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India’s Messy Electric Vehicle Revolution (nytimes.com)
128 points by denzil_correa 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments



I read recently , just some numbers that many TPS (Thermal power stations) are slowly being shutdown , because of myriad of reasons including water shortages , coal emission norms and falling costs of power (TPS /unit power is much higher than other sources)

https://numerical.co.in/numerons/collection/5afecac0291c55fc...

There are places like Raichur (famous for Rice cultivation down here) that has Super thermal stations that shutdown due to lack of water.

In my home state , we can generate solar power from the rooftops and send it back to the grid and get paid for it. Best part is , I get the panel on a subsidized rate as well. Where i currently stay , solar water heaters are mandatory to get occupancy certificates for individual houses.

Without crediting anyone (and hence labeling myself as pro/con government) , recent norms have forced rethink of dirty fuels. Delhi had a ban on diesel passenger vehicles as well. An example is India's largest car manufacturer Maruti to stop diesel cars by 2020 (https://www.deccanherald.com/business/maruti-to-stop-making-...)

A combination of improved public transport (metros) and these little steps on energy self sufficiency will go a long way in the short to middle term (5-10 years is my guess)

In a hugely negative world , I find these heartening.We have unstable grids , but quite looking forward to stability in electricity.


If only we can get an efficient & cost effective Thorium reactor working, most of the coal plants can be shutdown much sooner. Going by publicly available data, we are no where near a working prototype.


Aren't these also going to be vulnerable to the lack of water problem?


Valid point. For the same generating capacity, water consumption should be similar assuming same location. But a nuclear power plant has different site selection criteria than other plants.


Renewables and batteries will shut them down far far faster then a pie in the sky reactor that probably won't ever happen.


Agreed, we should have a more pragmatic approach while staying invested in Thorium reactor research.


And yet, the Adani group has still commenced operations at the Carmichael mine in Australia [0] - the largest coal mine in Australia. It only exports low grade fuel to India too, and at a loss.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmichael_coal_mine


  An example is India's largest car manufacturer Maruti to stop diesel cars by 2020
I remember they are going to stop diesel car production as the cost to upgrade to BS VI emission norms is higher.


> improved public transport (metros)

Where can I find statistics on how many metro stations are in operation today vs a decade ago?


For India specifically? The wikipedia articles for each metro, perhaps. They provide a timeline when each was constructed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chennai_Metro

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delhi_Metro

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namma_Metro



Thanks, but I was looking for an India-wide statistic, like a graph, so I can see how fast (or slow) we're making progress.


I have been living in Delhi city since a LONG time and I have seen these cropping up mainly on metro routes. There is a major shift towards using public transport in general. Many people having cars have started to prefer e-rickshaw and metro combination for daily travel.

It is very cheap ( about 1 dollar e-rickshaw and metro combined - both ways - basically about 30 dollar your monthly travel is sorted ).

It is cleaner ( Being public mode, there are benefits )

It has become one of the fastest way to travel.


Delhi metro is fantastic — new, modern, floor-through, nicer than NYC’s/London’s.


> It’s messy, improvised and driven by the people. The government and vehicle makers are now trying to gain some control over it.

This is a good introduction but the rest of the article seems to side heavily with the latter (vehicle makers and startups like SmartE) while criticising the "homebrew" market for being "disorganised".

I'm going to disagree for two reasons:

1. From a workers rights point of view, I'm not sure that drivers renting their vehicle from a startup is better than drivers owning their own ride.

2. On a technological level a varied market with many alternatives can sometimes better facilitate innovation as opposed to an oligopoly limited to 2-3 larger actors.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about India in general, so my opinion is that of an uninformed external observer.


>1. From a workers rights point of view, I'm not sure that drivers renting their vehicle from a startup is better than drivers owning their own ride.

I agree with the gist of your comment, however, given that the majority of drivers in India are illiterate and not economically well off (especially considering the maintenance costs as a % of the vehicle's initial MSP), I think it makes sense for them to rent the e-rickshaws out from a centralized provider/operator -- initially, at least -- until the drivers reach a certain level of economic prosperity and familiarity with the technology.

Another option could be the mass training of vocational technicians and other auxiliary support staff in a co-operative framework to keep the whole operation running, thereby creating a ton of good, decently-paying side jobs in the process.


One thing not mentioned in the article is that virtually all of Delhi's autorickshaws are powered by CNG, not gas/petrol. On the other hand, most of India's electricity comes from coal, and dirty coal at that. So is switching to e-rickshaws really a net benefit?


Even dirty coal is possibly better than dirty diesel and petrol. Yes, its dirty: what kind of remediation can be done in a centralized generator, compared to distributed catalytic converters in exhaust (which fail in service, or are not fitted) and a huge burden in NO and related problems.

Coal is bad, polluting, creates health hazards and we need to get rid of it. Petrol and Diesel are not "better" and there are reasons central generation may overall be net beneficial especially given the efficiency of generation, transmission losses and in-engine effects comparing ICE to EV


India has an ambitious goal of generating 175GW from renewable sources by 2022. There are various solar power plants coming up all over the country.

Source: https://www.niti.gov.in/reports [Line item 6]

PS: NITI is the apex advisory body to the Indian Govt.


That's a remarkable commitment. In 2016, NDTV said that India produced 300GW, of which 42GW was renewable. So, the 175GW goal adds 3 times as much. Even 50GW of that going to transportation ... whew!

NITI's report (2015)* says there are still 300M people without electricity, but that "India’s solar potential is greater han 750 GW and its announced wind potential is 302 GW". A fine demonstration of what foresight, will and technical capability can accomplish.

* https://www.niti.gov.in/sites/default/files/energy/175-GW-Re...


India also investing smartly in the nuclear technology, while less smart governments ditching it.


a governments smartness is defined by its investment in nuclear energy? why are renewables not a smart investment?


You still need to generate base load, only hydro out of the three renewables is good with base load, and no, batteries are not a replacement for base load generation. Pumped storage is, but it's pretty inefficient and requires the right physical siting to build.


Base load is a misnomer. Nowadays people talk about dispatchable power. base load is an economic forcing function to justify high efficiency "always-on" generation models. Nobody actually wants this, as much as they want power when they need it. Synchronous condensers, PH, and fast response batteries with some topping up from gas turbines could be as good. Base power is just the low engineering effort answer.

There are other answers than "base load"


A good grid, batteries and power-to-gas is a replacement for base load generation.


Dirty coal and the inefficiencies associated with generating electricity, then storing it in lead-acid batteries and then turning an e-rickshaw is definitely less efficient and far more polluting than autorickshaws running on CNG.


OK, I'll bite. Cite please. Include full lifecycle costs on CNG, including fracking and shipping.



Even with all those losses, the electric vehicle road trip is still better for the climate than driving a gasoline-powered car. Burning that much coal would release about 310 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, compared with 350 kilograms by the 40 gallons of gasoline. Even though coal tends to emit more pollutants than oil for the amount of energy it generates, the efficiency of the electric vehicle, which recharges its battery with every brake, more than makes up the difference.

But.. the article doesn't say "CNG is better" It just says the worst-case costs in the US, for coal sourced power to charge the batteries.


In India, most of the total power used is generated by coal. And yes, natural gas beats coal-powered electricity.


Only if you disregard how natural gas is made. Fracking, and fugitive gas, and transport costs you don't seem to care about make CNG and LNG highly suspect.


Not to mention while CNG is better than gasoline which is way better than diesel. Small internal combustion engines produce large amounts of air pollution.


And there's no cost to mining coal? It also can't be transported through a pipeline like gas can.


Parent didn’t mention petroleum or diesel, just CNG.

CNG has much less pollution than those two things, but emits the same amount of CO2 (in concern of global warming).


Fugitive gas from CNG is a thing. CNG comes from fracking, which wreaks havoc on the water table. You aren't considering the supply chain costs of CNG, but you implicitly do include them for coal, which comes from equally polluting sources.


NG is a byproduct of oil drilling. You either pipe and distribute to do work or burn it off. The former is much better environmentally than the latter.

Countries with local NG supplies, especially developing ones, really should use them.


Is that the case in India? I worked in the Canadian oil industry and most gas wells were dedicated hydrofractured wells - better for the air but way worse for ground water. I'd advise caution about hydrofracturing to any area that doesn't have an excess of water available.


You really think all CNG comes from oil? CNG comes from shale rock-oil, and from in-ground burning of coal to encourage methane production. Any developing economy with access to cheap power should use it, but don't pretend it has no downsides. East Timor is struggling to modernise with a huge oil field offshore and revenue, the story is not all rosy.


Sure. It’s easier to switch a few coal plants to gas, solar, etc than try and convince millions of people to switch to EV’s.

The hard part is done.

The article says the electricity is often stolen. We’ll call that market forces.


Coal power plants are more efficient than internal combustion engines. So yes, e-rickshaws are cleaner.


Are cleaner than CNG rickshaws?


https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/polluti...

"The compressed natural gas run buses are harmful for humans as they emit "nanocarbon" particles which can cause cancer, according to a study conducted by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Though the study was conducted on a very limited sample size in Delhi, CSIR took the findings seriously owing to the health hazard it poses to humans and alerted the central government for further follow up, CSIR's director general Dr MO Garg said on Thursday."

Could it breach Blood Brain Barrier? https://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=19339.php

"Another route by which nanoparticles can enter the brain is via the olfactory nerve, circumventing the blood-brain barrier. The olfactory nerve (nervus olfactorius) has a direct connection to the brain by way of its long processes (axons). It is therefore conceivable that inhaled nanoparticles enter the olfactory nerve and are transported to the brain along the axons"

It says nanoparticles. Not sure nano carbon is included in it.


Some changes are neccesary for reform


Reading between the lines, it seems that a major advantage of e-rickshaws is that it's easier to steal electricity to recharge them vs gas/petrol.


These are a step in the right direction, but are not as environmentally effective as you might think. Major changes in India's grid energy are needed before this will yield significant improvements.

I was the project lead for a (sadly failed) electric autonomous vehicle project in India, the Amritsar Pod[1]. This was using a technology which, when deployed in the west, is vastly environmentally superior to (say) buses. That's for several reasons that are broadly shared with electric rickshaws:

1. As a demand-responsive vehicle, it only runs when there is passenger demand. So (aside from empty-vehicle redistribution movements) there is a minimum occupancy of 25% (for a single person in a 4-person vehicle), and in many cases, the average occupancy is closer to 35%-50%. This is in contrast to buses, which need to keep circulating even when there is little or no demand. A full-occupancy bus is very efficient, but a 50-person-capacity bus that is carrying 4 passengers is more polluting, per-person than a single-occupant SUV. This is in fact the case in America, where the average occupancy of urban buses is 9%. In Europe it's more like 20-25%. But in both cases, pods are still more efficient.

2. As electric vehicles, they of course produce no tailpipe emissions, and are as clean as whatever grid they draw power from.

So put these two factors together, and it's an environmentally winning proposition in the West (although it hasn't caught on there either, yet). But interestingly, this calculation doesn't work in India:

1. The urban buses are hardly low-occupancy. Average occupancies tend to be around 55%, and can reach 85% in some cases. Replacing these with 25%-50% occupancy pods is only a win if the pods are significantly cleaner.

2. The grid energy is horribly dirty.

What I found when I did a CO2 analysis of my system is that what would have reduced CO2 by > 90% in the West was merely a break-even proposition in India. Didn't increase CO2 -- and would've been worth doing on the basis of travel time savings, pedestrian conflicts, etc. -- but didn't actually help with CO2 either. This will be the case for any electric vehicle until India's grid becomes significantly cleaner.

1: https://www.ultraglobalprt.com/wheres-it-used/amritsar-india...


I'm in a major city, and the grid isn't very stable, but stable enough for me to get an electric vehicle that I need to charge once a week. Solar panels are easy to get, but the utilities are realizing that nett metering isn't a good deal for them - my otherwise high electricity bill will be zero if I get solar panels, and so they have no incentive to service my house.

That aside, because our cities are so crowded and generally hot already, everyone is very keenly aware of the heat and smoke diesel and petrol vehicles put out - if electric vehicles are affordable and charging infrastructure is in place, there's going to be no problems with adoption. The issue, of course, is that making them affordable and setting up charging infra go against the interests of the oil and gas companies that built India up to where it is so far.

To its credit, though, the government seems keen to get things going, even at the expense of breaking earlier promises to big oil and big auto. Now it's just figuring out the chicken and egg situation of bringing down costs and setting up infra without clear current demand.


We really need to move to a model of charging a flat fee for a connection, and then metered rate for electricity. Wrapping everything up in the metered rate just creates annoying disincentives for the utility companies.


Messy? "The automakers are loosing business because of custom made electric vehicles" should have been the title.


Typical NYT bias when it comes to reporting on India. Not the first time, certainly won't be the last.


In the looping video at the top of the article, notice how confidently the woman in the red & yellow sari steps out in front of the rickshaw (making it wait for her to cross).


Right of way works a little differently in India, different from what you may be used to.


I like it. I like pedestrians asserting themselves in traffic.

I think in urban areas pedestrians should have precedence. Walking is our natural way of getting around.


In most places in Europe or the US, you wouldn't have to stand in the way of a vehicle to get them to stop. You would just use the nearest crosswalk and vehicles will nearly always stop as soon as it's clear that you're crossing.


India is an exception to that too. There they will speed up to scare you out of the crosswalk


“I have struggled a lot,” he said in an interview in the one-room flat he shares with his eldest son. “But now she can use her hands. Now she can walk.”


About 60 million Indians hop on an e-rickshaw every day, analysts estimate. Passengers pay about 10 rupees, or 14 cents, for a ride. In a country with limited shared transit options and a vast population of working poor people, the vehicles provide a vital service as well as a decent living for drivers, who are mostly illiterate.


What is the citation for the drivers being "mostly illiterate"? Sounds like bullshit to me.

The country is something like 70-80% literate and a significant part of the illiterate population consists of old people.


Memory is foggy and I don't have a citation but didn't the definition of literacy in India just involved the ability to read/write your name (officially by govt)? I wouldn't be surprised if a significant percentage was functionally illiterate - that doesn't mean they aren't smart though - likely smarter than the author :)


India auto sector (mostly ICE based) is a bit in the doldrums. It seems to me that govt. just maybe wants to let it be in favor of a longer term move to electric.




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