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Tuesday , 16 April 2024

Charging Ahead: Charging Infrastructure Transformation in India

With an array of government charger point operators (CPOs) and private players operating in the charging infrastructure space, the critical question is not about the existence of charging infra or discoverability of charging stations. Instead, the next set of operational challenges around availability and scaling-up including inter-operability of the charging stations becomes critical, state Preetesh Singh, Specialist CASE & Alternate Powertrains and Athul Nambolan, Consultant of Nomura Research Institute (NRI) Consulting and Solutions

Apart from adding the charging stations at an exponential rate, EV users also need to be sensitised about recommended practices for charging, without which negative experiences associated with EVs may echo more within users, which would be catastrophic to sustainability.

India’s charging ecosystem has seen a monumental shift over the last 2-3 years, with the adoption of both battery charging stations (BCS) and battery swapping stations (BSS) catching up with the pace in the country. With over 1.5 million EV sales in 2023 starting from ~160k vehicles in 2019, the absolute number of EVs has zoomed by 9-10X over the last four years. Meanwhile, the growth in number of public chargers in the country has been exponential, with just 451 public chargers in 2021 to over 13,000 public chargers as per the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) by the end of 2023, a number which can potentially be as high as 28,000 considering that many of the private players are yet to enlist their new chargers on BEE portal.

Current Status of Charging Stations:

Despite a rising number of charging stations, the spread could be more evenly distributed. Delhi, with its notorious air pollution status, was one of the first cities with major pilots for charging infra being deployed and accounted for ~25% of public charging stations by the end of 2022.

However, by the end of 2023, as per BEE data, Pune was the city with the highest number of public charging stations, and Maharashtra was the leading state with roughly three thousand public charging stations. When top states are considered, barring the Delhi-NCR region, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala leads in absolute numbers till the end of 2023, indicating a more substantial station presence in southern parts of India.

Regarding the type of chargers, Bharat AC-001/Light EV Chargers are the most common types of public chargers being installed, with 59% of all public charging stations having at least one charging gun of this type. These chargers work for smaller form factors like 2 & 3 wheelers and even though passenger cars & LCVs, however considering charging time, these chargers are more suitable for a 2/3-wheeler. Type-II AC chargers offering a power output of 7.2 to 22 kW are also increasingly considering usage potential amongst 3 & 4-wheelers.

Amongst the fast charging configurations, considering 4-wheelers, CCS-II has been widely adopted by most auto-OEMs in India, leading to the increased share of CCS-II offerings in charging stations. As per BEE data, around 20% of the charging stations in the country in May 2023 offered at least one charging gun of CCS-2, which increased to 28% by December 2023, indicating consensus amongst OEMs and CPOs for developing a common interoperable charger type at least in case of 4-wheeler passenger cars. Consequently, CHAdeMO-type chargers, which were initially set by CPOs, have seen a minor decline in absolute numbers.

With most slow chargers offering 1 gun per charger and fast chargers offering two-gun/charger, India’s EV to charging point ratio has shot up to 120-150:1, diverging away from the global benchmark targets of 10:1. But once we categorically analyse the numbers with the current charging behaviour of riders in India, the numbers are not daunting.

One important factor that is overlooked is the existence of captive uses such as last-mile delivery, which makes extensive utilisation of captive charging. Additionally, EV fleets have a good adoption rate for 4-wheelers, with captive charging being the most common method.

Most of the electric 2W in the personal category are currently charged at home. Additionally, over 80% of the charging for personal electric four-wheelers happens at home. Thus, the actual demand for public charging cannot be fully captured from a need for setting up a number of chargers per EV from global benchmarks of countries with advanced EV adoption. However, setting up of charging stations at housing societies in urban areas is going to pose a challenge to the home behaviour once numbers increase, so scaling of public chargers cannot be decelerated if EV adoption is to be sustained.

Availability, Payment and Challenges:

One of the initial set of issues with users was the discoverability of charging stations, considering users have to check for multiple apps. However, as the number of charging stations installed by different sets of CPOs increases, focusing on other parts of the country rises, discoverability as an issue becomes less critical. The EV consumers can be broadly divided into commercial fleet users, individuals driving frequently intra-city and individuals with high inter-city usage. Then, it is only the users with high inter-city usage who are likely to face the issues with discoverability the most. The real challenge for the rest of the users is the availability and reliability of charging points.

The availability issue can range from getting a slot for charging, problems in connecting the charger and initiating the charging process to extreme cases where the user reaches the charging spot only to figure out that guns are not working or are in a bad condition, considering the cases of public vandalism of un-manned charging stations.

Payments for the charging stations are another challenge where they need to have money in e-wallets of respective CPOs to initiate charging. Payments are a relatively low-hanging fruit for India, which has robust payment infrastructure like UPI. A UPI implementation uniformly adopted by major CPOs, where the user only needs to scan on reaching the charging station and pay, can, to a large extent, address the payment part of the network-to-network interoperability, in which one of the crucial aspects is allowing seamless payments across different CPO network for end-customers.

Hardware interface inter-operability & standardisation is another challenge for end-users. At least amongst 4-wheelers in India, the consensus amongst stakeholders has converged towards adopting CCS-II. However, this is not safe from disruption if any of the major OEMs assume a different type of charger or increase penetration of any other global OEM entering into India. Regarding 2 & 3-wheelers, a common charging standard is still not present, which limits the scaling up of charging infrastructure.

Standardisation is a challenge not only concerning fixed charging but also with swapping stations. Despite an initial push from the government end to standardise swapping, industrial players demanded relaxed norms around standardisation considering the nascent industry. However, increasing users, especially amongst commercial 2 & 3-wheeler users adopting swapping, will eventually call for standardisation to scale up the adoption.

Way Forward:

The need for scaling up charging stations, especially amongst high-rise urban areas, where home-charging is expected to be a challenge, is undebatable.

More comprehensive training about systems needs to be provided to officials across state entities and additional support for CPOs needs to be pushed from the state government end to accelerate charging infra development across different pockets of the country to drive India’s sustainability goals further.

 

 

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