Fleet Electrification to Tackle Urban Pollution

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    Syllabus: GS3/ Conservation/Environmental Pollution & Degradation

    In Context

    • Considering the worsening air quality index (AQI) in many Indian cities, there is a need to push top gear on the pace of transition to e-trucks.

    Urban Pollution in India

    • Concerns of Air Quality:
      • The air quality index (AQI) in many Indian cities has entered the red zone several days this year. 
      • Millions of people have to face serious health hazards due to recurring increases in air pollution. 
    • Role of transport and construction sector:
      • As per two seminal studies pertaining to Delhi, the Urban Emission (2015) and the TERI study (2018), a significant contributor to urban smog is PM2.5 and PM10 pollution, which is caused by the transport and construction sector.
    • Contribution of freight movement:
      • About 9 lakh new trucks are added to Indian roads every year to an already running fleet of 70 lakh trucks. 
      • India carries over 2 trillion tonne kilometres of freight on trucks, annually. 
      • These trucks consume over one-fourth of Indian oil imports and contribute to over 90% of road transport CO2 emissions

    Challenges

    • Potential rise in freight movement:
      • The rate of increase of the truck fleet is expected to keep increasing in a growing network of roads in an emerging economy. 
      • If all these new trucks are powered by diesel-fired internal combustion engines vehicles, as is the case today, our cities will face a greater onslaught of PM2.5 pollution.
    • Low rate of electrification:
      • India has already electrified rail freight transportation, but that caters to only about 20% of the freight carried in the country. 
      • On roads, India’s electric vehicle penetration rate has crossed the 6% mark, but electric trucks remain a challenge due to upfront costs and charging infrastructure constraints. 
    • Cost of e truck:
      • The upfront cost of a mid-range electric truck in India is around ₹1.5 crore compared to about ₹40 lakh for a diesel truck. 
      • This and the cost of charging logistics remain major hurdles in the transition to e-trucks in the country.

    Suggestions

    • e-trucks:
      • In India, transport sector decarbonisation pathways have to be led by truck electrification. 
      • The recent demand for 7,750 e-trucks in India by 2030, if it materialises, will result in the country saving over 800 billion litres of diesel till 2050. 
    • Attracting private capital:
      • Public funding alone cannot meet the transformational scale required. 
      • A pipeline of bankable projects, effectively structured, which can attract private and institutional capital at a ratio of at least six rupees for every rupee of public money is the need of the hour.
    • Capacity building:
      • Electricity demand in the country has increased rapidly and is expected to rise further in the years to come. 
      • In order to meet the increasing demand for electricity in the country, massive addition to the installed generating capacity is required.
    • Green freight corridors:
      • Declaring some of the expressways and national highways as green freight corridors will have a demonstration effect in the country. 
      • Accelerating feasibility studies, demand aggregation, supplier readiness, and a prudent risk allocation strategy are required to create green freight corridors in India. 
      • Such corridors can first evolve in small stretches of 500 kilometres on routes with heavy truck movement. 
    • Creating facilitative infrastructure:
      • Innovative financial instruments, incentivisation of charging infrastructure, facilitation of entrepreneurial efforts, and a conducive regulatory environment in the country can bring forth the much-needed breakthrough for truck electrification in India. 
    Advantages of Electric VehiclesChallenges of Electric Vehicles 
    Lower operating costs: Electric vehicles have lower fuel costs and require less maintenance than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.
    Environmental benefits: EVs produce zero emissions and can significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
    Energy independence: As more renewable energy sources are used to power EVs, it can reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
    Improved performance: EVs have instant torque, which means they can accelerate quickly, and have a smoother and quieter ride.
    Government incentives: Many countries and local governments offer tax credits, rebates, and other incentives to encourage the purchase of EVs.
    Cost reduction: The cost of EVs is constantly reducing as the technology improves and economies of scale increase.
    Convenience: Many electric vehicles have the ability to charge at home using a standard electrical outlet, eliminating the need to visit a gas station.
    Energy security: EV’s use domestic electricity to power the car, reducing the need for oil imports.
    High initial cost: The upfront cost of EVs is still higher than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, making it difficult for many consumers to afford them.
    Limited charging infrastructure: The lack of charging infrastructure makes it difficult for EV owners to travel long distances.
    Battery technology: The current battery technology still has some limitations, such as limited driving range and long charging time.
    Limited domestic manufacturing capabilities: India currently lacks the domestic manufacturing capabilities for electric vehicle components and batteries, making it dependent on imports.
    Lack of awareness: There is still a lack of awareness about the benefits of EVs among the general public in India.
    Lack of standardization: The lack of standardization in charging infrastructure and lack of uniformity in regulations across states and union territories is a challenge.
    Power Grid infrastructure: India’s power grid infrastructure is not fully developed and is not capable of handling the high-power demand of EV charging stations.

    Way Ahead

    • It is commendable that the government is aggressively electrifying the bus fleet, and sets electrification targets for bus aggregators. 
    • However, we must realise the urgency of the need to take such concerted efforts if we want a fresh breath of life in our cities.
    • In this era of urgency, where every breath counts, deploying solutions swiftly is paramount. 
    • The focus must extend to diesel trucks and dust mitigation — significant PM sources requiring immediate attention. This is important both from an energy security perspective and sustainability perspective.
    Roadmap for Electric Vehicles
    – India has set an ambitious goal to become a leader in the electric vehicle market by 2030 with the government laying out a comprehensive roadmap to achieve this goal, which includes several initiatives and policies to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in the country.
    – One of the key initiatives is the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme, which provides subsidies to customers who purchase electric vehicles.
    – The government has also set a target to achieve 30% electric vehicle penetration in the country by 2030.
    – In this regard, the government is also taking steps for the development of domestic manufacturing capabilities for electric vehicles and their components.
    Daily Mains Question
    [Q] Examine the need of transition to e-trucks considering the worsening air quality index in Indian cities. What are the challenges in shouldering this transition?