Friday, May 17, 2019

Challenges and promises of EV technology in the country ..

Basic elements of an electric vehicle.
India is presently going through an electric vehicle revolution. The present government has done good things to the electric vehicle industry in the country. Of the 175 GW renewable energy capacity target for the country by 2022 (raised from 100 GW) , 100 GW is proposed to be renewable energy through solar means.

Most of by now are well versed with the electric vehicle (EV) terminology and technology. It runs on Lithium-ion batteries which provide the power for the vehicle. These are the ones with the highest energy capacity per unit weight (specific capacity or specific energy) in the industry of approximately 70-250 Wh/kg. An EV has barely 20 moving parts compared to 2000 for a car running on spark ignition (petrol driven) or internal combustion engine (IC, diesel driven) engine. The earlier complex mechanisms and drives in spark ignition engines is missing in the new electric vehicles.

Here is an Autocar doc (click here..) which is a good Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) in the EV technology .. A must read for all EV enthusiasts ..

Why is it that EV technology and electric vehicles around the country and the world has not progressed fast ? Here we are listing some of the important issues and challenges faced by the electric vehicle industry in India.

1. Costly batteries, accounting for almost 50% of the cost of EVs. The high costs of Lithium and Cobalt oxide as the anode in these batteries (click here for the Cobalt mining in Africa Congo Republic) are responsible for the high costs as these Lithium-ion batteries are imported from China in most cases. The Suzuki-Toshiba-Denzo battery plant coming up in Gujarat can bring the costs to affordable levels in the future.

Globally Li-ion batteries which cost $600/KWh in 2012, cost $250/KWh in 2017 and is likely to cost $100 in 2024, on increase in demand due to economies of scale. Just like the cost of photovoltaic panels have come crashing down due to surge in demand from China and arouns the world, a boss in demand for EV will surely bring down the high costs of batteries and hence the cost of EVs.

Automobiles transition to Lithium based electric cells
2. Range anxiety - when we enter an EV, the first thought which comes to our mind is whether we will be able to complete the journey, ie. how far will the electric charge in the batteries last. The average range across the world for EVs is about 250 kms or 150 miles.

The best TESLA vehicles can go upto 500 km in one charge. BMW has already experimented with cars with ranges of upto 850 kms. Better energy storage technologies, lighter batteries and more frequent charging points spread across the urban and rural landscape can help address the range anxiety question to a greater degree among EV owners.

3. Breaks in availability of electricity in rural areas / inconsistency in availability - power cuts are characteristic of Indian rural towns and could be a major demotivator for rural folks taking to this technology.

4. Power surge often in the electric line can damage batteries while charging - these surges can damage the sensitive charging circuits in the charging systems and batteries resulting in costly repairs and replacements.

5. High costs of EVs, in the range of INR 10-12 lakhs - though there are fewer parts in an EV compared to a petrol engine driven car, the high battery costs jack up the vehicle costs. The Energy Efficient Services Ltd (EESL) triggered demand for EV across the country by floating a tender for 10,000 EVs , which was won by Tata Motors Ltd.to be supplied by 2030. On a similar cost, Mahindra has also been given a similar contract for a limited number of vehicles, 2000 nos.

Major Indian manufacturer, Mahindra (former Reva), e2o is withdrawn
6. Low economies of scale, entering a vicious circle of costs and demand. Like the chicken and egg story, when costs are high, there are less customers, since there are less customers, the costs remain high .. It is to break this jinx that EESL has provided the demand for the EV manufacturers in the country for about 10,000 cars to be used by the Government to be supplied by 2030 or even 2025.

7. Higher tax : The present 12% tax should be reduced for the time being to bring in more customers. Norway gives besides tax deduction, toll waivers, registration fee waivers, free parking for EV etc,,

8. No firm and stable government policy on EVs, though the government has said that all government vehicles will be EV driven by 2030. Will the new government have the same commitment to promote EV as the previous governments ? Will the tax structure change ?

9. Less dealer interest - automobile dealers get their maximum returns on investment through maintenance activities at the workshop. In electric cars, since maintenance is less, the revenue stream from maintenance activities is reduced. This is a de-motivator for dealers to selling EVs. They are not very enthusiastic to set up charging stations and maintenance stations for EVs across the country with the same rigour as for SI engines.

10. Poor service network and long service delays : Due to low penetration of EV in the population, the service network is also very sparsely located across the country. The same chicken and egg story repeats here too. Unless thereare more EVs on the road, the service stations do not get vehicles for maintenance and they are unable to meet their expenses.  My friend talks of the extreme delay of almost a week when he used to give his electric car in Mysore for repairs, the reason being the maintenance guy does not stock enough spare parts and orders it when needed, which takes time to deliver.

11. The absence of a reliable EV charging network across the country at a very reasonable cost.  The present high expenses / costs for setting up a charging network of Rs 2 lakhs should be reduced to Rs 1 lakh so that more charging stations can come up.

12. Polluting potential of existing energy plants : EV fuel cells store electricity which has been generated by either coal based plants, or by hydel, wind, solar, nuclear route etc. Coal based power generating plants continue to pollute the environment. Nuclear plants have still to prove their risk potential given the long lasting environmental damage nuclear plants could do to the environment as the examples in Chernobyl and Fukushima of late testify.

Solar powered car developed by Indian Space co. (ISRO) 2017
13. With research into solar charging improving across the world, from the present low rates of 18-20% energy conversion rate of solar energy to useful electric energy (lab results point to even 45%), if the conversion rates improve to 25-30%, the charging times could be fast and smaller batteries will come to the market with low weights. The demand for EV will then rise in the country.

ISRO has developed a car which runs entirely on solar energy and they have used highly efficient, space grade solar panels for the car. They are working over-time to help release this technology to commercial EV industry as a spin-off of the country's space research activities.

14. Battery swapping or battery charging option - an automobile battery if it is to be swapped will result in  at least 10-15 battery packs to be swapped every time or every twenty four hours, depending on the demand. This is impractical in the present setup across the country. Over time, we hope battery swapping will be more common place as batteries get smaller, more portable and efficient.

15. Lithium ion batteries work on a Lithium Cobalt oxide electrode. Globally 70% and more of Cobalt comes solely from Congo in Africa, the only major global producer. Congo already is in the grip of a bloody civil war over the metal Cobalt, accelerating the situation further, limiting the availability of Cobalt globally. Unless technological research is able to bring another metal electrode as a more efficient metal to substitute for Cobalt, Cobalt and Lithium ion batteries are going to a great challenge for the world, putting a great stress on the Cobalt supply chain from Africa to China and to the rest of the world.

16. Sourcing and Disposing / refurbishing end-of-life batteries - The sourcing of batteries given the scarcity of Cobalt-Lithium oxide from Africa and the resultant refurbishing and disposal of used batteries can be a major challenge for the modern world as waste processing is becoming expensive and waste disposal is getting more and more challenging for the modern day factory employees.

The Promises of EV :
  • The greatest contribution of EV is going to be the reduction of pollution and smoke in the cities. Better and cleaner air to breathe translates to healthier individuals and less drain on the healthcare system of the country.
  • Reduced dependence on oil (solar energy generation) - reducing our BOP crisis. Foreign exchange can gainfully be used for import of medicines and technology that can be used for the development of the country.
  • As EVs are more suited for autonomous cars, we can expect in future with EVs on the roads, more orderly traffic, fast movement of traffic and less pollution and congestion.
  • The shift in the geopolitics of oil from western countries and South East Asia and Africa will help transform many of the poorer areas of Africa to pursue oil based growth and development.
  • Shift of global economic power from the oil rich Arab states to the west
Click here for an Economist video which states that the future of transportation is electric vehicles ..

Heavy Commercial electric vehicles : EVs have penetrated not only the personal transportation market, but the commercial vehicles market too. Click here for a link on Electric trucks market in the world. As per a March '18 HBR article, FedEx and UPS have a couple of thousands of hybrids or EVs already on the roads, while Ford has 150 Ford hybrids on the road, which is a good sign.

Benefits :
  • Mileage : An ordinary 18 wheeler would give about 6 mpg, while an average 10 wheeler truck gives a mileage of app 10 miles per gallon (mpg). Operating an EV truck is equivalent to getting 52 mpg. Combined with the benefits of lower operating costs, this is going for the kill
  • High starting torque : Higher starting torque helps these vehicles to move from 0-30 mph in as short time as possible making the deliveries fast and reliable. 
  • Ability to add digital controls to the electric propulsion yields more precision in driving.
  • Smart routing - where routes and cargo are combined or split leads to smart routing and this has added $ 400 million profits to UPS in recent years. A km not run through smart routing is the greenest km ..
  • No sound and no pollution adds great brand nenefits to the operator and showcases the company's commitment to sustainability
It is hoped in the coming years, these challenges will be overcome by the government and a proactive policy encouraging widespread use of EV (click here for benefits of EV technology) will be adopted across the country.

George ..

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