredth year of India’s independence. 

Hence a Critique.

Impact on Employment: 1.5 million jobs at stake

New employment opportunities would emerge with different skill sets as the demand for Electric vehicles will increase without impacting the conventional employment in the ICE sector due to robust growth in the Auto Sector projected in double digit for 2018-19. However, as the penetration of electric vehicles would grow and degrowth of the ICE sector starts by 2030 the over all employment in the Auto Sector would come down due to simplicity (20 moving parts compared to 2000 in ICE) and lower components used in electric Vehicles. A back of the envelope calculation shows that about 1.5 million jobs could be impacted.

The impact on skill sets of ICE segment particularly those engaged in I.C. Engines and power train would be severely impacted. The component suppliers providing pistons, rings, crankshaft, cylinder blocks, injectors, valves etc. would be the first sector. A fall out of the change would be felt by the forging, casting and machining sectors would have to be closed down as the same would become unviable. 

The impact on suppliers of body parts would have to change the least impacted and may only require retooling etc. 

The after-treatment device segment would be another sector which would have to close down their shops completely.

Impact on Foreign Exchange

The impact needs to be analysed as the import of crude would be replaced by critical metals like lithium, cobalt, etc.   

The same has to be considered from the angle of supply and availability of these scarce metals and the demand when the entire auto sector switches to electric mobility. 

The shift in demand from oil to Lithium or rare earth ion batteries would also have geo political ramifications as the current international politics and dynamics has been shaped by the oil demand and supply. The same is bound to change with shift to clean energy sources. With oil demand diminishing the oil & gas producers will lose their political dominance and would be replaced by new set of countries such as Bolivia, Australia, Chile, Congo, etc. where Chinese firms have already set their foothold by acquiring dominant assets. Cobalt on the other hand with more than 50 percent reserves in Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) presenting a volatile cocktail of political, operational and ethical risks. Metals consultancy Roskill estimates cobalt demand at 310,000 tonnes by 2027, of which more than 240,000 tonnes will come from batteries used in electric vehicles, laptops and mobile phones. Roskill estimates cobalt demand last year at 118,000 tonnes.

The current reserves of Lithium are estimated at 16 million tonnes and with current production pegged at 50 K per year and growing at 12 percent per year and likely to increase with more and more countries shifting to electric vehicles. One estimate is that by 2040 taking the plans of Tesla would require 100 giga factories to produce batteries to power about 100 million vehicles a year. The reserves predicted to last for 365 years would come down to about 17 years. This would sooner than expected, reverse the trend of dropping cost of per Kw Battery cost and bring the country to current state where instead of importing crude we would be importing lithium and may be at a higher cost than what we spend on crude import.

However, some believe that limited availability would not be an issue as Lithium cost is only about 7 percent of the battery cost and in 10 years’ time Lithium would also be available through recycling and discount any geo political blackmail in the future.

Environment Impact, Local & Global

The well to wheel concept needs to be seen as only abatement to local pollution and would be a partial solution as pollution knows no boundaries as stubble burning in Punjab & Haryana directly impacts the PM in Delhi. Similarly, the dust from Rajasthan as well as from middle east and Saharan deserts is known to adversely impact the Delhi environment. India has adopted multipronged approach for bring down the levels of air pollution in cities including vehicles’ tailpipe emissions to improve air quality and minimize health impact.

India’s emissions intensity (carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP) has reduced by approximately 18 percent between 1990 and 2005, and the country has already committed to reduce it by another 20-25 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. The new INDC target commits India to go further by 33-35 percent from 2005 by 2030.
Since India is committed to reduction of global warming gases therefore an holistic view needs to be taken


The funds required for putting up the Charging infrastructure is one aspect while the time required for charging is another aspect which needs to take into consideration while determining the cost of power. The space required for catering to the same number of vehicles would multiply directly in proportion to the increase in refuelling time versus the charging time.
The CNG lines are a good indication of what to expect when the charging time increases. Swapping of batteries may be a solution as proposed by many policy makers. However, there is no commercially viable example available in any part of the world.   

Urban space requirement for putting up the charging infrastructure and the opportunity cost requires to be also factored. The additional space required for 40 to 60 minutes for charging needs to be factored in comparison to the space requirement for 5 minutes for normal fuelling of ICE. The premium on the urban land is making the same unavailable for normal fuelling as many fuel retail outlets are shutting down the retail outlets and shifting to building commercial complexes which give a higher return on the same investment. 

The safety of the roadside charging infrastructure needs to also consider in the Indian Context where petty thefts occur in a large scale. In India most of the vehicles are parked on the road side therefore it is all the more important to build the cost of the safe keeping into consideration while coming up with running cost.

Further, the charging infrastructure has a huge potential of around 90 billion units (BU) of electricity against India production of about 1,107 BU in 2015-16. The full-scale electrification of vehicles is expected to generate a fresh demand for electricity which needs to be compensated otherwise the lack of the same will weigh down the entire power sector. The increasing demand for power will help improve the financial viability of these stressed power sector projects running on lower capacity. This in turn would improve the per capita power consumption of around 1,200 kWh one of the lowest among the large economies.

Green Energy

How to maximise the use of green energy in the auto sector needs to be planned if the well to wheel emissions are to be minimised.
Even though the Government has planned 175 GW electricity from the renewables out of which 100 GW electricity is expected from the solar power. However, the fact remains that major part of electricity, at present, is coming from the coal-based thermal power plants and about 25% electricity is produced by the hydro-electric and remaining is from other sources across the country. India is required to give greater push to renewable energy to garner the benefits of reducing the oil import bill and climate change.

Car to Home Concept

Car to home concept has been successfully used in some countries where roof top solar electricity is stored in the car batteries during the day and can be used to meet the home lighting requirement. The same needs to be promoted and integrated in the scheme.

Regulatory frame work

Presently the electric vehicles regime in India is largely governed by the Central Motor vehicle act, 1988 and rules made thereunder. India has yet to announce the policy framework for electric vehicles to formalize the roadmap for achieving the goals of transformative solution of shared connected electric mobility, wherein, 100% public transport vehicles and 40% of private vehicles can become all electric by 2030. Since the regime of electric vehicles have intersections with several ministries and departments, a coherent and harmonized policy and regulatory framework accommodating cross-cutting issues is vital for accomplishing the targets set for the electric vehicles in the country.

The electric mobility will require establishment of a robust charging infrastructure in private participation mode that connects the grid and has to maintain an electricity system in terms of the provisions of the Electricity Act. Presently, the Act does not allow retail sale of power by EV charging stations by non-licensee and thus requires certain amendments to provide a regulatory framework for EV and charging infrastructure. Further, it may need defining the EV charging station, amendment to the existing definition of consumer to include EVs, etc. Presently, the legal framework is quite limited for EVs to operate on a mass scale as envisioned by the Government. However, through appropriate amendments in the Electricity Act, the resale of electricity by any intermediary EV charging infrastructure operators may be expedited.


The electric vehicles are silent and therefore there is a need to adopt the UN regulation for generation of noise so that accidents particularly of pedestrians can be avoided.   

The electric vehicles (EVs) in India are posing challenges to the safety scenario. The EVs are required to meet the existing safety norms of a traditional vehicles but additionally these EVs have to meet the safety requirements due to the flow of substantially higher at moderate or low voltages currents within to provide mobility to the vehicle. Simultaneously, the presence of high-density battery packs and battery management systems pose new risk and bring potential new hazards of electric shock, short circuit, fire and loss of traction control to the aspect of overall safety. In case of accident, the presence of batteries may create a possibility of explosion and extensive damage to life and property. The regular safety audit, safeguard and minimization of risk in EVs are essential.

Fuel Efficiency of electric vehicles

India has already put in place fuel efficiency regulations for passenger cars and Heavy commercial vehicles. Discussions for finalising the norms for light and medium commercial vehicles are in the final stages.

It is important that norms for electric vehicles are also finalised, so the energy guzzlers are not allowed to be marketed.  

Generally, the electric vehicles convert about 59%–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels unlike conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17%–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels. The formulation of fuel efficiency norms for electric vehicles, could further improve the fuel efficiency of electric vehicles.

The source of the source of energy used by the electric vehicles is more critical than the efficiency.

In Conclusion

There is need for in depth study and planning required to meet the 2030 target. Integration and cohesion of actions are required from the macro point of view. Currently, the landscape of electric mobility in India is evolving and attracting both corporates and start-ups alike. However, the manufacturing of affordable electric vehicles for masses would be a challenge. Similarly, the production of cost-effective lithium batteries and charging infrastructure may pose hurdles in the path of electric vehicles. Therefore, the Government has to take greater thrust as well as responsibilities for facilitation of technological disruptions to achieve the dividends of electric vehicles.