World EV Day 2023: EVs hold the promise to combat air pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ensure energy security, and foster economic growth
On this World EV Day, let’s remember that the electrification of India's transportation sector is not merely a choice; it's an imperative. It holds the promise of combatting air pollution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring energy security, and fostering economic growth. With the rapid urbanisation of the country and the ever-increasing number of vehicles on its roads, air pollution has emerged as a grave public health concern in many Indian cities.
Transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) presents a compelling solution to mitigate harmful emissions, thereby leading to cleaner air and improved public health outcomes. Furthermore, as India is committed to fulfilling its climate goals, the electrification of transport stands as a pivotal path to decarbonise the sector, align with long-term environmental objectives, and spur innovation and economic opportunities.
Yet, the discourse around the electrification of transport is accompanied by lively debates. One of the most prominent debates centers on whether EVs are genuinely eco-friendly in India, given the emissions associated with electricity generation from coal-based power plants. Another crucial concern is the limited range of EVs, which affects their practicality. Additionally, the scarcity of charging infrastructure is a worry that often surfaces in these discussions.
Let's delve deeper into these questions to assess if EVs can genuinely deliver on climate, public health, and economic targets.
Cleaner Transport: A Necessity for Climate and Public Health
The transportation sector accounts for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In India, emissions from transportation continue to rise steadily, constituting almost 14 per cent of the nation's CO2 emissions, with road transport being responsible for 90 per cent of this total. As India strives to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, the decarbonisation of road transport emerges as a critical component of reaching its climate objectives.
A study conducted in 2018 by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) emphasised that motor vehicle exhaust is a primary source of criteria air pollutants in Delhi, contributing to approximately 40% of the city's PM2.5 emissions. Addressing emissions from the transportation sector is imperative for achieving cleaner air and improved public health.
Considering that India has recently surpassed Japan to become the world's third-largest automobile market, the Indian auto industry bears a significant responsibility in meeting climate and public health targets.
The Ineffectiveness of Internal Combustion Engines in Achieving Climate Goals
Research conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has thoroughly examined the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with passenger cars and provided valuable insights into the electric vehicle debate.
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by renewable hydrogen exhibit a substantial reduction in life-cycle GHG emissions compared to gasoline, diesel, and natural gas-powered vehicles. Modest blends of biofuels offer marginal GHG reduction benefits, and while increasing biofuel content might further reduce emissions, the limited supply of waste- and residue-based biofuels poses a challenge. Food-based biofuels also entail negative environmental and social consequences.
Furthermore, studies on liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles reveal that they have higher emissions than diesel vehicles when considering a 20-year global warming potential and all GHGs, primarily due to methane leakage.
Electric Vehicles: A Cleaner Choice Even with India's Current Grid
India's current electricity grid heavily relies on fossil fuels. However, BEVs still emit fewer greenhouse gases over their lifetimes compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, thanks to the efficiency of electric motors. In 2021, BEVs in India emitted approximately 19%-34% fewer GHG emissions than gasoline cars, and electric two-wheelers outperformed their gasoline counterparts, emitting 33%-50% less.
Although renewable energy accounted for nearly 11% of India's electricity production in the financial year 2021-22, the country aspires to generate 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030, thereby further enhancing BEVs' emission reduction potential.
While hydrogen technology may find applications in India's heavy-duty vehicle fleet, it is evident that zero tailpipe emission vehicles, particularly BEVs, hold the key to a sustainable future across most vehicle categories.
India's ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2070 heavily hinges on curbing emissions from road transport. To achieve this, the country must enact robust policies that encourage electric mobility while gradually phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles.
India's transition to electric vehicles represents a promising pathway to a cleaner and more sustainable future for the nation. As EV technology continues to advance and the adoption of renewable energy accelerates, the vision of a greener and more environmentally friendly transportation system in India becomes increasingly attainable.
The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) program, commonly known as FAME, has played a pivotal role in driving electric vehicle (EV) adoption in India. By offering substantial financial incentives to both consumers and manufacturers, it has made EVs more accessible and stimulated domestic production. The program's emphasis on developing charging infrastructure addresses range anxiety and bolsters consumer confidence in EVs.
(Amit Bhatt is managing director (India) for the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).