The Union government’s decision to invite proposals for setting up and operating electric charging infrastructure across some 18 major highways may be a concerted move to promote such installations but whether such a business is independently viable is yet to be established. A senior executive in one of the auto fuel retailing companies said setting up e-charging stations independently was not viable at this juncture and battery swapping with standardisation was a better option.
It is a classic chicken and egg case where those mulling over foray into the e-charging business feel that the number of EVs running on the road do not provide adequate numbers to put up charging stations while EV manufacturers see lack of such stations as a dampener for sale of these low emission automobiles. “The market in one of the biggest EV market Delhi, for instance, is still dominated by low-end e-rickshaws and cluster buses that are not keen on charging at such stations,” said the executive quoted above.
Though state and city governments have made provision of charging points mandatory in new buildings, it is currently only public sector companies, like NTPC and Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), and those running electric vehicle (EV) service that have put up charging infrastructure. Private companies, like Tata Power, are also in the business but have so far confined themselves to providing EV charging facilities at their group outlets. Tata Power that retails power in one licence area in Delhi had signed an agreement for putting up charging points at Indraprastha Gas Ltd’s (IGL) outlets but the tie-up remained confined to one outlet. This, too, did not succeed.
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) some three years back had declared its plan to branch out into sustainable energy solutions, including e-charging and batteries, in partnership with global giant BP but it has not even taken baby steps in this direction. For them, this business is more an attempt to branch out into the business of sustainability than establishing it as an actual profitable vertical.
It is the EV producers and users that are taking the initiative to set up charging infrastructure. Tata Motors, for instance, through Tata Power’s EZ Charge is ensuring that the buyers of its EVs get charging facilities. Both Tata Motors and MG Motor even help their customers put up compatible charging points at home.
Then there are those like EV ride hailing service provider BluSmart which has 160 fast charging points across six operational hubs in Gurgaon and Delhi. This, its co-founder Punit Goyal said, was the highest number of fast charging stations any company has in India. “It provides dedicated and seamless charging for BluSmart's fleet of 366 electric cars across Delhi and Gurugram. BluSmart Charge will scale to 250 fast charging stations by December 2020 in the immediate short term as two more hubs are under construction by then. This will be further scaled to over 500 fast charging stations in 2021, across Gurugram, Delhi and Noida,” said Goyal. Each BluSmart EV Charging Hub has a capacity of 150 to 250 electric cars to charge.
The government earlier this month invited organisations to build and operate EV charging infrastructure on the Mumbai-Pune, Ahmedabad-Vadodara, Delhi-Agra Yamuna, Bengaluru-Mysore, Bengaluru-Chennai, Surat - Mumbai, Agra-Lucknow, Eastern Peripheral and Hyderabad-ORR Expressways.
Besides, proposals have also been invited for Delhi - Srinagar, Delhi-Kolkata, Agra-Nagpur, Meerut to Gangotri Dham, Mumbai- Delhi, Mumbai-Panaji, Mumbai-Nagpur, Mumbai-Bengaluru and Kolkata to Bhubaneswar highways. Under the second phase of FAME India scheme, the government wants to support the development of EV charging infrastructure by extending capital grants to organisations for promoting the use of EV. This could help in mitigating business risks.
Private sector interest is, however, more visible on the technology side. Multinationals, like ABB, Fortum and Schneider, are among those providing technology for e-charging stations. These are cloud-based technologies that link apps to charging points giving consumers an idea about availability of free spots. Technology is also the space where the Union government-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited is trying to gain a foothold. In March 2019, it announced the setting up of the first solar-based electric vehicle charger at Sonipat on the Delhi-Chandigarh Highway. The first was to be first in a series of charging stations that were to come up at regular intervals over the entire 250 km stretch between Delhi and Chandigarh.