The electrification of road transport is vital for India due to its potential to combat air pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance energy security, and drive economic growth. However, the electrification of transport conversation also brings in some lively debates, points out Amit Bhatt, Managing Director (India) for International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)
One main debate revolves around whether electric vehicles (EVs) are truly eco-friendly in India, given the emissions associated with electricity generation from coal-based power plants. Similarly, there is discussion about the limited range of EVs, which is an important concern. Additionally, people worry about a lack of charging infrastructure, and so on.
Let us look at these questions in a little more detail to understand if EVs can really deliver on climate, public health, and economic targets.
Cleaning Transport: An imperative for climate and public health targets
Transportation accounts for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In India, the transport sector’s emissions continue to rise steadily, making up almost 14% of the nation’s CO2 emissions, with road transport contributing 90% of this total. As India strives to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, decarbonizing road transport becomes a vital aspect of meeting climate goals.
A study conducted by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 2018 highlighted that motor vehicle exhaust is a primary source of criteria air pollutants in Delhi, contributing to approximately 40% of the city’s PM2.5 emissions. Tackling transport emissions is crucial for cleaner air and improved public health.
Given that India has recently surpassed Japan to become the world’s third-largest automobile market, the Indian auto industry holds a significant responsibility in achieving climate and public health targets.
The inadequacy of internal combustion engines in meeting climate goals
Research conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) analysed the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from passenger cars and provided insights into the questions surrounding electric vehicles.
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by renewable hydrogen enable a substantial reduction in life-cycle GHG emissions compared to gasoline, diesel, and natural gas-powered cars. Modest blends of biofuels offer minimal GHG reduction benefits, and while increasing biofuel content could further reduce emissions, the limited supply of waste and residue-based biofuels poses a challenge. Food-based biofuels also have negative environmental and social implications.
Moreover, studies on liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles reveal that they have higher emissions than diesel vehicles when considering 20-year global warming potentials and all GHGs, primarily due to methane leakage.
Electric Vehicles: A cleaner option even with India’s existing grid
India’s current electricity grid heavily relies on fossil fuels, yet BEVs still emit fewer greenhouse gases over their lifetimes compared to internal combustion engine vehicles. The efficiency of electric motors contributes to this reduction. In 2021, BEVs in India produced approximately 19%-34% fewer GHG emissions than gasoline cars, and electric two-wheelers performed even better, emitting 33%-50% less than their gasoline counterparts.
Although renewable energy accounted for nearly 11% of India’s electricity production in the financial year 2021-22, the country aims to generate 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030, further enhancing BEVs’ emission reduction potential.
While hydrogen technology may find applications in India’s heavy-duty vehicle fleet, it is evident that zero tailpipe emission vehicles, especially BEVs, hold the key to a sustainable future in most vehicle categories.
India’s ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2070 heavily relies on reducing road transport emissions. To accomplish this, the country must implement robust policies that promote electric mobility while gradually phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles.
Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles or FAME program, has played a pivotal role in driving electric vehicle (EV) uptake in India. Through significant financial incentives for both consumers and manufacturers, it makes EVs more affordable and stimulates domestic production. The program’s focus on developing charging infrastructure addresses range anxiety and enhances consumer confidence in EVs.
The current FAME 2 program ends in March 2024. Therefore, it will be important to promote continuity of FAME or an equivalent national program as it promotes cleaner urban mobility, reducing emissions, and improving air quality. FAME’s emphasis on domestic manufacturing fosters job creation and strengthens India’s position in the global EV market, fostering a sustainable and greener transportation ecosystem.