Issue :   
April 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         April 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Apr' 2018


Electric vehicle is the answer

Elsa Lycias Joel

Thomas Edison and an electric car in 1913 As far as developed countries are concerned, electric vehicle (EVs) aren't anything new as we consider them to be. They have a long history starting from the 1830s when scale model electric vehicles were built. As per records, London and New York had fleets of electric cars in 1897. The production of EVs ceased by mid 1920s and it restarted in a big way by the oil crisis of the 1970s.
The vision electric vehicle paves way for a new world order. India, like many other developing and developed countries, is ready for any change that augurs well for itself and for the rest of the world. Though the change in mood is less dramatic, India seems to head in a similar direction. Cursed with a choking capital, people also believe, it is indeed time for a change as India imports 82 per cent of its oil requirements, bulk of which is demanded by the automobile industry.
With emissions from diesel and petrol run vehicles making up a large proportion greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, many countries are deliberating on hybrid and fully electric vehicles.
Sadly, 95 per cent of electric cars are sold only in ten countries out of the 195 odd countries of the world. Banning combustion engines becomes easier when government works on giving considerable incentives, subsidies and tax breaks too, to purchasers of electric vehicles. Only then the LED moment of transport will become a reality. However, the extent to which this may occur varies greatly by country, in terms of how the demand for additional electricity for electric vehicles can be accommodated.
Given the higher prices of petrol and diesel and the arguments that support it do not mention anything about pushing the consumer towards cleaner or alternate fuels. Thus, it is left to the consumers to decide if higher prices are meant to reform the energy usage pattern. Will our country's polity be bothered about the disruption of both the existing business processes and value chain of the automobile and petroleum sector? Are our politicians not worried about their cronies who are grappling with the prospect of an eventual peak in oil demand with billion dollar investments at stake?
Once the existing fleets of petrol-diesel powered vehicles retire, what will become of the Indian petroleum refining industry, in addition to massive job losses? Modi's vision to helm a renewable-energy revolution in the country, a reckoning that the automobile sector's massive conversion will cut its oil bill by some $60 billion, reduce emissions by 37 per cent and curb the burgeoning demand for road infrastructure over the next 13 years does not complement the fact that India's oil import volumes increased by 5 per cent from 202.8 million metric tonnes (mmt) in 2015-16 to 213.9 mmt in 2016-17.
Anyway, not to be left behind, our government, too, is aspiring towards electric mobility and a 12 per cent GST on electric vehicles against a 43 per cent on hybrid cars seems appreciable. One valid argument against this taxing is that hybrid technologies pave the way, towards environment-friendly goals and moving the transport sector solely on electricity by 2030. Given the 57,000-odd petrol/diesel outlets against the 1094 CNG outlets, a sudden shift towards achieving structural changes in the energy sector and thereby in the economy as such might be a nightmare.
Again, electric vehicles as a key strategy in fighting climate change make sense only if they are powered by low- carbon electricity. Lower emissions of CO2 should not mean higher emissions from the associated fossil fuel combustion in the electricity-generating sector. Unless our government subsidise battery and lithium imports in addition to incentivising companies that set up this business, this vision will have its limitations.

Just as Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal borrowed the idea of road space rationing to control air pollution and made it work successfully, any effort with larger public interest will definitely turn out to be a phenomenal success.

Before our government rolls out a national policy on EVs, it must make sure that the support infrastructure, like additional grid reinforcement or implementation of specific 'smart charging' approaches, might be required to ensure an efficient and flexible electricity generation and distribution infrastructure by predicting consumer psychology as well. In spite of the whole proposition looking unviable, our government is determined to push ahead because our leaders like to embrace challenges and not duck, come what may.
We can only wish that in the long run, regulatory cholesterol doesn't cripple the private sector from performing on this. Take for example, the tech sector. A decade on and it's still providing relatively simple IT services, mainly the same back-office operations it started with and the number of new jobs it's creating is relatively small.
Just as Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal borrowed the idea of road space rationing to control air pollution and made it work successfully, any effort with larger public interest will definitely turn out to be a phenomenal success.
We are all aware that our leaders just know and find many ways to solve pressing issues but it would be perfect if they go that way and thus help us follow. In this context, replacing the existing government vehicles would be a move, worthy enough of emulation by the general public.
If or not we are hinging on other countries adopting climate policies, this switching over will have an enormous effect on automobile industries, oil markets and of course the global efforts to slow down climate change. Meanwhile, "who killed the electric car" remains to be a must watch.