Spotting electric cars on Indian streets is quite rare so far, but if everything goes according to plan, Kolkata could soon witness futuristic-looking, non-polluting electric vehicles plying on its roads. And, this could also contribute to cleaner air quality in the City of Joy.
The question is — how ready is Kolkata for adopting electric vehicles and charging stations in the city?
The Government Initiatives
The successful adoption of electric vehicles and a supporting infrastructure of charging stations are incumbent upon both the automotive industry as well as policy support from the government. Although it is not feasible to debunk the current fossil fuel-based automotive industry easily, there must be a gradual process leading to the adoption of electric vehicles. While the West Bengal government is contemplating the introduction of electric ferries and the adaptation to electric buses in the public transport sector, the New Town Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA) has taken the leap already. In a commendable green move, the NKDA has confirmed its resolve to adopt e-vehicles with dedicated charging centres to reduce vehicular emissions. They have invited proposals from private firms pitching their designs for e-vehicle charging stations, their overall look, technological set-up, and placements.
The state Transport and Environment department introduced an e-car rental facility in association with Mahindra Electric and the Zoomcar platform. The electric vehicle variant of e20Plus by Mahindra will be available for rent through the Zoomcar services, making Kolkata the third city in the country to adapt to this green initiative. The state transport department has also assured the availability and usage of charging stations of the West Bengal Transport Corporation by the owners of electric vehicles to recharge their personal electric vehicles.
The policy on ‘Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles’ (FAME-I) has seen Kolkata release tenders under the outright purchase model that will integrate electric buses in the public transport system, along with other electric vehicles. In this regard, the New Town area has already seen the deployment of electric buses in August 2018 and a promising increase of footfall.
The e-Drive in Test Stages
The India Smart Grid Forum recently published a study that assessed the qualitative and quantitative potential that Kolkata has in terms of electrification of the public transport system. Being the first city to adopt and introduce the underground metro rail system using electricity, the city provides a remarkable option for using the electric infrastructure for an accelerated and cost-effective deployment of e-vehicles and charging stations. Moreover, Kolkata is unique in its availability of DC power that enables fast charging capabilities public transport fleets and thus provides a stable infrastructure for setting up charging stations around the city.
Power utility company CESC is gearing up for testing the viability of charging stations network covering Kolkata and certain parts of Howrah district. If the pilot project stands successful then Kolkata could be staring a cleaner future with 150 e-charging stations situated around an area of 567 square kilometres in the said localities. An infrastructural boost of this dimension will, in turn, inspire electric vehicle manufacturers to roll out e-variants and also encourage people to invest in clean transport options.
The Citizen’s Pitch
A major part of the future of electric vehicles and charging stations in the city is dependent upon the commuters. While New Town has shown the pathway towards the ready acceptance of public transport based on electric vehicles, the view of vehicle owners switching to electric variants is still middling at best.
With an ill-repute as the diesel capital of the country, Kolkata is fighting pollution the hardest among all the cities. A study commissioned by Climate Trends, found a large number of respondents open to the idea of adopting electric vehicles after learning of its reduced emissions and low running costs if only to improve the environment as almost 70 percent of Kolkata inhabitants admitted to be suffering from poor air quality.
Charging infrastructure remains the most important challenge in the future of electric vehicles and also an important concern for people who plan to own and use an electric car or two-wheeler. Kolkata will have to plan its charging stations network efficiently. In this regard, the government has to resolve a number of issues, which include:
- Accelerating power generation
- Stable distribution
- Uninterrupted transmission
- Amendment of electricity trading rules
Electric vehicle manufacturers and retailers are also awaiting supportive government policies and definitive action plans to usher in an e-transport system. This includes demand incentives, subsidies and regulatory mandates both in manufacturing as well as buying electric vehicles.
The city needs to build consumer confidence in the concept of electric vehicles. In fact, if the customer base is reasonably expanded many private players will be interested to pitch in for an electric mobility defined transport system. However, the concerns about range and mileage, charging facilities, battery costs, limited product range, high prices, etc. are rightly expressed by people. In addition to it, financing for electric vehicles is quite sketchy. While the cost of these vehicles is on the higher side, they prove economical in the long run and are eco-friendly too, thus justifying their cost in balance.
On a positive note, West Bengal is among the few leading states in the country framing electric vehicles and charging stations related policies. As an economical proposition, Kolkata can even utilise its existing tram lines electric network to develop a potential commercial fleet. The future looks promisingly electric for the city.