Fuel Pumps and EV Battery Charging. Not A Good Idea

Shailesh Vickram SinghBy Shailesh Vickram Singh, Co-Founder, CEO at MassiveMobility

Are the 69,000 odd fuel pumps the answer to India’s EV charging challenge?

It is no secret that a big challenge for increasing the penetration of Electric Vehicles (EVs) is lack of charging stations and the high cost of batteries, in that order.  While battery costs have been tackled using subsidies, the latest solution for more charging stations, by building those  at petrol stations, is dangerous, to say the least.

The idea looks fabulous on the face of it. Petrol pumps provide energy to automobiles, so taking the same logic forward, they can power electric vehicles. Further they have adequate real estate and the numbers and reach across the country.

Hence making every petrol pump a battery charging /swapping station will solve the chicken-egg problem of charging stations vs electric vehicles on the road . It will build much needed infrastructure and solve the range anxiety issues among potential EV buyers.

So yet another super solution to leap frog India to the top of the EV race. However,  like all simple ideas, it is yet another example of band-aid thinking. This kind of push typifies the poorly through through orders that push obedient PSU’s in the wrong direction, wasting resources, without addressing the core issues.

A fuel pump handles hydrocarbon/liquid fuel which is highly inflammable. Batteries on the other hand are an electrochemical process packed  containers with focus on chemistry and stored energy. Hence they need constant electricity as input.

It follows that there are always lot of instances of sparks / battery heating etc. Hence having a battery swapping station at petrol station is like transporting TNT with petrol tanker to save on costs. The same pumps where even speaking on mobile phones is discouraged, for the risk of micro sparks igniting a blaze.

But this heightened probability of big explosions is not the only issue. Batteries need power to charge. Multiple batteries need a lot more power to charge vehicles. So even to power a humble two wheeler, one will need a minimum 1 KWh connection and to power 20 odd 2W, one will need 20 Kwh. And this is even before we consider superchargers like the ones Tesla has in the US, where loads of 150 KW can be distributed between two vehicles.

The fact is that majority of petrol pumps have hardly any need for a high power connection till now, and have power loads of less than 5 Kwh to serve existing needs. Add charging for a couple of two wheelers to this, and it is already stretched. Do the math for three wheelers, auto, cars and LCVs!

So Petrol pump real estate is not such an obvious fit for safety reasons after all. For an enhanced electric connection, you need an additional power connection. All this will further push the cost of charging vehicles.

The more critical issues related to EVs are regarding certification & taxes. Lead acid batteries – 28% GST, lithium batteries – 18% GST There are subsidies for  EV buyers but it again increases risk of financiers as buyers have no skin in the game thanks to subsidies.

All electric vehicles are certified by auto certification agencies but they have become new bottlenecks and again albatross in line of innovation. Given the quality and poor safety of EVs on the road, one really wonders about the sanctity of the whole certification process going on currently.

India has a real opportunity in commercial electric vehicle space. Right policy with minimal taxation framework can leapfrog India at the top of EV world while solving Air pollution at the same time. Market is ready, entrepreneurs are at it.

Right policy environment will push it in same way as right policy made Indian Payment ecosystem most advanced and best in the world. It is too big an opportunity to be left to no skin in game think tanks and policy experts. Indian EV opportunity has arrived. Carpe diem.

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