Will electric vehicles actually help India cut down on pollution?

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The prime reason why electric vehicles are pegged to be the future is, they can reduce air pollution. Conventional internal combustion engines rely on fossil fuels as a source of energy and in turn, emit poisonous gases. Fossil fuels like petrol, diesel, and natural gas are naturally limited in quantity and take millions of years to form.

Humans haven’t been able to artificially manufacture these fuels at a large scale and rely on oil extracting countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Malaysia, and Russia. This makes crude oil one of the most valuable commodity on earth and we’ve already seen how many wars and conflicts have taken place to command supremacy over these resources.

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India is not an oil-rich country. It has a limited quantity of supply available from a few regions like Bombay High (off the coast of Mumbai), Gujarat, and Assam. These are insufficient to fulfil the domestic demand and more than 80% of the supply is imported. This adds a layer of pressure on the country because it also needs to ensure warm diplomatic ties with various other countries for a consistent supply of imports.

This is where electric vehicles are expected to be a boon. Instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on oil imports every year, the country can shift to electricity and mobilise its internal transportation network. However, it’s easier said than done.

Where is the electricity coming from?
We also need to understand how electricity is generated in the country. It definitely is cheap and can cover the costs of owning an EV over a long-term period. But, the problem lies with its production process.

More than 75% of electricity in India is generated by the thermal process. In other words, burning coal. Coal is yet another fossil fuel and ultimately ends up polluting the environment. Even though the country has large reserves of coal, burning it doesn’t solve the base problem, air pollution.

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Green sources of energy like hydropower contribute just 10% to the overall output. Wind power stands at 4%, followed by solar at 2%. The most preferred source of green energy is nuclear power and it stands a measly 3%. Developed countries have a higher reliance on nuclear power and can afford to establish more sources of renewable energy, making EVs an ideal way to reduce air pollution via fossil fuels.

Wind power requires a huge array of windmills that are extremely costly to build and setup. A decade back, companies like Suzlon were on a roll with wind turbine production in India, however, the source failed to be feasible for companies and today, Suzlon has a huge pileup of debt.

Even solar energy is hard to depend on because its generation cannot fulfil the requirements. The government has found some unique ways of establishing solar panels, but it still fails to generate enough power. A 750 meter stretch of canal was covered with solar panels in Gujarat at a cost of US$ 2.6 million, and it gave an output of just 1 MW.

The recently booming solar sector is also facing headwind due to many factors, making the possibility of completing Modi’s ambitious targets appear shaky. Government agencies have together scrapped solar tenders of close to 7,000 MW in the past year as state authorities haggle to reduce the cost.

The country’s installed wind-power capacity is 34,000 MW, hydropower 44,000 MW and solar power 25,000 MW, with a target of 100,000 MW by 2022. Wind and solar power have not been provided with the kind of investment that has been made in nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is the way to go

In the end, we’re left with nuclear power as the most viable source. However, India’s current coal-dependent electricity generation is at 194,000 MW. Department of Atomic Energy projects nuclear capability to reach 15,700 MW by 2031. The gap is too wide and we cannot forget that nuclear power requires tremendous upfront capital for setup and a constant supply of nuclear fuel, something that’s not naturally extracted in India and needs to be imported

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