In 2017, the government announced its ambitious plan to shift to an all-electric car fleet by 2030. To this end, it is planning to invest Rs 1.8 trillion in electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure. In the past, several key programmes have been launched to achieve electric mobility in the country. In 2013, the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan was launched, with a sales target of 6-7 million hybrid and electric vehicles annually from 2020 onwards. In 2015, the government notified the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles scheme with the aim to promote EV sales through subsidies.
As a result of these initiatives, EV penetration in the country is expected to increase significantly in the next few years. From the power sector’s perspective, EVs present a number of challenges in terms of setting up of fast-charging infrastructure by discoms, upgrading the grid that is already struggling with a renewable influx, and securing funds to support EVs. That said, EVs also act as distributed storage solutions, which can help in better integration of intermittent renewables.
A look at how EVs are expected to transform the future grid…
Implications for the grid
There are essentially three types of EVs in the market – battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). In India, there has been greater emphasis on the roll-out of BEVs and PHEVs, particularly in the public transportation and mobility space. While these vehicles reduce carbon emissions on the road and the transportation sector’s dependence on oil, they still rely on power plants to charge their batteries.
From a technical perspective, EVs can cause harmonic distortions in the grid because of their non-linear nature and can lead to voltage deviations in the distribution network when plugged in for charging. However, EVs as a storage solution can complement renewable energy generation if managed effectively.
In India, the peak hours for power usage are between 6 and 8 in the morning and evening. In contrast, the peak solar generation occurs during the afternoon when the consumption is lowest, while peak wind generation happens during early morning hours. Therefore, with overnight and afternoon charging, EVs can potentially increase the demand during low-demand hours, thereby flattening the duck curve.
Further, EVs can provide sufficient evacuation for renewable energy generation. The excess power can be drawn from the grid through batteries during low-demand hours and can be injected back into the grid during critical peak hours. This “vehicle-to-grid” concept can provide flexibility to the system and ensure a smooth integration of intermittent power into the grid. The increase in the adoption of EVs is, therefore, expected to benefit both power utilities and consumers. For consumers, the vehicle-to-grid integration provides a potential revenue opportunity, while for discoms it helps in better load management in the grid. The proliferation of EVs could also lead to economies of scale and lower the prices of advanced batteries and battery systems.
Leveraging smart grids
In order to ensure the efficient management of energy supply and demand, it is crucial that smart grid tools are deployed at charging stations to ensure charging during non-peak hours.
Once connected to a smart grid, the charging of EVs can be optimised and EVs can be integrated with other aspects of generation and demand. It provides the visibility and control needed to mitigate the load impact. It also allows utilities to collect EV-specific data such as charging rate, duration of charging and time of charging, which helps them better understand consumer preferences. Therefore, the integration of EVs with smart grids can not only improve their performance, but also increase load controllability and flexibility.
In India, a major obstacle in the roll-out of EVs is the lack of charging infrastructure. Further, the high upfront costs, primarily on account of expensive batteries, along with a low driving range hamper the offtake of EVs in India.
Another challenge faced by players in the EV space is the determination of the charging rate on a time-of-day basis to incentivise charging during non-peak hours. The long charging duration of PHEVs is also an impediment to the mass adoption of these vehicles. In addition, there is a lack of standardisation in the EV charging space.
There is an ongoing debate on whether plug-in charging should be considered sale of power or sale of service. The Electricity Act, 2003 prohibits the sale of electricity by companies other than distribution licensees, which in effect restricts private players from entering the EV charging segment. On the other hand, it provides an opportunity to discoms to manage the charging infrastructure and bring down their losses.
While the vehicle-to-grid concept seems viable, the electric grid must be made more resilient to absorb variable loads from both renewables and EVs. Utilities also need to gear up for a surge in EV demand.
The way forward
These challenges notwithstanding, the EV segment has witnessed significant progress in the past year. Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) floated a tender on behalf of the government to procure 10,000 EVs. The contract was awarded to Tata Motors Limited at the lowest price globally. EESL is expected to float a second global tender for 10,000 EVs to be deployed across the country for government use. EESL also conducted an open bid last year for a pilot project. The participating bidders were required to set up 20-30 charging stations in and around Delhi. The objective was to assess the performance of these charging stations.
Meanwhile, the government needs to undertake measures such as the dynamic pricing model to incentivise EV charging during the “belly” or non-peak hours. The charging infrastructure should be coupled with storage units so that the sudden surge in demand during peak hours can be met. There is also a need to standardise the charging points and align the charging protocols with international standards. Moreover, appropriate regulatory frameworks and market design are required to drive EV uptake. It is important to assess the viability of various operating models. Further, significant investment is required from both public and private players in the e-mobility space.
High initial investments have restricted the adoption of EVs so far. However, EVs are expected to become more affordable with the decline in the cost of lithium-ion batteries. Favourable government policies can further bring down the cost of EVs. Given the efforts of multiple stakeholders, there is a potential for rapid EV scale-up in the country and, if managed well, it could have positive implications for the power sector.
Abha Nirula with inputs from a presentation by Gensol Consulting at the E-mobility conference