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India's urban challenge

As urban spaces are increasingly choked—electric vehicles with supportive battery swap stations will mark the way ahead

Indias urban challenge
In a decade or two, nearly 50 per cent of the 1.3 billion people in India will live in urban areas and transportation will perhaps become a major hurdle, particularly in the major cities, which are already choked. Lately, there is a new dimension to this problem—pollution, to which vehicles are a major contributor. It has been medically proven that Indian children have 30 per cent less stamina because of pollution, especially in cities like Delhi, where air pollution is far beyond safe limits, especially during winter.
So, experts have already begun working on a plausible manner to tackle this problem. There is a crying need to fast-track the development of public transport and this is one of the reasons that the metro is being expanded massively in major cities, but last-mile connectivity is critical for the success of public transport and this is perhaps a major hurdle, for which the solution could be electric vehicles. Presently, electric vehicles have not caught on to the desired level because of the prohibitive cost of batteries and the need for frequent and time-consuming charging.
E-rickshaws provide a simple, easy and pollution-free solution. But, its full potential has not yet been completely realised even though it is slowly catching on in Delhi and several north Indian states that are replacing cycle rickshaws. In the matter of a few years, e-rickshaws have grown to 15 lakhs and are expected to double by 2020. E-autos, e-bikes, and e-scooters too are slowly picking up pace. Though the e-vehicle technology is simple and cost-effective, the cost of the battery is quite high and also requires frequent charging, which necessitates the creation of huge infrastructure. For example, e-rickshaws, which can be manufactured in a small shed, cost a little over Rs one lakh but the lithium battery in it costs Rs 60,000. Lead-acid batteries may cost much less at Rs 20,000 but its life is one-tenth, besides requiring more frequent charging. Apart from setting-up charging stations, which are expensive, the high battery cost has reduced the attractiveness of operating e-vehicles.
To overcome this problem, a start-up has come up with a bright idea to have Battery Swap Stations that are expected to revolutionise the use of electric vehicles for last-mile connectivity, especially in major cities. This will virtually reduce the cost of e-rickshaws by half as the battery no longer needs to be owned but leased for rent on a daily basis. The number of e-autos in the country may be in thousands as against half a million petrol, diesel, and CNG autos. Because of the emergence of swap stations, the use of e-autos is going to grow manifold and within a year or two, the majority of autos in the country would become e-autos. This is because, without battery, which will now be leased out, the cost of e-autos would drastically come down.
The start-up, Lithion Power, is perhaps the first to launch Battery Swap Stations in the country. To begin with, it has established battery swap operations in Delhi for public electric vehicles, particularly e-rickshaws. The swap stations will provide batteries for e-autos and e-two-wheelers as well. The company has established five stations in North and North-West Delhi and by the end of March, the company proposes to have 20 such stations.
Unveiling the company's plans, the director of Lithion Power Piyush Gupta indicated that by 2019, Lithion customers will not be more than two km away from a Lithion swap station in NCR. The company proposes to set up at least 500 swap stations in the capital. It will be setting up more than 10,000 such swap stations across the country. If this model is successful, the company proposes to set-up such stations in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and perhaps also in several countries of Africa.
Gupta believes that electric vehicles will be the predominant mode of transportation by 2020. This is because of economics. EVs would be cheaper to manufacture and operate, besides solving urban pollution problems. With economies of scale operating, the cost of e-vehicles, as well as batteries, will fall further as in the case of solar power, mobile phones and LED bulbs in the country.
There are at present only about half a million e-two-wheelers in the country. This is now expected to grow exponentially to several million in the next few years with the availability of leased lithium batteries in every nook and cranny of the country.
"Lithion Power has commercialised a model which simultaneously solves an economic need for its customers and a societal need, without relying on funding from the government. We believe we are the first EV company in the world to make a sustainable model. Lithion aims to become the largest supplier of power to electric vehicles worldwide," Gupta claimed.
The pollution from two-wheelers contributed to nearly half of vehicular pollution in Delhi and hence e-two-wheelers, e-autos and e-rickshaws will make a big difference, besides being much cheaper than fossil fuel-driven vehicles.
This will also create a huge opportunity for the manufacture of lithium batteries in the country with more battery swap stations dotting the landscape. With swap stations being set up, e-buses and commercial vehicles too will become a reality in major cities, providing a cheap solution to the public transport problem plaguing most urban areas. Just as mobile telephony created huge employment, battery swap stations too have tremendous potential for job creation.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)

KR Sudhaman

KR Sudhaman

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