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Electric Vehicle Charging Stations in India: All You Need to Know

Jan 19, 2022 6:03 AM 6 min read

Keeping India's ongoing green transition in mind, the Ministry of Power (MoP) on Saturday released revised guidelines (link) for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.

The updated rules empower any individual or entity to set up public charging stations (PCS) without licensing requirements. What this means is (1) EV owners can charge their vehicles at home or their offices at domestic tariffs and (2) public and private bodies can procure Government land to set up and operate PCS on a revenue-sharing basis.

Moreover, a national online database of all charging stations in the country will be compiled and uploaded on a web portal and mobile app.

All in all, the target is to have one PCS in every three-square-km grid in big cities and every 25 km on highways within the next five years.

Back to Basics

The basic unit of an EV’s charging infrastructure comprises the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE). It accesses power from a local electricity supply and, using a control system wired connection, charges the vehicle. The vast majority of EVs across the world are powered via plug-in chargers (battery-swaps are an up-and-coming technology, but they have their own set of challenges).

The entire EV charging ecosystem includes a lot of moving parts: land acquisition for stations, constant supply of electricity, updating and syncing EVSE to the station’s configurations, day-to-day operations and maintenance of PCS, enabling vehicle owners to access the charging services via apps or manually etc.

It is also a multi-agency endeavour, involving inputs from the MoP, Central Electricity Authority, State Electrical Regulatory Commissions, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Urban Development Departments, Bureau of Indian Standards, Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Department of Heavy Industry, discoms, municipal corporations, state and regional transport authorities, and many others.

So, setting up and operating charging stations is a full-fledged and complicated operation (surprise, surprise: land is a complex issue in India).


Policy Talk

India’s EV policy has constantly evolved over the years, propelled in large part by the surging pollution levels, the country’s green commitments, and the eagerness to cut reliance on crude oil imports.

The scrappage policy, FAME (which is currently in its second phase), the PLI scheme for EV components, allowing sales of EVs sans batteries, courting bigwigs like Tesla (high import duties notwithstanding), incentivising domestic battery manufacturing, amending the Model Building Bye-Laws to include charging station provisions, liberalisation of the electricity distribution sector, encouraging fossil fuel vending outlets to have EV charging stations, the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, GST rate cuts on EVs and batteries, tax incentives on EV auto loans, permit exemption for battery-operated electric vehicles (BEVs)… The list of GoI measures that are directly or indirectly intended to further EV adoption is a long one.

FYI: The Union Government's ambitions have also been realistically tempered over time: Piyush Goyal in 2016 had claimed India could become 100% electric without "one rupee support from the Government" by 2030. Today, this figure has come down to a more fathomable 30%.

There are also a slew of state-specific measures. Most notably in Delhi, which is arguably leading the country in EV adoption (9% of its vehicles are EVs vis-a-vis the national average of 1.6%). Recently, the Capital mandated all ride aggregators and delivery services to adopt BEVs + it has a lofty goal of ensuring that 25% of all new vehicle registrations are electric by 2024.

That it is imperative for India to not miss the EV bandwagon and get a head-start on these new-age technologies is an urgency lost on few. The domestic EV market itself seems to have a promising future - it’s expected to grow at a 90% CAGR over this decade to touch $150bn by 2030.

FYI: A report by ACMA found that, as of FY21, India’s EV market comprised 61% two-wheelers, 37% three-wheelers and light commercial vehicles, 2% four-wheelers, and 0.2% e-buses.


Charged Up and Waiting to Fly

Now, obviously, you can’t herald an electric future without robust charging infrastructure any more than you can increase automobile sales without petrol/diesel/CNG stations.

Considering that the Indian EV market is still a relatively nascent one, one might be able to forgive the fact that the country’s charging infra is still underdeveloped (as you may expect, very few stations and mainly in big cities). Going forward, this might become the top impediment to EV adoption - more so than even public awareness or vehicular costs.

You see, at least in its early stages, EV demand is nurtured by government impetus, schemes and incentives. Initially, factors like lack of ample consumer awareness, uncertainty about vehicle range and battery capacity, high upfront costs, limited models etc. come into play. In the long run, though, assuming EV adoption goes according to plan (for instance, like Nitin Gadkari’s prediction that electric and petrol vehicles will “cost the same” by 2023), the biggest challenge to EV adoption will invariably be the construction and upkeep of power infrastructure.


Roadmap to the Electric City

A few things to keep in mind here.

One, charging stations are generally of three kinds. Private (the ports at your home), semi-public (stations at housing societies or office complexes), and public (accessible to all EV owners).

Two, for two-wheeler or four-wheeler EV models, charging at home or office premises is actually sufficient for the average amount of intra-city travel. On average, a two-wheeler runs for 17 km/day while private four-wheelers run for about 32 km/day. The FAME scheme provisions, meanwhile, kick in only after 80 km. So, private or semi-public stations go a long way in meeting typical charging requirements.

Three, that said, it’s too much to ask the average consumer to mainly charge their vehicles at home. For starters, that’s the recipe for limiting EV adoption to a handful of rich pockets in a handful of metros. Working professionals can hardly carry e-bikes up apartment floors to plug them in over-cramped flats they share with many others. Moreover, electricity isn’t a free commodity - basic tariffs still apply. And even if the upkeep of EVs vis-a-vis fossil fuel vehicles is significantly lower (courtesy: zero fuel expenses), wide-scale adoption can’t be achieved if the impression remains that EVs will perennially inflate power bills.

Four, there’s also the point of where this electricity comes from in the first place. If it’s from coal (and most electricity in India is coal-fired) and not from renewables, it defeats the purpose of EV adoption altogether.

Which brings us to five: advanced, affordable and accessible public charging stations are critical if India is to actually become an EV leader.

Which brings us back to Saturday’s announcements…


Taking Stock of Matters

Under the updated guidelines, Government land will be provided to interested entities for setting up PCS on a revenue-sharing basis at a fixed rate of ₹1/kWh. State governments will fix the ceiling of service charges.

The industry has welcomed the shift in policy, which is anticipated to create many opportunities for existing and new players alike. Companies that are already building charging stations can be expected to get a fillip from the new rules, given that opening PCS is now a simpler and easier process.

If you’re wondering if the new rules could affect your tradebook in any way: many public companies do stand to benefit.

Obvious names include IOC (plans to install 10,000 EV charging facilities in the next three year), ABB India (it provides various AC and DC charging products), Tata Power (offers charging solutions for home, office and public set-ups), Bharat Petroleum (plans to add another 1,000 charging outlets this year and augment 7,000 conventional energy stations to support BEVs), and RIL (it’s investing big-time to go green and has also tied up with British Petroleum to offer charging solutions under Jio-BP).

There are also conventional auto stocks (like TVS Motor, Ashok Leyland, Eicher Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Olectra Greentech and JBM Auto) whose charging game may not be as developed yet but considering that they are investing heavily in their EV verticals, they may be expected to amp up their charging segments in the near-term.

And, of course, there are also many startups to keep tabs on - Blive, Battery Smart, eBike, Revolt, Euler Motors, and, of course, Ola Electric (whose parent is slated to hit the bourses soon), to name a few.


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