Pollution-free, decongested and zero emissions. This is what electric vehicles offer Delhi, but its current policy does not achieve this.
Home to 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, with a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emission intensity by 33 to 35 percent by 2030, India faces a colossal challenge in reducing air pollution and emissions. That’s why policymakers have turned to Electric Vehicles (EVs) for answers.
By side-stepping the combustion engine, EVs do not emit the pollution and emissions that regular vehicles do, that results in poor public health and ecological damage. India is already seeing the repercussions of both; a growing trend of extreme weather events and 1.2 million deaths attributed to air pollution in India in 2017 alone.
Delhi has been praised for its EV policy that aims for 25 percent of new vehicle registrations by 2023 to be electric. An ambition that is not surprising considering that it is the WHO’s 6th most polluted city in the world.
With the stakes so high, momentum is gaining on EVs. Car manufacturers such as Mahindra have released, or are planning the release of electric cars. National Government is following too. A slash on GST for EVs and chargers and the launch of Phase II of FAME India, a scheme which provides subsidies and incentives for the adoption of EVs, shows the government’s appetite for EVs, and it’s matched at the state level.
Delhi has been praised for its EV policy that aims for 25 percent of new vehicle registrations by 2023 to be electric. An ambition that is not surprising considering that it is the WHO’s 6th most polluted city in the world, and at its worst, just breathing in the city is equivalent to smoking over 40 cigarettes per day. To achieve its target, the Delhi state government has authorised a committee to take charge.
However, Delhi’s EV Policy, or any EV policy for that matter, will not achieve the EV utopia of decongested, non-polluting and zero-emission cities unless it is accompanied by a range of policies. Using Delhi as a study, this article will identify and address the false promises of the EV utopia.
The obsession with EVs would lead you to believe that the majority of Delhi’s air pollution originates from the transport sector. It is not true. Transport contributes to 17 percent of total primary PM2.5 (fine particulates that are smaller than 2.5 micrometres, that can be inhaled by humans) in Delhi, and of this only half comes from the exhaust. The remainder is road dust, along with brake/tyre wear. So, an EV policy in Delhi will only target at most 10 percent of the ambient air pollution as EVs still suffer from the same brake and tyre wear and have no effect on road dust.
For a sustainable and long-term change, a multisector regional strategy is needed to solve Delhi’s air pollution crisis.
Other major sources of pollution include power plants and industry (23 percent of primary PM2.5), fuel combustion in cookstoves (20 percent) and the burning of agricultural and municipal waste (12 per cent). On top of this, only 40 percent of PM2.5 exposure originates from inside Delhi, with the remaining 60 per cent coming from neighbouring states and further afield. For a sustainable and long-term change, a multisector regional strategy is needed to solve Delhi’s air pollution crisis.
A key objective of Delhi’s EV policy is to provide a web of charging and battery swapping facilities 3km from anywhere in Delhi, to ensure it's easy to recharge vehicles. A desirable goal, but what fuel source is being used to generate electricity for the charging facilities?
If charging facilities rely on fossil fuel power stations, you are just releasing air pollution at the power plant, instead of at the exhaust pipe. Albeit the power plant may be outside of the city, but air pollution can travel hundreds of kilometres. Already the majority of Delhi’s air pollution is from outside its boundaries, so relying on fossil fuel power plants from outside the city will not solve the crisis.
Only 10 percent of Delhi’s energy comes from renewable energy, and the NITI predicts that even if all of India’s ambitious renewable targets are met, coal is going to remain the backbone of India’s energy source with a share of 42-50 percent, and renewables lacking behind at 7-12 per cent until 2047. Except from the Delhi Solar Policy 2016, Delhi has no specific policy on top of national policy that re-energises an effort on renewables. Thus, it appears that Delhi’s electric vehicles will remain reliant on fossil fuels.
India’s renewable energy costs have fallen to the lowest in the Asia Pacific region, and now 14 percent cheaper than coal.
Pollution standards introduced in 2015, and further standards for coal power plants may be seen as the solution. Yet, non-compliance is commonplace and estimated to have cost 76,000 lives in the first three years of the 2015 standards. Clean coal technology may also be seen as a means to enable future coal consumption but these emission-reducing schemes have proven problematic as confirmed by the clean coal’s poster child, Kemper Power Plant, that has abandoned clean coal. Others argue it is worth using the vast coal reserves to secure energy independence, but at what cost? It will require mining some of India’s most biodiverse areas, which provide vital ecosystem services to the whole of India including water purification and food production.
That’s why alongside the EV policy, Delhi must transition to renewable energy to ensure that it is not shifting pollution and emissions from the road to power plants. India’s renewable energy costs have fallen to the lowest in the Asia Pacific region, and now 14 percent cheaper than coal. Here lies a window for India to lower its carbon emissions, clean its air and become a technological leader in renewable energies.
As Delhi is set to become the most populous city in the world by 2028, and is already the 4th most congested city in the world, simply replacing vehicles with EVs will not alleviate the socioeconomic consequences of congestion. Nor does it address the road dust or brake and tyre wear that contributes to over 40 percent of ambient air pollution from the transport industry in Delhi. Delhi’s EV policy, offering grants for residential and non-residential building owners and developers to install private charging points, will only encourage everyone to swap their vehicle with an EV.
The upcoming launch of the Delhi Master Plan 2041 offers a chance to make EVs the centre of a new vision for Delhi. At the core of Delhi’s transit should be the metro, transporting individuals far across the city, not the car. Having already secured 60 percent of its energy from a solar farm in Madhya Pradesh, and with an expansion of 60 km set to begin, the metro provides a sustainable and vast network across Delhi.
The Master Plan should enforce tactical transit lanes, congestion charge zones for private vehicles, and no-hawking and no-parking zones around metro stations to improve satisfaction in Delhi’s public transport.
Undeniably not everywhere is walkable from a metro station. This is where public transport EVs (buses and autos) could transport individuals from stations to their final destination. Delhi’s EV Policy focuses on exactly this. It guarantees affordable financial support for the purchase of electric autos and a pledge of 1000 electric buses. This budget could be expanded by abandoning the promise to support private charging points, deterring individuals to swap their car with a private EV to reduce road dust and brake and tyre wear, and helping to instead support Delhi’s public transport EVs.
Other measures are needed to ensure it is convenient to use public transport as individuals transition from the car. The Master Plan should enforce tactical transit lanes, congestion charge zones for private vehicles, and no-hawking and no-parking zones around metro stations to improve satisfaction in Delhi’s public transport.
Concentrating on autos to improve last-minute connectivity will likewise avoid the inconveniences of charging cars. Whilst rapid charging technology for cars has improved, it does not triumph over the advancements that have been made in battery swapping technology for autos. Battery swapping allows vehicles to swap to a full recharged battery within minutes and is already being deployed across Delhi.
An EV transition offers the chance to become a leader in developing and manufacturing renewable energy technologies, lithium batteries and battery swapping technology.
Delhi’s policy already supports public battery swapping infrastructure, and it also supports public charging infrastructure for private vehicles. Scrap the latter and expand the financial support available for battery swapping to ensure that public transport EVs can quickly recharge to transport individuals on the last mile of their journey, and again deter individuals from replacing their car to a private EV that will have no effect on road dust and brake and tyre wear in the ambient air.
If Delhi is to achieve the EV utopia, major policy changes have to be made. Difficult, but not without opportunity. An EV transition offers the chance to become a leader in developing and manufacturing renewable energy technologies, lithium batteries and battery swapping technology. Removing the economic burden of congestion, currently costing the city Rs 60,000 crore annually, will increase productivity, reduce accidents and create an attractive environment for investment. So, while EVs offer huge potential for change, it will all be for nothing if they are not part of a larger strategy.
The author is a research intern at ORF Mumbai.
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