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Use renewable energy to charge electric vehicles in India

Decarbonising transport in India can be catalysed by deploying clean energy-powered electric vehicle charging stations
Clean energy is needed for electric vehicle charging points to improve India’s overall air quality (Image: Alamy)
Clean energy is needed for electric vehicle charging points to improve India’s overall air quality (Image: Alamy)

India has laid out ambitious vehicle electrification plans in the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020, and Phase II of the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) scheme. This comes at an opportune time, when transport-related air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in major Indian cities regularly hover above dangerous levels.

Currently the transport sector accounts for nearly 23% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. This is set to rise with rapid urbanisation and growing prosperity across countries. In the past decade alone, there has been a tremendous rise in vehicle usage in India, resulting in a sharp increase in city-level air pollution. India is home to six of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world.

Following the rollout of the national mission, several Indian states and businesses proactively responded by launching state electric vehicle (EV) policies and programmes, and announcing corporate clean-mobility ambitions. These are all steps in the right direction to help move the needle and accelerate the transition.

However, converting India’s existing vehicle fleet to electric will add terawatt-hours of new demand to the grid and requires thoughtful and timely planning to minimise costs and maximise benefits, primarily for the electric utilities and electricity distribution companies known as discoms. There is currently limited discourse about this key pillar across forums.

A joint study by business lobby Assocham and consultancy EY projects that overall power demand from electric vehicles in India is projected to reach 69.6 terawatt hours by 2030. The existing power-distribution infrastructure in the country allows for meeting most of this demand through the grid, more than half of which is fed by coal-fired power plants.

This could increase the overall transport-related emissions in India, thereby defeating the purpose of the country’s electric-mobility mission.

Clean electric mobility

This makes a compelling case for both businesses and governments to catalyse decarbonising transport in the country. It could be achieved by deploying clean-powered EV charging stations and having in place a robust EV power-management interface.

A more efficient and cost-effective energy system will bring monetary benefits to the discoms. There is a need for better load management at the distribution transformer (DT) level for discoms to minimise losses and have better clarity on load profiles.

In 2019, BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd, a Delhi-based private discom, in a representation to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), stated that DTs are loaded to 70-80% of their capacity for 5% of the time. It requested that the CEA allow dynamic throttling of chargers to avoid DT overload.

A white paper by India Smart Grid Forum published in 2018 stressed the inability of existing DTs to accommodate DC fast-charging capacity without costly grid upgrades that will be passed on to the Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) establishments.

Smart and managed EV charging can address these issues and be a useful means to better align and balance a power supply that is increasingly diverse, decentralised, renewable and intermittent with flexible demand.

Expressing his views on this, Abhishek Ranjan, AVP System Operation and head of RE and DSM at BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd, commented: “Electric vehicles offer an opportunity to the power discoms in India for alleviating some of their pain points including DER (distributed energy resources) and RE (renewable energy) integration, power purchase cost optimisation and network optimisation, thereby boosting technical loss management. Managed charging coupled with EV TOU (time of use) rates shall help achieve above objectives in an effective manner.”

Address peak load issues

Uncontrolled charging of EVs could increase the peak demand on the grid. This could result in overloading of DTs, thus calling for infrastructure augmentation at the distribution level. Renewable energy-powered EV charging stations or facilities like net metering or power banking could help mitigate this challenge by absorbing some of the peak or off-peak demand.

Integration with renewable energy offers dual benefits: achieving financial viability and greening the entire EV usage cycle to a large extent. Installing rooftop solar plants at charging stations in the city of Nagpur reduced the average electricity expense by 28%, according to a Shakti Foundation-TERI report.

EV owners will see savings ranging from the lower cost of electricity to earnings from the supply of ancillary services to the grid.

Wholesale markets and transmission and distribution grid operators will have another tool to meet demand and improve efficiency.

A significant amount of off-peak capacity will absorb excess renewable energy production, thereby reducing overall emissions.

A discom-readiness study by think-tank the Rocky Mountain Institute India in 2019 has brought into focus the existing charging infrastructure in the country with a state-level readiness example from Haryana.

The report has highlighted the need for discoms to step up and prepare early through smart and proactive demand management, as planning ahead for a variety of deployment scenarios can better address a wide range of internal and external challenges.

Global discourse

Recognising the value of decarbonising charging, governments globally are deploying innovative models to efficiently tackle this emerging challenge. Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), a group of more than 700 utilities in the US, is bringing together discoms, solution providers, regulatory bodies and NGOs to advance a clean and modern electricity grid.

Raymond Kaiser, director of energy management systems at Amzur Technologies and a member of the SEPA Energy Services Interface task force, described how utilities in the US are overcoming some of the barriers. He said: “One of the most direct means to minimise the challenges of rapid EV adoption while simultaneously enhancing energy reliability and resiliency is to support interactive communication and coordination between grid operators, EV chargers and charging stations, and EV drivers. In the US the time to begin to understand and address the challenge to integrate these resources into distribution operations is now.”

Emerging policy signals 

Enabling policies are key for innovations to flourish, and at the desired scale. Most Indian states today either have a state-wide EV policy or specific city-level programmes and pilots running on EVs.

In the recent and more ambitious Delhi Electric Vehicles Policy, 2020, energy and public charging station operators are encouraged to explore renewable sources of power and facilities such as open access and power banking.

In its recently announced EV Policy 2021, the government of West Bengal also encourages exploring smart energy management and use of renewable energy through on-site or power purchase agreements (PPAs).

Though most of these policies are supportive of the transition, a stronger alignment of and collaboration between policymakers, businesses and other players will be critical to ensure quicker adoption and build consumer confidence. Now is the time to build on the momentum and bring together all players to propel an e-mobility transition in India that is clean, just and economic.