Towards an electric fleet

The Union ministry of power has drawn up a draft set of guidelines for constructing appropriate infrastructure to support a fleet of electric vehicles (EVs) nationwide. This is an important development. The Union transport minister had previously said that it was the government’s ambition to have an all-electric fleet of cars on the road by 2030. But the government subsequently scaled that back, with the Union power minister saying that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of vehicles on the road should be electric. These statements, earlier this year, were met with some scepticism because of the difficulty of creating a supportive infrastructure, particularly charging infrastructure. There was some hope expressed that the ministers’ statements would be shortly followed by a suitable policy, but it was delayed. However, the guidelines now revealed demonstrate that the government had the problem well in hand and its seriousness should be welcomed. 

The guidelines focus on the requirements for setting up public charging stations for EVs as well as the ability to charge cars and scooters at home. There are many welcome aspects of the proposed guidelines. For one, the establishment of a public charging station would not require a special licence — truly unusual, surely, in a country in which bureaucrats prefer to ensure that they have control over new enterprises. Furthermore, there will be no restrictions on the owners of EVs charging them at home. Such charging will be carried out at the same tariff at which household appliances are charged. Meanwhile, the cost of charging at a public station will be determined by the electricity regulator for the state — however, it cannot be more than 15 per cent higher than the average cost of supply. This would ensure that states do not see electric vehicle charging as a source of cross-subsidy for other electricity users. Anyone setting up a power-charging station will have to be connected as a priority by any company that has the power distribution licence locally; and, subsequently, the power-charging station will be afforded open access to the grid, meaning it will be able to contract to buy power from the generation firm it regards the cheapest and most reliable. 

Some concern, however, may surround the exact infrastructure requirements for a power-charging station, which too are in the guidelines. For example, it will be required to have a transformer sub-station. While the lack of licensing is commendable, the long list of technical hoops that a station will have to jump through needs pruning. It is best to ensure that after setting up the safety standards, other requirements are left up to the market. Altogether, however, there is much to this set of guidelines that engenders hope for the development of an appropriate infrastructure for an electric vehicle fleet. What is now needed is a push to carmakers to better design and market electric vehicles. The other question is one that states will have to take up on priority: How will land be assigned to power-charging stations? They can be quite land-intensive. Union territories should perhaps show how it can be done through pilot projects.

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