E-VEHICLES: A PANACEA FOR POLLUTION?
Opinion

E-VEHICLES: A PANACEA FOR POLLUTION?

Prof. T K Thomas

Prof. T K Thomas

Come October, every year, the pollution levels in the National Capital face the worst air quality of which goes on till at least December-January. The media and everyone else concerned about pollution, point fingers at the farmers in the neighboring states like Punjab and Haryana for such heightened pollution for burning stubbles once the harvest season is over. Though stubble burning does contribute to dangerous levels of air pollution in Delhi, the real and persistent culprits are not exactly the poor farmers but the smoke belching cars- It is reported that Delhi could have about 380 cars per thousand population taking the total number of cars in the city from 2 million in 2011 to about 10 million by 2025! Referring to major contributors to pollution, a 2018 research paper published by the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences attribute almost 41% to vehicular emissions, 21.5% to dust and 18% to industries.

The just concluded 15th Auto Expo in the National Capital Region brought into sharp focus the need for electric mobility that can to a great extent be a solution for vehicular pollution. We already have E-Scooters and E- rickshaws plying on our roads but the number of E-automobiles is very miniscule. According to one report there are only four thousand E-vehicles [EVs].The number is estimated to be ‘’0.1% of close to 3.5 million cars sold in India last year’’. We have seen cute looking small cars on our roads and so far automobile manufacturers have been rather reluctant to venture into the EV segment for a variety of reasons like pricing, battery charging facilities etc; new brands of EVs are expected to be in the market later this year or next year. So, it was heartening to see new models of EVs at the 15th Auto-Expo.

Already for domestic EV automobile manufacturers like Tata Motors, Maruti and Mahindra it is work in progress and they showcased their cars at the Expo. Tata Motors for example had first showcased their Tigor EV with a seating capacity of five at the 2018 Auto Expo at prices starting from Rs.9.44 lakh. They also came out with Tata Nexon EV with prices ranging from Rs.13.99 lakh to Rs. 15.99 lakh. After unveiling it at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show Tata Altroz EV was unveiled at this year’s Auto Expo is claimed to become the first electric premium hatchback in India and is priced at Rs.14 lakh.

Maruti exhibited their Maruti Suzuki Futuro E, “a coupe-styled electric concept”, expected to be launched soon at an expected price of Rs.15 lakh.

Mahindra Exuv300 is an improvement on the preproduction model exhibited in the 2018 edition of Auto Expo with a price tag of RS.9 lakh is expected to be launched next year.

Renault K-ZE is the electric version of Renault’s, popular brand, Kwid evinced interest at the Auto Expo 2020.This was first exhibited in the Shanghai Motor Show in China last year. When launched next year the car’s estimated price is Rs.10lakh.

MG Marvel X is another electric SUV from Morris Garages India and sold by SAIC Group in China. It was first exhibited at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2017.It was showcased at the Expo 2020. It is expected to be launched early next year priced Rs.13 to Rs.16 lakh.

Yet another electric car Kia Soul EV showcased at the 15th Auto Expo 2020 is from the South Korean manufacturers, Kia Motors. It is reported to be launched by the end of this year at Rs. 10 lakh.

Suffocated by serious environmental problems and health hazards caused by vehicular emissions, a number of steps have been attempted in our burgeoning cities. As diesel is a greater pollutant than petrol, diesel vehicles were discouraged and were not allowed in certain categories of vehicles. Periodic pollution control tests for all vehicles have been made mandatory. In metropolitan cities like Delhi, CNG was introduced and made compulsory for taxis, autos and other commercial vehicles. Delhi even tried the controversial “odd and even” scheme trying to reduce the number of cars plying on our roads by half on those designated odd or even day. Introduction of Electric rickshaws was a step in the right direction in the efforts to reduce vehicular pollution. Yet pollution levels during October- December continue to be extremely dangerous if our experience during the period in 2019, spilling over to the New Year is any indication. A permanent solution therefore may be in the introduction of electric vehicles.

There are manifold advantages if we introduce electric vehicles as alternatives to petrol/ diesel vehicles. Firstly, it is environment friendly as the type of carbon emissions by diesel and petrol vehicles can considerably be reduced. The sources of electricity used to run EVs ought to be non- polluting. Solar energy, wind energy, power from tidal energy and even atomic energy are examples of green energy. On the other hand, thermal power generation and hydro-electric power do cause environmental hazards. While big dams result in land over- use, thermal power plants are polluting. Unfortunately these are presently the major source of generation of electricity for any developing country. According to a study by the Department of Environment Engineering, Delhi Technological University, around 60% of electricity generation in our country is met by thermal power plants and in the process of power generation the thermal plants consume large quantities of water and are said to emit large amount of mercury, and fly ash which cause major hazards to environment. Already thermal power plants like the highly polluting ones at Badarpur and Rajghat have been shut down and there is need for alternatives.

Similarly, engines of electric vehicles are almost noise free. A new assessment published by the European Environment Agency [EEA] points out that the largest source of noise pollution is road traffic. Unlike European or developed countries we are also victims of our national obsession or hobby of unnecessary honking which adds to traffic noise. If you travel a few kilometers during peak traffic in Delhi you realize that the deafening traffic noise can affect your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Electric vehicles can improve this plight of the citizens.

Electric vehicles are generally smooth and trouble free. They are easy to handle and smooth to operate. It is said that it is a pleasure to drive an electric car- just step on the accelerator; power is delivered immediately to the wheels and there you go. It is almost maintenance free. There are of course problems of charging the batteries. Many of the E –rickshaw drivers in Delhi told me that they face problems as there are not many battery charging stations. So they charge at their homes which is a time consuming process and one charge gives them power only for less than a hundred kilometers. In the context of battery charging, in the west there is already a Flash Charging system which is able to charge certain devices from 0 to 75 % in just 30 minutes; this system may soon be introduced in our country. Compared to CNG, diesel and petrol once there are plenty of charging stations and when home charging becomes easier, electricity will be cheaper compared to CNG, diesel and petrol. Of course right now electric cars are too expensive for ordinary people to afford. Battery charging and cost of the vehicles are sure to come down in not so distant a future.

It may also be added that when we think of road dust, another aspect of pollution in Delhi is the astounding number of automobiles on poorly maintained roads. According to Raihan K.Khan and Mark.A. Strand, both U.S based public health researchers, “Road dust consists of solid particles that are generated by any mechanical processing of materials….. dust becomes airborne, primarily by the friction of tires moving on unpaved dirt roads and dust-covered paved roads, it is referred to as road dust”.[ncbi.nim.nih.gov]. This fact is highlighted here to emphasize the need for improved road engineering with dust free maintenance. A term that is constantly mentioned in pollution reports in the media is Particulate Matter or PM, one of the main sources of which obviously is road dust. “PM refers to mixtures of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air.”

For our cities choked by carbon emissions from diesel and petrol cars, electric vehicles do offer a major relief. According to Tim Schwanen of the Transport Study Unit, Oxford University, included in a BBC report, there is a zero carbon fantasy when it comes to electric vehicles. “Even 100% electric vehicles are not a zero carbon solution. They may not produce the usual exhaust pipe emissions, but even if all the UK’s electricity was from renewable sources, there would still be an environmental cost. Sourcing the minerals used for batteries , dismantling batteries which have deteriorated, and building and delivering vehicles to customers worldwide all involve substantial CO2[Carbon dioxide] emissions. It is impossible to break all of the links. Electric vehicles are a crucial part of the UK’s attempts to drastically reduce, transport emissions. Yet they are no panacea.”[Sourced from BBC News - www.bbc.com/news]

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The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.

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