Unlocking India’s potential for electrification of transport

UNEP DTU Partnership's research looks at the large potential for electric vehicles in India's major cities and why it is yet to be fulfilled.

December 27, 2017

There is a favourable national climate when it comes to electric vehicles in India, and the national government is pushing for electrification of transport. Usually this should translate into lots of electric cars on the streets, but in India that is not the case.

UNEP DTU undertook a survey in Hyderabad, a major Indian city, to understand this phenomenon. The analysis reveals that the key barriers faced by electric vehicles in India are a lack of awareness of national policies and programmes at the city level, high capital costs, and anxiety with regard to availability of charging infrastructures, driving range, resale value, driving speed, acceleration, energy cost, maintenance cost, and environmental benefits.

Lacking awareness 
Senior economist at the Cleaner Energy Development programme at UNEP DTU, Subash Dhar, has been working on promoting low carbon and sustainable transport in India since 2010 and his analysis of the situation is clear: “There is huge potential for electric vehicles and electrification of transport in India, but it has not been realized because of a disconnect between government policies at national level and cities where the implementation would happen”.

The future looks bright for electric vehicles in general, but despite the intentions to increase electrification of the Indian transport sector, significant results are yet to be seen.

At the national level progressive incentives, such as tax exemptions on electric vehicles, exist along with a national aim of achieving 33-35% decarbonisation of the Indian economy by 2030.

But at the local level, in the major cities, UNEP DTU research shows very little awareness of both government incentives to buy electric vehicles as well as the existence and possibilities of using electricity instead of fossil fuels to power both 4 and 2 wheelers.

As an example, only 7% of consumers in Hyderabad were aware of both electric vehicles and government incentives, while more than half never heard of either.
Added to this is a cautious attitude about the range of electric vehicles and lack of charging stations.

Electric vehicles and the environment 
As part of the UN Environment project Promoting Low Carbon Transport in India, that concluded in 2015, UNEP DTU developed a roadmap for electric vehicles and developed alternative scenarios for electric vehicle diffusion and their impacts on environment. The roadmap clearly highlights that pushing the use of electric vehicles can help the global climate.

Indian cities are struggling with extreme air pollution. According to a WHO database a large number of the 100 most polluted cities in the world are located in India, with pollution in New Delhi reaching 15 times the level WHO regards as “critical”. School are closing and trains and flights cancelled due to low visibility.

These are all issues that an electrification of the transport sector can contribute to solving, but to make sure national policy on climate change is diffused to the local level, focus needs to be on both awareness and the problems facing the cities.

Results have to come from the ground level

Electrification of transport can play a huge role in reaching the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement targets and India’s Nationally Determined Contributions, if it is combined with decarbonisation of electricity.

It can also contribute to achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 7 on affordable and clean energy goal 9 on Industry, innovation and infrastructure, goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities, and goal 13 on climate action.

But results have to come from action at the ground level, mainly within the cities.
“Cities have to have enabling policies, and at the moment they do not, because they don’t see the connection between the overall climate goals and their local problems, such as air pollution”, Subash Dhar points out.

Enabling policies cover areas such as easy access to charging stations and parking spaces reserved for electric vehicles and also electrifying and improving public transport.

Addressing the right issues
Talking about air pollution and social mobility instead of the Paris Agreement can contribute to shifting local policy towards a more progressive approach to electrification of transport.

But only reaching policymakers at the local level is not enough. If a change in Indian transport is to be achieved you have to reach people on the streets as well, Subash Dhar believes.

“Many people in India still struggle with their basic needs and livelihood. Talking about global CO2 targets is not important to them, but if they can see an improvement in their lives from choosing an electric motorcycle instead of a regular one, then change can happen.”

The technology for a greener and healthier Indian transport sector already exists. UNEP DTU is now building on the results of Promoting Low Carbon Transport in India to strengthen institutional capacity in urban areas. The aim is to improve mobility for the local population and at the same time lowering CO2 emissions.