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Changing temperatures and weather patterns are indications of Climate change. While some change gradually happens naturally but since the 1800s, human activities have escalated the process. The burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas has been a key contributor as it generates greenhouse gas emissions which blanket the earth trapping the Sun’s heat and resulting in higher temperatures, but this is just the beginning. Everything is connected if one aspect changes. It has a drastic impact down the line droughts, fire, floods etc., are some of the outcomes, and we have been experiencing them. 

Thus, the worldwide focus is on moving to a greener, sustainable world. The same was reflected in the prime minister’s commitment at COP26 to be an emission-free nation by 2070. One key source of emissions is vehicles, and the first move is to change that. This article looks at the role of electric vehicles (EVs) in mitigating climate change.

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How bad is climate change in India?

Climate change is a global problem, but India has first-hand witnessed the devastating effects of greenhouse gases. Any doubts one may have been put to rest by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s predictions of increasingly erratic weather patterns – frequent and intense heat waves, extreme rainfalls, unpredictable monsoons, more cyclones etc. – for India.

Even now, India is recording more severe floods, cloudbursts, and landslides as the effects of climate change come to bite. Experts have long warned of this outcome in India, given its unprecedented levels of air pollution. For example, New Delhi has been given the unenviable crown of the most polluted city in the world for the fourth year running. The city saw a 14.6 per cent jump in PM2.5 concentrations in 2021. India is also home to 63 of the 100 most polluted cities.

The health effects of this pollution are grave, with 35 per cent of the population of India exposed to emissions above the limits, as determined by the World Health Organization (WHO), leading to over 1.24 million deaths annually.

What is the contribution of transportation to pollution?

While multiple sectors contribute to greenhouse gases, transportation and road transport are major culprits. Thanks to the exhaust produced by internal combustion engine vehicles, passenger travel contributed 62 per cent of emissions attributed to road transport.

The nationwide lockdown provided evidence of the role transportation plays in carbon emissions. Between March and May 2020, the levels of nitrogen dioxide nationwide recorded their lowest value in 20 years. This gas is a good measure of pollution because it is primarily produced by burning fuel in vehicles, power plants, and other industrial processes.

How can electric vehicles help mitigate climate change in India?

Electric vehicles are known for not producing exhaust during operation, preventing pollution from engine emissions. They also avoid pollution from tyres and brakes. India has witnessed the proliferation of electric vehicles. Auto companies have released or announced the release of new EV models. The quickest to pick pace has been the 2-wheeler market with players like Greta Electric Scooters, Okinawa, Pure EV, BGauss to name a few.

The wave is catching momentum thanks to the Government’s push to make EVs a lucrative choice for both the manufacturer and customer. More and more EVs take to the road. However, there is still a long way to go before one can rejoice. The percentage of EVs of the total cars in India is still low, with only 0.15 per cent of all cars registered between April 2019 and March 2020 being electric.

Interestingly, India has seen the electrification of other means of transport, including micro-mobility options like auto rickshaws, scooters, bikes, etc. While people EV critics often point out that the electricity used to charge some EVs comes from dirty sources, the fact is that it is still greener than using fossil fuels. EVs mean less transport of carbon-based fuel, a vast pollution source.

Moreover, the argument becomes mute as more power plants switch to renewable energy. Some EV owners can even arrange to generate the electricity used for charging through solar panels. In addition, fleets and public transportation going the EV route would significantly reduce carbon footprint.

What are the barriers to electric mobility mitigating climate change in India?

Charging infrastructure is still a big challenge that discourages potential EV owners from switching. The fear of being stranded where a charging station is unavailable, known as ‘range anxiety,’ may not go away until there are sufficient public chargers.

The price difference is another barrier to EV adoption in a price-sensitive market like India. EVs cost more than internal combustion engine cars. The prime reason for the difference in pricing is the cost of components. One, we are highly dependent on imports for many EV components, and two, the battery’s price. The battery is import-dependent and forms the more significant part of the vehicle’s cost. 

There are also the problems of limited options available to buyers, and a dependence on imports, which raises prices even more, which I believe is transitory and will change as more vehicles come to market, and the domestic ancillary & infrastructure industry picks up.

How can the Government help electric vehicles fight climate change? 

The Government, following the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, through various policies such as the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 and the FAME-II (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles) scheme, envisions an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030.

To make the transition to an electric future easier in India, the Government has implemented special policy measures such as lowering the GST on electric vehicles to 5%, compared to 28 per cent for combustion engines and providing loan forgiveness for electric vehicle purchases. Additionally, the Union cabinet has proposed a customs duty exemption on certain EV parts, such as the electric drive assembly, on-board charger, e-compressor, and a charging gun, to cut costs. So far, over a dozen states have adopted or proposed policies on EVs.

The EV subsidies and incentives are in addition to those offered by state governments. Many states have policies that further encourage choosing EVs as their new buy. As per the budget document, the subsidy under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles (FAME) for fiscal 2023 is projected at Rs 2,908 crore, or more than three-and-a-half times the allocation of Rs 800 crore for this fiscal year and almost nine times higher than FY21.

While initiatives have rolled out, takers have fallen short of anticipation. Hence Government may need to add fuel to the endeavour by creating awareness, educating, and simplifying processes to avail of the said benefits & schemes.

Conclusion

Climate change is a real problem with real consequences in India. The wide adoption of electric vehicles can significantly mitigate climate change, but it would only be effective if the barriers to EV ownership are removed.

The article is authored by Raj Mehta, Founder, Greta Electric Scooters.

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