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Breaking down EV myths in India: EVs and emissions

6 October 2020, 14:04 BST 4 min read

Abhishek Ranjan – Energy and Electric Mobility Industry Expert in India

This is the sixth of a series of articles busting the myths in the electric vehicle ecosystem. The articles are brought to you by the Climate Group in partnership with Climate Trends and ET Energy World

The slowdown of economic activity in India has given us a glimpse of blue skies and cleaner air in cities across the country. In our current phase of recovery and development, it is essential we find ways to lower emissions in the interest of public health. This becomes even more critical as India is home to six of the world’s most polluted cities. One major solution is to electrify our transport systems, as electric vehicles offer zero on-road emissions. However, it is necessary to address the myths that surround them.

Myth 1 – Transport is not a considerable contributor to emissions

The transport sector is the fastest-growing contributor to climate change, accounting for 23% of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. An analysis of air quality in New Delhi shows that the transport sector accounts for 19%, 39%, and 81% share in annual PM10, PM2.5, and NOx (toxic gases causing respiratory ailments) emissions respectively.

Transport in New Delhi accounts for 81% NOx emissions

Although the mix of these pollutants and their sources differ from region to region, transportation remains a significant contributor, in addition to other sources, such as household air pollution, burning of crop residue, waste burning, dust from construction activity, and industrial emissions

These pollutants not only have short-term health implications such as eye or throat irritation but also increase the long-term risk of chronic cardiovascular illnesses. Addressing transport-related pollution by adopting cleaner mobility solutions therefore becomes a significant lever for governments and institutions to tackle India’s public health crisis.


Myth 2 – Emissions impact of an electric vehicle is more than an ICE vehicle

From an efficiency perspective, electric vehicles can convert about 59%–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Meanwhile, conventional petrol vehicles only convert about 17%–21% of the energy stored in petrol to power at the wheels. A recent study shows that even Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles are not entirely clean, as they produce sizeable particulate emissions, especially of ultrafine particles. They also emit ammonia, which is a toxic pollutant if inhaled.

Battery Electric Vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions – i.e. they never emit exhaust gases or particulate matter from the onboard source of power. Similarly, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have much lower emissions because a part of their power comes from the energy stored in batteries.

Electric vehicles not only contribute to reducing air pollution, but they also have the potential to reduce emissions of climate change-causing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) like CO2. A recent study of life cycle emissions (lifetime emissions, including those from production and operation) of cars in the European Union estimates a drastic reduction in lifecycle emissions of COfrom the average EU electric car (in large part due to zero on-road emissions) compared to petrol and diesel vehicles.

CO2 car impact

Myth 3 – India’s electricity grid is not suited for electric vehicles

India aims to have 175 GW of installed Renewable Energy (RE) capacity by 2022, and up to 450 GW by 2030. The country’s current weighted average emission factor for the national grid has been nearly constant over the past few years at 0.82 tCO2 / MWh (as of 2018-19). This is only slightly better than Poland’s, which is the EU’s biggest consumer of coal. Assuming Poland’s electricity used to manufacture and charge electric cars and their batteries, CO2 emissions are seen to be ~29% lower than average emissions from both diesel and petrol, falling to close to ~50% by 2030.

This indicates that EVs charged with India’s electricity grid emit lower lifecycle emissions already. As coal power capacity continues to shrink and the share of renewables increases, India’s grid emission factor is expected to fall through the decade as well, in turn resulting in gradually decreasing overall EV emissions.

Furthermore, the recent framework proposed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) on the switch to Market-Based Economic Despatch (MBED) of electricity and power scheduling is poised to shift to national merit order discovered on markets—which is a system that prioritizes the dispatch of the cheapest power first. This will help expand our renewable energy (RE) procurement (including hybrid RE stations) on priority and increase their share in the national power mix. Thus, EVs result in a reduction of lifecycle CO2 emissions even with the current Indian grid. Policy and market interventions should focus on accelerating EV adoption rather than waiting for the power grid itself to become green.

What next?

Towards further emissions reduction in the near term, with the right policy signals and the promotion of time-of-use power rates for EV charging, we could align the charging of electric vehicles with the time duration coinciding with the highest share of renewable energy in the grid. Installation of community EV charging facilities around parks in the cities with rooftop solar installed could also significantly help integrate electric vehicles directly powered by renewable energy.

Thus, if fully accepted and endorsed, the mainstreaming of electric vehicles (powered by renewable energy) can fully support India’s transition towards greener and cleaner cities. Moreover, fast-tracking policy and adoption by both governments and businesses will create a powerful collaboration with the possibility of completely removing pollution from Indian roads. Electric mobility is an opportunity to not only drastically benefit the health of India’s citizens, but also put India on the map as a climate leader.

Read the previous opinion on answers to popular myths around EV Vehicle Experience and Shared Mobility by Vinay Rotti, Head – Policy & Strategic Finance at Bounce and Pradeep Karuturi, Policy and Government Partnerships at Bounce.

This article was originally published in ET Energy World.