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Hero-backed start-up Ather Energy wants to clone Tesla charging model in India

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-05-2017 Yuvraj Malik

New Delhi: Ather Energy, promoted by India’s largest two-wheeler company Hero MotoCorp Ltd, plans to replicate Tesla Inc.’s charging infrastructure business model in India.

The Bengaluru-based electric scooter maker is preparing a blueprint to install charging stations at malls, restaurants, cinemas, offices and business parks, and have at least some of them ready before its so-called smart electric scooter S340 hits the road in 2018.

Pawan Munjal-promoted Hero MotoCorp picked up a 26-30% stake in Ather Energy through a Rs205-crore “strategic investment” in October 2016.

Ather Energy’s plan hinges on changes being effected to the Electricity Act, 2003. Under the Act, an individual or a private institution cannot sell electricity unless one obtains a discom licence to distribute power from the respective state electricity regulatory commission.

“Say we are to set up a charging station at a cafe, under the current rules we cannot install a meter in our name as an EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment) business. And even if the cafe installs its own meter, it cannot resell electricity. This raises questions on the business model for EVSEs,” said Ravneet Phokela, chief business officer at Ather.

Last year, according to a person directly involved with the matter, Ather wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) voicing this concern. The PMO, in turn, moved the request to the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP)—the government body for all start-up-related policies—which in turn connected it to officials at the department of heavy industry. This person said the secretary in the department of heavy industry has written to the ministry of power to take up the issue, and Ather has been assured that the matter is being looked into and a policy change may be notified.

If allowed to sell electricity through its own charging stations, Ather will open the infrastructure for use by other electric vehicle makers. Tesla, the world’s most aggressive electric vehicle firm, has built over 5,400 superchargers with the goal of enabling long-distance travel for more than 200,000 Tesla owners around the world.

In parallel, it built a network of more than 9,000 destination charging connectors that replicate the convenience of home charging by providing hotels, resorts, and restaurants with Tesla wall connectors. In 2017, it plans to double the number of superchargers. Emails to spokespersons for the PMO, department of heavy industry, DIPP and the power ministry seeking comments remained unanswered as of press time.

Experts say regulatory clarity is required to attract investments to the sector. “There is a need for clarity on the regulatory aspect of sale of electricity by third parties to EVs (electric vehicles) which is not permitted under the Electricity Act,” said Reji Kumar Pillai, president and chief executive of India Smart Grid Forum, a public-private partnership of the power ministry. “Some utilities and regulators have taken a view that charging EVs from a commercial connection maybe considered as a service. In order to attract large investments for setting up a chain of charging stations, regulatory clarity is required.”

“If electricity is generated outside the electricity grid and used for charging EVs, the Act doesn’t prevent it,” added Pillai.

yuvraj.m@livemint.com

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