ExplainedAre Electric Scooters A Better Alternative For Indians?

With rising petrol prices, electric scooters are slowly gaining popularity among the Indian middle class. But is it really a better alternative?

Ola Electric, the electric vehicle unit for Ola Cabs, have recently announced the launching of two new models of electric scooters - the S1 and S1 pro, and social media users have shown anticipation about its arrival.

Fuel prices have reached an all time high, and vehicular emissions are a major headache for most city dwellers. With such issues at hand, electric scooters are slowly gaining popularity in India, especially in cities where charging points are already set-up.

In 2019, the NITI Aayog had considered the banning of all fuel-driven vehicles, to induce a hard push towards electric vehicles. More recently, such sentiments have been reiterated by Ola co-founder Bhavesh Aggarwal, who supported the idea of abolishing all petrol-driven scooters by 2025.

However, before we all start rushing into buying electric scooters, and other such battery-operated vehicles, here are some pertinent questions we should ask ourselves, to ensure that our purchase will meet our overall goals.

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Electric Scooters: Who Are They For?

Popular electric scooter models such as Bajaj Chetak or Ather 450/450x promise a riding range of between 70-90 km per charge. This makes them highly useful for regular commuters living under 30km distance from their work place.

For people who have the facility of charging their scooters at their workplace, a larger distance can easily be covered on a daily basis.

Ola's S1 and S1 Pro boasts of 120-180km of riding range per charge, while Simple One claims that its electric scooters can ride up to over 200km per charge. Such high performance scooters will allow riders to make intercity travels, provided that charging points are available on the way, and at the destination.

Where Do I Charge Them?

Electric scooters like Ather 450 and Ola S1/S1 Pro can take over 5 hours to charge.

Both of these companies have also been setting up charging points in cities like Bangalore and Chennai, and have plans to ramp up the installations of more charging points around the country in the coming years.

In April, Ola had announced its plans of setting up 1 lakh charging points in 400 cities across the country.

Ather, which has already set up several charging points in Bengaluru, are planning to expand to other major cities like Ahmedabad, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, NCR and Pune.

Charging points can also be set up fairly easily at home, if you have the tools, or with the help of an electrician. It is no different from setting up a new plug point to power your air conditioner, for example.

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What Are The Benefits?

As of now, the biggest benefit of opting for electric, instead of petrol-driven ones, is its long-term affordability.

Petrol prices have reached a historical high in India, crossing the Rs. 100/litre mark in several cities around the country. Compared to petrol, electricity prices are a lot more affordable, making electric vehicles highly attractive for Indian commuters, despite their higher purchase prices.

Comparing the cost of using an Ola e-scooter with that of a popular petrol-driven scooter, we found that the difference can be a lot.

The price of electricity in Delhi is Rs. 6.90 per kilowatt hour (kWh) (for those consuming between 800-1,200 kWh per month). While Ola S1 claims a riding range of 121km with a 2.98 kWh battery capacity, we shall take a rough estimate of 100km range on ground (given that on-road performance is usually a little lower than stated). It would thus cost Rs. 20.52 (2.98X6.90) to fully charge the scooter, and cover a range of 100km.

Let us now compare with a fuel-driven alternative such as TVS Jupiter, which gives an on-road mileage of around 58kmpl, approximately. To cover a distance of 100km, it would require 1.72 litres of petrol. Using today's petrol price in Delhi (Rs. 101.82), the overall cost of fuelling up to cover this distance would be Rs. 175 (1.72X 101.81). This is nearly 8 times the price of using Ola S1 to cover the same distance.

Another benefit of shifting to electric will be lower vehicular emissions, especially in cities. Vehicular pollution is a major contribution to dwindling air quality in urban areas, and going electric will greatly reduce such emissions.

Does 'Electric' Mean Lesser Emissions?

That depends entirely on how we produce our electricity.

While vehicular pollution will go down with electric vehicles, and give respite to many city dwellers, it may not necessarily help us reach our climate goals of reducing emissions as a country.

According to India's Ministry of Power, 52% of India's power generation comes from coal - yet another fossil fuel. So when people shift to electric vehicles, instead of their vehicles' motors burning petrol and releasing emissions, coal is combusted somewhere in a power plant to produce the electricity for the vehicles (which releases its own emissions).

In such a situation, lower vehicular emissions will be substituted by higher industrial emissions.

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However, India's strive towards renewable energy, especially its goals of moving to solar power for electricity production, will be a much bigger driver in lowering emissions in the long term.

Can India Produce Enough Batteries For Its People?

One of the biggest challenges for the electric vehicle industry is the availability of lithium and cobalt, which are core components of the batteries used in electric vehicles (and the rest of our devices, for that matter).

Unfortunately, India does not have the required amount of lithium or cobalt, which has pushed it to import batteries from other, better-endowed countries.

India has a projected requirement of 200,000 tonnes of lithium to meet its goals of shifting its large population from petrol/diesel to electric vehicles. India's lithium reserve currently stands at 1,600 tonnes, which was only recently discovered in Karnataka's Mandya district. This shows a huge deficit of lithium in the country, which maybe a big hurdle for us to shift to electric.

In such a scenario, the country will be forced to import lithium from countries like Chile (9.2 million tonnes), Australia (4.7 million tonnes), Argentina (1.9 million tonnes) and China (1.5 million tonnes).

Cobalt is yet another scarce metal, and is present in only a very few countries. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest reserves in the world, at approximately 3.6 million metric tons. This leaves us with no other choice but import cobalt as well.

The state run Khanij Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL) - a joint venture firm consisting National Aluminium Company Ltd, Hindustan Copper Ltd. and Mineral Exploration Company Ltd - are currently scouting for both lithium and cobalt mines overseas.

The government of India has also stepped up its efforts to locate lithium ores in the country.

The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has undertaken seven lithium exploration projects across states like Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Rajasthan.

In Rajasthan and Karnataka, the lithium exploration projects have been taken up by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER), under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

Last May, the Union Cabinet approved a 18,100-crore plan to boost local production of lithium-ion cells. A reliable source of lithium would breathe life into India's eager plans to kick-start its e-mobility project.

However, until all these challenges are dealt with, experts feel that shocking the market with a hard transition into electric-driven vehicles may not have the desired consequences.

Updated On: 2021-08-19T19:02:58+05:30
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