India is witnessing a strong growth in the adoption of electric vehicles across all categories viz 2W, 3W & 4W in personal in personal transport, commercial transport, and public transportation areas. The rise in oil prices is adding fuel to this fiery growth and it is expected that by 2030-35 all 2-wheelers sold in India will be electric.
However, the ongoing summer of 2022 has brought out many challenges in the design and reliability of 2W EV batteries in tackling the scorching heat and the rugged Indian terrain. There were several reports of 2-wheeler batteries having spontaneous combustions and burning the entire vehicle to the ground. In most of these cases, preliminary reports suggest that the batteries were not specifically designed for the Indian conditions.
Designing workable batteries especially for the Indian conditions will be critical for the success of EV adoption in India. Where 4-wheelers are designed to be more resistant to their working environments, 2- and 3-wheelers are designed keeping in mind their practicality and usability rather than their sturdiness.
A novel solution adopted by the Indian industry to counter the battery design flaws is to use swappable batteries for 2- and 3-wheelers. This gives the battery manufacturers valuable time to inspect and analyse each battery separately on several parameters and ensure that the batteries are in their optimal performance conditions and are no longer a fire hazard.
In addition to drastically reducing charging times and balancing the electricity grid load over large-scale usage, battery swapping stations will also boost the adoption of EVs across all major population clusters in India. India does not domestically possess adequate quantities of raw materials required for the manufacture of EV batteries (Li-ion) and the BSS model will favour the recycling of batteries and encourage research into newer chemistries for electricity storage for EVs.
The worst thing about any EV fire is the severity of such fires and how they cannot easily be managed by existing fire-fighting equipment’s, and techniques and India’s entire fire-fighting apparatus will need to be overhauled to deal with EV fires. The potential threats of EV fires are also during its period of charging and reports indicate that fires during charging of the EVs have reportedly destroyed homes and taken lives.
Indian automotive industry has not seen many personal 4W EVs catching fire and thus it seems that the 4W vehicles presently available in India are suitable to the Indian climate. However, the number of 4W EVs sold in India is a mere fraction of the total number of EVs sold, when 2- and 3-wheelers are added. The solution lies in ensuring that EVs are designed keeping Indian climate & road conditions in focus.
Another big challenge for the EV industry is procuring clean electricity to recharge the batteries and always having substantial electricity available on demand for the customer to come and charge their vehicle at a charging station. India is a power deficit nation, and all its aggregate electricity production including its imports of electric power from Nepal & Bhutan cannot meet its daily demand even now. In such circumstances, if large portions of India’s electricity are diverted to charging EVs and batteries at BSS, then we may see a further shortage of electricity to meet India’s daily demand.
Irrespective of the challenges faced by the EV industry, the potential growth of EVs will be significantly beneficial to India and its overall economy. Reduction in the fuel import bill will drastically improve the budgets of government programmes thereby improving the quality of life of Indians.