With High Global Fuel Prices, It’s an Opportune Time to Increase EV Charging Infrastructure in India
Between March and May 2022, gasoline prices increased more than 10 percent in India — reaching record highs over INR 120/liter (US$5.68/gallon). Although prices have decreased and stabilized recently, they remain historically high. Now is an opportune time to continue prioritizing the country’s EV transition. EV adoption can support energy security (an electric two-wheeler has about one-tenth the energy requirement of a comparable gas vehicle), save fleets and everyday drivers money (on average, electricity is 17 times cheaper than gasoline), and improve local air quality (EVs have zero tailpipe emissions including NOx and PM2.5).
As the market stands today, the total cost of ownership (TCO) — the capital and operating expenses of a vehicle over its useful life — of electric two-, three-, and four-wheelers is 68 percent, 31 percent, and 23 percent lower than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Given these economics, more people are buying EVs. In fact, EVs now make up more than 1 in 10 vehicles registered in places like Delhi and Pune. To continue to drive EV sales, access to private and public charging infrastructure will be key. Deploying novel policies and programs to make charging more accessible in homes and workplaces, reducing charging deployment costs, and minimizing the impact EV charging has on the grid can accelerate the EV transition.
Increasing Access to Charging Infrastructure
Nearly 90 percent of EVs are charged at home or the workplace. A streamlined process for installing private and semi-public charging can help customers have chargers installed quicker and more cost-effectively. For example, Delhi developed a single-window process that streamlined coordination with local electricity distribution companies (DISCOMs) and made it easier for individuals and businesses to deploy charging stations. Customers can now arrange for private charging installations online; from there, a certified vendor will schedule a load assessment and install the charger if the site is feasible. The continuation and expansion of programs like these will be key to ensuring charging is convenient and available when and where users need it.
Additionally, innovative approaches are required to help ensure that charging is available in places where consumers park, live and work. A novel strategy to provide charging to users who may not have access to residential or semi-public charging stations is via lamp post charging. By retrofitting existing lamp posts with slow-charger connections, states and cities throughout India could increase charging access by providing individuals that park on streets a convenient, low-cost way to charge EVs. Pilots to deploy lamp post charging in India are already underway. Kerala announced it would install 1,140 pole-mounted charging stations, installing its first charging stations in March of this year.
While many EV drivers will rely on charging at home or work, public charging infrastructure still plays an important role in alleviating range anxiety. By 2030, if all new commercial two-, three, and four-wheelers sold were electric, India would need to install nearly 15,000 public slow (3.3–7.4 kW) and moderate (15–22 kW) chargers to ensure adequate access to charging. However, the deployment of public infrastructure remains challenging until charging station operators can recoup the costs of infrastructure deployment through higher infrastructure utilization.
One way to accelerate the deployment of public charging is for city and state governments to play a more central role and offer concessions to developers willing to deploy public charging infrastructure. To defray charging infrastructure costs, the Delhi Government released a charging tender providing land concessions and subsidizing the cost of upstream electrical infrastructure. As part of the tender, Delhi will lease public land to charging stations at a discounted rate that is linked to the operator’s revenue. Additionally, sites within the tender will receive a minimum sanctioned load to help reduce upstream electrical infrastructure costs. The deployment of 100 charging sites is underway as part of this first tender. As more public and private entities issue tenders to deploy charging infrastructure, it will be essential to use public resources to ensure equal access to charging. By bundling charging sites within a tender, cities and states can cross-subsidize sites in disadvantaged communities with highly trafficked sites to provide equitable charging access.
Minimizing Electrical Infrastructure Costs Associated with EV Charging
By 2030, the demand for EV charging (from commercial two-, three-, and four-wheelers) could lead to an additional 3.5 percent increase in power demand nationally. While this is a sizable increase in load, this additional power demand can be an asset, not a liability, for the grid if managed properly. The primary hurdle to overcome is power distribution, specifically ensuring adequate electrical infrastructure to provide the needed current to each charger. Electrical infrastructure is a key cost driver of charging station development, and DISCOMs must be involved early within the charging infrastructure planning process. By proactively working with DISCOMs, charging infrastructure providers and private sector players can select charging sites with higher sanctioned loads to minimize electrical infrastructure investment.
DISCOMs are best suited to provide distributional capacity upgrades where required and facilitate more seamless integration of charging infrastructure with the grid. Cities and states can work with DISCOMS to ensure they have the financial resources and capacity to follow the Ministry of Power guidelines and standards for charging infrastructure, which details how electrical upgrades should be made to meet the demands of EV charging. Through initiatives like the Integrated Power Development Scheme, funding can be provided to help cities and DISCOMS plan for potential grid congestion and implement the necessary electrical infrastructure upgrades to meet additional power demand from EV charging.
To minimize the strain EV charging has on the grid and to support grid resiliency, India could standardize the deployment of smart chargers. A smart charger can typically send and receive a signal from the charging vehicle, other chargers, and the grid. This functionality enables the charger to communicate that it is discharging power and allows users to manage the amount of power supplied to a vehicle at a given time. Smart charging can help prevent charging operators and users from exceeding the maximum energy capacity and minimize grid overloads. Smart chargers are also best suited to take advantage of time-of-day (ToD) tariffs. By enacting or extending existing ToD tariffs for vehicle charging, DISCOMs can incentivize users to charge during off-peak hours — times of day that typically see lower energy demand and/or high renewable energy generation. This tariff structure is a more effective mechanism for DISCOMs to minimize peak loads, manage costs, and reduce the need for building out additional generation and distribution capacity.
Creating an Agenda to Boost EV Charging Infrastructure
Given the historically high and ongoing uncertainty of oil prices, now is an opportune time to invest in charging infrastructure to accelerate the EV transition and improve energy security in India. By 1) streamlining the charging infrastructure installation process, 2) providing subsidies for public charging infrastructure, 3) defraying electrical infrastructure costs, and 4) and utilizing demand-side management strategies, DISCOMs, policymakers, and charging station operators can reduce electrical infrastructure costs and increase charging availability. Access to charging will be the impetus for mass EV adoption, especially for crucial segments like the final-mile delivery and ride-sharing sector.