Recent fires involving four electric scooters have shocked both electric vehicle users and potential buyers. Will this jeopardize the history of electric vehicles in India? Unlikely. Considering the high adoption of electric vehicles in the country, the central government has ordered a forensic investigation into the incidents. Manufacturers will need to take corrective and preventive measures to restore confidence in electric vehicles.

High consumer interest

It is encouraging to see consumers ready to experiment and switch to electric vehicles. Case in point: Across India, 3.29 lakh EVs were sold in 2021 compared to 1.29 lakh in 2020. Electric two-wheelers contributed nearly 50% of sales, while three-wheelers electricity contributed about 45% in 2021.

Vahan’s website shows UP leading in electric vehicle sales with over 67,000 vehicles, while Karnataka ranks second with sales of over 33,000 electric vehicles. On the other hand, Karnataka leads the two-wheeler sales in the country with around 30,000 vehicles sold.

A recent Castrol survey found that Indian drivers need electric vehicles (EVs) priced at Rs 23 lakh, with an average charging time of 35 minutes and a range of 401 km. A new study reveals “tipping points” at which most Indian drivers would consider switching to an electric vehicle. On average, they plan to buy an EV in just two years.

It should be noted that the DC fast charging infrastructure has improved significantly, both in cities and on highways, over the past three years. A trip from Bengaluru to Hyderabad or Mumbai or Kanyakumari can be covered with less anxiety. However, the state government can take specific steps to significantly improve charging infrastructure – both private/home charging and public charging in cities/along highways.

Private recharge

Most people buying an electric car would prefer to charge their car at home, and for that a 7KW connection would be desirable. If a resident of Bengaluru living in a detached house with a regular 2KW household connection wishes to upgrade to 9KW, BESCOM, Bengaluru’s only electricity distribution company (discom), charges the customer around 1.5 lakh including the security deposit, installation costs. The request must be routed through designated electrical contractors and a “convenience fee” is applicable for priority processing.

Now let’s look at apartment complexes. Most apartments were built 10-20 years ago and are therefore not suitable for electric vehicles. Although BESCOM is willing to help residents of apartment complexes with electric vehicle charging in parking lots, several Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) are against it.

BESCOM does not have the authority to overrule opposing RWAs as Karnataka does not have an EV policy which empowers the Urban Development Department (UDD) and the local civic body, the BBMP, to change regulations to support private EV charging.

The government must establish an affordable and hassle-free private charging system. New Delhi has set up a user-friendly “one stop shop” system. The “SWITCH DELHI” initiative provides excellent information for end users to switch to electric vehicles.

In New Delhi, for example, an end user can request an EV charging connection through one of four nightclubs. Connection is provided free of charge and an AC charger is provided for Rs 3,000 (3.2 KW) and Rs 5,000 for a 7.2 KW charger. A site visit is carried out by the nightclub and the charger is operational within a week. The Delhi government has an EV policy that supersedes RWAs and can directly activate end-user charging stations.

To raise awareness

Chances are most EV owners in Bengaluru are unaware that BESCOM has a provision for sub-meters, which can be used to charge EVs at subsidized rates (Rs 4.5 per unit). BESCOM would do well to educate the public about sub-meters.

In addition, safety guidelines for private charging in apartments and independent houses must be published. India has adopted AIS 138 (Automotive Industry Standard) which recommends IEC60309 industrial sockets for electric vehicle charging. These outlets are waterproof and provide better security compared to the usual 3-prong outlets in the home.

BESCOM can partner with OEMs and companies that supply EV chargers to run regular safety awareness campaigns. It is important to carry out a periodic audit confirming the solvency of the electrical wiring/switches/the grounding of the dwellings. Perhaps the domestic audit process followed by national gas companies can be replicated. Such audits will certainly help to reduce incidents related to short circuits, such as the one where two people lost their lives in Tamil Nadu while charging their electric vehicle.

Charging on the highway

Several private charging companies are willing to invest in fast charging infrastructure along highways. Lack of discom support and endemic corruption seem to be the biggest obstacles. Now may be the time for Karnataka to remove the discom monopoly and allow multiple discoms to operate. It would also stimulate competition for better quality of service. Highway chargers should have backup (perhaps solar) so the chargers are available 24/7 even during power outages.

In addition to improving fast-charging infrastructure along highways, the government should remove tolls for electric vehicles until 2027 (many countries in Europe have implemented tolls and parking fees zero for electric vehicles). Karnataka has already introduced tamper-evident High Security License Plates (HSRPs), which would help set up toll-free passage for electric vehicles.

The government of Karnataka must play a significant role in stimulating the adoption of electric vehicles. The drive to improve electric vehicle infrastructure along with a clear vision and rapid implementation will help many buyers make the quick switch to electric vehicles. Chief Minister, I hope you are listening!

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based VE enthusiast and columnist)