E-mobility & Solar: The Perfect Pair

Since solar energy has gained worldwide acceptance due to its feasibility, easy to install, and reliability, solar energy growth and EV growth have become interconnected. By Supriya A Oundhakar, Associate Editor

Global transport system is witnessing a rapid transition due to burgeoning global CO2 emission levels and commitments to decarbonisation as the transport system is one of
the factors responsible for deterioration of environment. The transport system, being the biggest consumer of crude oil, is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and thus, it is making a switch to green energy utilisation worldwide.

Following in the footsteps of Germany and China, India is also focusing on the growth of electric vehicles (EV) depending on solar. India, being the world’s second largest two-wheeler market, fifth largest photovoltaic (PV) market and seventh largest commercial vehicles market, has set the target of 30 per cent adoption of current electric vehicle new sales of electric passenger cars, light commercial vans, buses and trucks by 2030.

EV Future Driver of PV

EVs have started gaining momentum due to its energy efficient and environment-friendly nature. Use of solar energy for charging EVs has emerged as the cleanest energy option having zero carbon footprint. Since solar energy has gained worldwide acceptance due to its feasibility, easy to install, and reliability, solar energy growth and EV growth have become interconnected.

While taking note of this emerging trend, Awadhesh Jha, Vice President-Charge & Drive & Sustainability, Fortum India, states, “Though various research and study has proven that despite use of fossil fuel, EV is cleaner than ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles,
it would be prudent if EVs are powered by renewables likes solar. It will spur the demand for more cleaner energy and that will be provided by PV as it has become quite affordable. In fact, PV and EV are supplementing to each other. With much lower price of solar energy, operating cost of EV will be lower which will create more demand for EV which in turn
push for more solar power.”

He adds, “More and more PV getting added to the system will create imbalance in the grid requiring to be stabilised by some form of storage. Battery EV provides good storage system to PV which again boosts the deployment of PV.”

Technological innovations can make PVs more efficient, leading to e-mobility to be the growth driver of solar. According to Praveer Sinha, CEO and Managing Director, Tata Power, “The technologies, both in terms of EVs and PVs, are evolving as we speak. So, until there is a technological breakthrough that significantly improves the quality of power generated from PV panels that is enough to run an automobile, the demand for PV will be driven by the inevitable growth in EV offtake.”

Going ahead, in 2017-18, India’s crude oil imports witnessed a jump ballooning its import bills to US$ 87.7 billion. Further, the transport sector is the biggest consumer of crude oil with usage of 70 per cent of diesel and 99.6 per cent of petrol. To this, Ivan Saha, BU Head Solar Manufacturing & CTO, Vikram Solar states, “Understanding the threat to India’s economy, pollution, and convenience, the Government of India is focusing on EV market growth depending on renewable energy (especially solar) to save billions of forex outflow, and reduce dependency on fossil fuels. With countries waking up to realise the potential of
green energy transition of transport market, e-mobility will undoubtedly drive the PV market globally.”

As per a NITI Aayog report, India can save 64 per cent of energy demand for road transport and 37 per cent of carbon emissions by 2030 by pursuing a shared and connected electric mobility future. Worldwide, the industry is gearing up to lower carbon
dioxide emission targets over the next decade, especially, through the use of renewable power generation techniques. The move to EV is necessitated by the urgency to curb the current account deficit by cutting down on oil imports. This will reduce India’s dependence on oil-rich countries, opines Simarpreet Singh, Director, Strategy, Hartek Group, and FounderDirector, Hartek Solar Pvt Ltd.

Bumpy Ride Ahead

Though electrification of transportation and the use of solar-powered charging stations as an electricity source will ultimately improve people’s quality of life, its penetration in India is likely to remain low due to the challenges like charging infrastructure and battery technologies. According to Simarpreet Singh, as of now, storage solutions in India in the form of lead acid batteries are very expensive. The next critical technology for e-mobility and rooftop solar in India is the development of more cost-effective and efficient batteries which can store electricity when generation is at its peak and meet the requirements of users during peak demand hours.

Moreover, land availability is also one of the stumbling blocks posing in the way to e mobility. Praveer Sinha is of the opinion that it would take massive investments in land to generate enough power to change the transportation sector (personal and commercial) given the current state of technology for PVs. This challenge will be even more acute in
cities where land costs can be forbidden to warrant the creation of a solar powered charging infrastructure.

According to Ivan Saha, people are often concerned about range of EV. Enough number of charging infrastructure is required to keep this from becoming a reason behind failure of EV.

Although, the Government of India is working to promote EV development, there are challenges in establishment of charging infrastructure:

 Research shows that India has nearly 350 renewables public EV chargers, while the number of petrol stations stand at 57,000. While comparing with China, it has installed around 2,15,000 charging points at the end of 2016. In the same breath, we can point out that if Solar panels cover 0.5 per cent of Rajasthan, can generate power for 330 million EVs. Delay in installing more solar charging stations is keeping India’s first EV procurement plan in limbo.
 Electricity Act forbids companies without distribution license to sell electricity. This restricts development of charging infrastructure. Currently, the government is taking steps to implement the charging as a service model to aid in EV adoption.
 One of the reasons for lack of charging infrastructure is confusion of charging standards.
India has recently decided to back off from implementing an EV policy, thus paving the way for the market to decide on charging standards and keep pace with the global technology advancement.

In India, DC fast charging would be the main charging mode for EV as Indian urban areas do not have majority of single family house which would provide charging overnight facility. A DC fast charging would need higher load at continuous level. To meet this load requirement of charger, an in-situ solar plant needs to be designed as it has characteristic to supply to its full load only during few hours of the day. This combination makes the solar powered charging station not affordable for EV as one of the hallmarks of EV is its low operating cost. This has to wait till the time efficiency of solar panel increases substantially
necessitating lesser area need, suggests Awadhesh Jha.

E-mobility Wave

The e-mobility wave will gather more steam in the near future in India as EVs are the way forward for a clean world. For this, India is gearing up to ride this wave by enrolling e-charging technologies and highly efficient lithium ion batteries. It is also possible that in the initial phase of this wave the adoption rate will be higher in the public transportation space. Further, the rapid expansion of charging infrastructure will be essential to drive the e-mobility wave, even as auto makers continue to make the vehicles more efficient and offers higher range per charge, observes Sinha.

Electric vehicles and residential or commercial solar power charging stations can serve and aid growth of each other. With solar energy becoming mainstream energy source worldwide, potential for EVs using solar energy is high. It is estimated that India’s energy import bill will rise from $150 billion to $300 billion by 2030. Keeping this scenario in mind,
Saha avers, “It is fair to say that the country’s shift to solar power generation and EVs is the best and actually, the only move left. Considering India’s focus towards EV growth through policy development and investment, Vikram Solar has elaborate plans to
contribute to India’s e-mobility growth.”

The success of e-mobility in India will largely depend on upgraded grid infrastructure to cater to an electricity demand of 100-120 Gwh for powering an estimated 65-75 million electric cars, buses and trucks by 2030. The automobile manufacturers are investing billions in conversion of its product ranges to ride the e-mobility wave.

Fortrum has plans to set up charging infrastructure in India and are evaluating several locations. Jha opines that all parking places must have minimum 20 per cent of parking earmarked for charging station. These locations could be used for DC fast charging. The earmarked parking spaces should be given free of cost to potential charging service provider initially for couple of years. Alternatively, the Government can adopt Transport for London (TfL) model in developing charging infrastructure where TfL secured sites and provided upgraded electricity grid infrastructure.

Moving ahead, in 2018, Government exempted e-vehicle charging station from licencing requirement for charging EV batteries. This step will help in entry of new players or third-party service providers in setting up charging infrastructure, concludes Ashish Modani, Assistant Vice President & Co-Head, Corporate Ratings, ICRA Ltd.