Union minister for road transport & highways, is highly optimistic about electric vehicles in India, telling Smitha Verma that as the use of electric vehicles grows, the technology will become cheaper and more accessible. Edited excerpts:
When can we expect the electric vehicle policy?
The electric vehicle (EV) policy will come out soon. But what is important is that even before the policy comes into place, we have to see how the EV cars, bikes and buses will be economically viable. The cost of running the BEST buses in Mumbai, which run on diesel, comes to Rs 110 per km. We are now using ethanol as fuel in several buses in Nagpur, the cost of which comes to Rs 78 per km. The EV bus cost currently comes to Rs 60-65 per km. Moreover, electric bikes costing Rs 65,000-70,000 will be available soon, followed by ethanol bikes. So this is going to be a pollution-free, cost effective and economically-viable option. We have already started 200 electric Ola cabs in Nagpur and they are running smoothly. We have set up 20 charging stations for these cabs and more charging points will be set up in parking areas, petrol pumps and even offices.
What are the challenges in effective rollout of EVs?
The problem right now is the cost of the lithium-ion battery. It is expensive, so an EV bus costs around Rs 2 crore. But as volumes increase, the costs will go down, just like solar power. When solar energy was new, the tariff was Rs 16.5 per unit, which is now Rs 2.44 per unit. But let me assure you that as manufacturing of EVs goes up, more players will come into the picture, which will automatically bring down the costs. We will soon come out with schemes for charging station options. So it is just a matter of time before the policy comes out and all doubts will be dispelled and challenges overcome.
But why are manufacturers still reluctant to adapt to EVs?
Whenever there is something new to be done, the established players lack confidence. They don’t want to make new investments. They are more keen on selling the old models, as they are low in cost and high in volumes. But I feel they will come around. I am not planning to shut the petrol-diesel industry. I have asked manufacturers to change their technology. I am not asking them to shut down their business, but to adapt to a cleaner technology. The automobile sector sees a growth of 22% every year, and if it continues to grow at this speed, we have to make a national highway every three years. We should make public transport more commuter-friendly.
But isn’t 2030 an ambitious timeline to achieve electric mobility?
I am assuring you that the system will be developed soon. Automobile hubs will be started in small cities and villages. More people will get employment opportunities. The Rs 4.5-lakh crore automobile industry will turn into a Rs 20-lakh crore industry by then. I think we are capable of moving to 100% electric mobility even before 2030, maybe in the next five to seven years. Mark my words. If everything rolls out as planned, I need only five years to bring the change.
We are not efficient in managing our power supply. Where will electricity be generated for the charging stations that will come up for EVs?
More generation, more losses. No generation, no losses. The state discoms are in a financial mess because of distribution losses. We are coal-surplus and electricity-surplus. The problem is with the distribution. Charging will happen at petrol pumps in big cities, where electric supply is not a problem. In fact, our electric generation will get a new boost and there will be no impact on the grid as we have excess power. Also, we have renewable energy. Power reforms will also happen and by the time EVs reach villages, electricity won’t be an issue.
What is your vision for clean fuel?
In Uttar Pradesh, we have decided to make second-generation ethanol. We will tap the tribal sector to make ethanol from biomass. Nagpur is selling treated sewage water to thermal power stations for the last three years and Rs 18 crore has been generated as revenue. We are looking at doing the same thing for Ganga. We will use methanol to run ships in the near future. Our Rs 7 lakh crore import bill can be reduced if we utilise renewable energy and use biomass fuel. In villages, if such industries come up, people will find more employment, farmers will get more opportunities. We are encouraging EVs, ethanol and methanol. The public transport cost will come down drastically by using such fuels.
What are the incentives that the government is offering for EVs?
We have already kept EVs in the 12% GST slab, which is a concession. That should be a big boost. More incentives will be decided by the Prime Minister and the finance minister when the policy comes into place.
What about the criticism that fuel bills will drop, which will put the burden on EVs?
We import petrol, and if the rate falls in the future, then why should we worry? Shouldn’t that be the idea? This will encourage Make in India initiatives. We have to lower our fuel import bills. The state transport tickets will also go down by 30% when we have EVs. I was criticised for introducing e-rickshaws. But look at them now, they have generated so much employment. The police says crime rate has also gone down because of employment generation.
Source- The Financial Express