“There are a lot of Misconceptions about Electric Vehicles”

At the onset of 2023, a lot of possibilities and challenges persist in the electric vehicle sector despite the positive growth trajectory. In an exclusive interaction with Parliamentarian’s Abhijit Chanda talks about these possibilities and challenges with  Amit Das, Founder and CEO, Electric One Mobility Pvt. Ltd.

By Abhijit Chanda
  • In the electric vehicle space, the ecosystem will not grow if everyone comes up with their technology
  • China is one of the major accumulators of resources, lithium primarily, across the globe. Africa has a share, and so does South America
  • There’ll be huge software elements so that there’s no power or communication lag between the two batteries
  • India needs a more robust vision to build the ecosystem of battery stations across the country because of the popularity of two-wheelers

So, what are the challenges you see over the next seven years, yes, of course, there’ll be plenty because that’s when India’s committed. 

The main challenge, which I see from an electric vehicle perspective is, test drives and user experience. Because people know about EVs and electric two-wheelers, but they’re not experienced. There are plenty of assumptions and preconceived notions about EVs built on the experience of early-stage OEMs which were not ready in the market. But now, EVs have evolved. In the next few years, we will be seeing tremendous growth in terms of technology, battery safety, regulations, new products, startups, and international companies joining hands. As a platform, Electric One will open in over 1,000 places across India. So we see a huge excitement even now with 103 stores, and even more from the masses because petrol prices are going up. 

Younger people are looking forward to a cleaner mode of travel. So, I see the main task will be to get people to drive e-scooters, get them to understand the technology well and also come up with stricter battery regulations that will help eliminate the not-so-serious players from the market to build up the ecosystem. 

You have mentioned there are a lot of misconceptions about electric vehicles at this moment. Could you mention a few of them that you’ve encountered? 

One of them is range anxiety, like how far my electric scooter or four-wheeler will go. The second is about charging. For example, I borrowed a friend’s electric four-wheeler around three months back to drive to Jaipur. I wanted to see how it worked. I went to Jaipur, and I thought I would be able to charge it in Jaipur easily. I tried charging my vehicle in three charging stations, but none worked. So I panicked and went to a hotel where one of the staff suggested a place where I finally got the car charged. The charging infrastructure is very important for giving confidence to customers. These are some of the main preconceived notions in people’s minds – the batteries don’t run long enough, there aren’t enough charging stations, etc. 

In the US there are a lot of problems with different types of charging stations and different brands of vehicles. For instance, Tesla’s got one type of charger and Porsche has a different charging adapter. Has that been standardized in India? Or do you see any problems coming in that area going forward?

Firstly, battery specifications have not been standardized, which must be done. I’m not talking about the battery sizes, but I’m talking about the battery’s specifications. Once they are standardized, the charging station connectors will be common. It’s like two or three types in the mobile phone industry. We see C-type and lightning chargers. So I think there has been a clear category of chargers made for electronic items like mobile phones. But in the electric vehicle space, the ecosystem will not grow if everyone comes up with their technology. The ecosystem will only grow when batteries are standardized. 

Because right now we have Type 1, Type 2 for AC and DC, and then ChaDeMo and Combo 2 for DC. So right now, we have these in operation – at least currently 4 different types of chargers. Will most electric vehicles on the road be compatible with all of these?

Batteries and chargers are mostly outsourced for all EVs. There’s no clear manufacturer. Unlike the traditional ecosystem of manufacturing electric vehicles, the energy components, which are battery and charger, are outsourced from a third party. So that means it’s not about a particular company; it’s about the battery ecosystem growing. Let’s say there are 20 companies in the battery space. Each manufacturing the batteries outside India and importing them, assembling them into the vehicles, loading the battery management systems, and customizing them to a certain type of charger. 

With common regulations which dictate the safety systems in the battery (for example, the battery has to communicate at least 30 seconds before it catches fire) and battery recycling protocols, the whole ecosystem will have to conform to certain standards. I think with all these regulations coming up, they’ll be seeing a smaller number of variations in batteries. I see it coming together in the next two years or so.

The batteries themselves do pose a few problems. First of all, sourcing all the rare earth materials for manufacturing, which I’m sure is expensive. I’ve heard that Australia’s got a lot of quarries as well as Africa and China where these are being sourced. But do you see that becoming a stumbling block, especially looking at the potential size of the Indian market to be able to source all these materials to make good quality batteries? In India itself?

Mostly the resources, lithium primarily, China is one of the major accumulators of such resources across the globe. Africa has a share, and so does South America, but most of the resources are occupied by Chinese companies. Because they have seen the potential, not now, 20 years back, of lithium coming up as one of the major energy sources in driving vehicles.

There’s been periodic investment which has gone up supported by the government of China. This has led to a colonization of the energy sector resource segment similar to what Gulf is having for or Gulf Russia, Venezuela, the US are having for petroleum sources. That is one part of it; we can’t avoid that. The cells have to be imported by cell manufacturing in India; again, the raw material has to come from a second resource but what is coming up now is a new generation of battery technologies. For example, sodium is coming up very fast. Lithium and solid-state batteries are coming up very fast.

That means less raw material has to be imported and more inorganic chemistry. There are many innovations, which are happening, and right now, solar batteries are coming up. So primarily, it means that dependency on lithium for, let’s say X number of kilometers will be lessened and 30%, 40% will be distributed between solar and sodium and other solid state resources coming forward.

India is the largest consumption market for the mass market, four wheelers as well. So the automobile ecosystem, the vendor ecosystem, and the supply ecosystem are really robust in India now compared to the last two decades and we’re the many component manufacturers who are now exporting across the globe. All depends on the support of ecosystem development in India. 

Once we switch to battery technologies, will the entire vehicle have to be disposed of, or do you think there’ll be some sort of customisation that can be taken place to swap out? I mean, once you see the far future, new forms of batteries are being made, like you’d mentioned, do you think that is gonna be a bit of a hurdle, like, swapping out batteries in vehicles?

No, it will not be, I think, because the electric vehicles are simpler in terms of hardware, and obviously, there are some alterations in the software part. As long as the energy specification and input-output parameters are intact in any source, there are not many changes which will happen in the energy sources. So it’s easily doable. The vehicle will remain intact. The energy source can be altered moving forward. 

Speaking of swapping our batteries, there is the more current short-term solution of having swappable batteries as a solution to quicker charging and shorter waiting times or a charge to happen. I’m aware that there are lots of two-wheelers coming with swappable batteries. But with four-wheelers, I haven’t seen as many. Do you have any news about four-wheelers coming in with swappable batteries? 

India needs a much stronger vision because of the popularity of two-wheelers. Usage is not restricted to only metros or tier 1 cities. How will we build this ecosystem of battery stations across India? There are so many locations. That’s one of the biggest challenges for companies to look into, not only tier 1 or tier 2 cities like Bengaluru. The weight of batteries in two-wheelers is lower. A four-wheeler battery is much heavier. There’s no swappable battery for four-wheelers at this time. It’s also not safe to take out batteries that are so heavy. On the other hand, let’s say we have to have a battery capacity of 200 Ah. So, AH means range – Ampere Hours – and 200 AH can be further divided into packs of batteries, for example, 40 AH each. So, that means a four-wheeler will have five battery packs combined in one. If you have to reach a 400 kilometer range, once the two battery blocks are out of charge, you can take them out, and we will charge them. 

So that way, the swapability will also come up in the car four-wheeler segment to break down the entire capacity output into smaller packs. The only thing which is important is how these battery packs talk to each other, communicate with each other, and what the software integration is on top of it.

Where do you see the major turning points in the upcoming year when it comes to the electric vehicle segment industry? 

The first major turning point is the pollution component. Pollution is a major consideration for the Indian people and its global impact. This will motivate the youth to drive cleaner modes of transport. Whenever I ask the younger generation about what car they’ll buy, six times out of ten, they’ll say electric. That’s a huge change. 

The second trigger point is the running costs of EVs and how easy it is for us to use in terms of being one-tenth of the cost of running ICE vehicles.

The third parameter will be in the infotainment systems. Once we got into electric two and four-wheelers, the entire infotainment system changed significantly. 

And from the infrastructure perspective, moving a little further back towards the power source and the existent power generation, we already have, a very significant chunk, up to 70% of our electricity coming from fossil fuel and coal and gas and diesel, so if have, is there anything, any plans that the government has made public or at least told the OEM manufacturers about changing over to more renewable sources or emission resources over the next, coming over the coming year, or is it too short a timeframe?

No, it’s too short. It’s a generation forecasting phenomenon. So these things generally take a very long time to change the ecosystem of the source of electricity and power. But I think energy buffering is going to play a major role.

“With common regulations which dictate the safety systems in the battery (for example, the battery has to communicate at least 30 seconds before it catches fire) and battery recycling protocols, the whole ecosystem will have to conform to certain standards”

Suppose we can adopt a better energy buffering system, energy transmission system and distribution system in terms of renewable sources. In that case, the energy will take a while to change the entire mechanism. Maybe, we are talking about another 15 years or so when we can see some big change in this ecosystem.

Can you give me a little bit more detail as to how this buffering can be achieved? Like are you talking about inverters or? The test, Tesla power wall or something of that sort, or something else. 

So I think, yeah, so right now, the batteries used in grids are lead acid batteries. They’re used for very small-term continuation of electricity. They’re not used for the storage of electricity a lot. Now, these grids, if you use strong, let’s say, solid-state batteries, which are deep discharging and charging cycles differ from larger cycles. Then in a way, what we’ll do is you’ll be able to store energies also. Then only transmitting energy or distributing energy. Once you store more energy, okay? 

Then you can store better again next year in a way you’ll be, keep on, storing now, And that’s where, even without a power supply for a day or two, let’s say after seven days, we’ll be able to run it. So that’s where I feel because less energy will be consumed, and optimisation of the energy will be attained by just storing. That’s where I feel because many EVs are on the road. Everybody needs electricity. So one is you increase the electricity capacity. Secondly, you optimize the electricity capacity to solve this problem. So buffering is one of the major solutions for it. 

And is this already in place in a few pieces in this country? 

No. I think India it’s still in a very nascent stage because the entire process of lithium-ion solid-state deep discharge and charging long cycle batteries are in the under innovation stage or not adoption stage in India. The US and Germany have energy buffering systems for sure, but I’m not sure about Japan. Maybe they are also working on it, but India needs more time to get it.

I think it does sound quite expensive if you’re gonna have a massive battery set up in your power stations. 

From the ecosystem where you see the electricity being produced, transmitted, and if you see the entire bulk here, operation, it’s not a cost. It’s just a factor in the cost. Suppose you examine the entire electricity cycle, from production to end user. Just a factor of price and uh, and, and, and because the cycle times of new batteries are endless. So the cost of capitalisation will be much higher. So I don’t feel it’s a major cost, which will come up, but at least in the last point, user points can be impactful. 

Let’s hope that these are incorporated as well. Is there anything else that you’d like to add when you are looking out across 2023 and what it brings?

I think as a company, Electric One’s single motive is to help users understand an EV. It’s a clear adoption mindset, which we are focusing on because once they drive an EV, it’ll be easier for them to adopt an EV, or buy an EV, that’s a major focus area, and that’s what I urge the entire ecosystem to support this confidence of they being able to drive an EV. They’ll be able to, they’ve been able to have trust in EV. That’s one of the major things. I also expect the government to develop more, better SEZ ecosystem concepts of subsidies for developing the ecosystem of EVs. 

Abhijit Chanda

The author is a writer, podcaster, anchor, Youtuber and science communicator with a passion for promoting science literacy and critical thinking. His most popular work includes an interview with Dr Abby Philips on the science behind Ayurveda, Dr. Sumaiya Shaikh on her writing for Alt News Science and Dr. Paul A Offit on the vaccines developed for COVID-19. You can find his work on www.berationable.com

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