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Govt explores smaller batteries as it aims to make electric bus travel cheaper

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-04-2017 Amrit Raj

New Delhi: In an attempt to make electric buses cheaper, India is exploring a strategy that involves reducing the battery size.

To do so, the government plans to work with automobile companies and has called a meeting of bus makers such as Ashok Leyland Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, Tata Motors Ltd and Eicher Motors Ltd on Monday.

The government is expecting electric vehicle (EV) prices to drop over the next five years and trigger a shift from internal-combustion vehicles to EVs.

The government’s assumption is based on the premise that for intra-city buses, the battery size can be reduced from 300 kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 50kWh since their average trip length is limited to up to 30km one way. The way it would work is that after the end of every trip, there will be battery swapping stations wherein recharged batteries will be swapped with the batteries drained of charge during the trip.

“The agenda for the meeting at MNRE (ministry of new and renewable energy) is to cut down on pollution in major cities. The idea is to figure out ways to bring down the cost of batteries and ultimately the cost of electric buses,” a person with direct knowledge of the matter said, requesting anonymity.

Queries emailed to an MNRE spokesperson on Thursday evening remained unanswered.

Spokespersons for Ashok Leyland, Mahindra, Tata and Eicher Motors also did not respond to a detailed questionnaire sent on Friday.

“An improvement of 30-35% is possible by better design and efficiency. Intra-city bus trips average around 30km. This makes a case for reducing the battery size for EV buses from 300kWh to 50kWh. This in turn will help reduce the price of EV buses which today cost around Rs80 lakh. This will help in early adoption of EVs as a means of transportation,” said a second person aware of the strategy, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The government plans to generate 175GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 as part of its commitments to the Paris climate change agreement. Of this 100GW is to come from solar power projects.

The technological breakthrough that Indian solar energy sector awaits is commercially viable energy storage solutions which will also improve grid stability.

With storage being the next frontier for India’s clean energy push from sources such as solar, the batteries in EVs perhaps offer a solution. Given that solar power projects generate electricity during the day, the EV batteries can be used to store that energy.

The industry is seized of the opportunity.

“Solar generation along with storage makes good sense for setting up charging stations along the highways. Due to integration happening with EVs where storage is required, solar can be an ideal solution for the EV ecosystem. Amplus is developing a battery storage system which can be used for EVs,” said Sanjeev Aggarwal, managing director and chief executive of Amplus Energy Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

Any shift to electric vehicles will help reduce pollution and fuel imports. India’s energy import bill is expected to double from around $150 billion to $300 billion by 2030.

The government has been trying to push the sales of electric vehicles for a long time.

It has set an ambitious target of selling six million electric vehicles by 2020.

However, the response has been tepid. Sales of electric vehicles rose 37.5% to 22,000 units in the year ended 31 March 2016 from 16,000 in 2014-15; only 2,000 of these were cars and other four-wheelers, according to lobby group Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles.

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