The new e-highway proposal and its implications

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

In the midst of widespread pollution, the newly proposed Delhi-Jaipur e-highway is expected to reduce Carbon footprint to a large extent, thereby having a positive impact on the environment and subsequently, people’s health. Read on to know more about this proposal and its future implications.

 

According to the 2020 World Air Quality Report, 22 Indian cities featured among the 30 worst polluted cities across the globe. One of the major reasons for this grim state of affairs is agricultural burning, an illegal but common practice in which farmers set fire to crop residue after a harvest. Another major reason for this high pollution in our country is the excessive vehicular emissions across India. As per a recent study, 66 percent of deaths from air pollution in India can be attributed to exhaust emissions from diesel vehicles.


Over the last decade, Delhi NCR and many cities especially in Northern India, have faced the brunt of air pollution, with record numbers at the daily AQI index.


Delhi has faced the brunt of air pollution in the recent years, with record numbers at the daily AQI index (Image credit: Economic Times)


On the contrary, as per the Climate Transparency Report 2020, India is the only G20 nation to achieve the targets under the 2030 Paris Climate Agreement, solely due to the underperforming manufacturing sector. However, with the Government of India’s plans to ramp up the share of manufacturing in the GDP (from 16 percent to 25 percent by 2025), India runs the risk of working against its climate goals.


What is the new proposal for e-highway?

An E-highway or an electric road recharges batteries of vehicles, essentially acting as an energy transfer system. The broad idea is to reduce carbon footprint. Under the new proposal, the NDA government will roll out the first E-highway on NH-48 specifically, the 200-km-long Delhi-Jaipur stretch of the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway. Nearly 20 percent of the roads will be electrified, with a separate lane catering to the recharging needs of trucks and other electric vehicles (EVs).


The present government is working towards rolling out a pilot project to construct electric highways in India. As per media reports, the first stretch of the e-highway is likely to be completed mid-2022.


Earlier this year, in March 2021, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, had brought up this e-highway proposal, during the question hour at a Lok Sabha session. "Buses and trucks can ply on this e-highway at a speed of 120 kmph. This e-highway proposal is expected to bring down the logistics cost by 70 percent," the Union Minister said.

Modelled after the electrified roads in Germany and Sweden, this 200-km stretch will be able to recharge batteries of vehicles travelling on them. The world’s first electric road stretch was on a public road, inaugurated in Sweden way back in 2016. This e-road used an overhead line and the trucks were equipped with pantographs, similar to a tram.

In Germany, this technology has been replicated on multiple road stretches across the country. One of the most prominent e-road projects is the one near Frankfurt Am Main. On a 60-kilometer motorway stretch, a five-kilometer segment has been equipped with an overhead line that charges the trucks while driving, and thus saves large amounts of fossil fuel. A number of logistics companies participate in building the infrastructure on these e-roads, and use electric trucks from the Swedish truck manufacturer Scania.



EV’s in India

In a written reply to a question on e-vehicles on 16 March 2021, Arjun Ram Meghwal, the Minister of State for Heavy Industries said that the number of registered electric vehicles as per the e-vahan portal during the last three years has seen a consistent rise.


As against 69,012 units of electric vehicles (including two-wheelers, three wheelers and buses) sold in India during 2017-18, its numbers increased to 143,358 units in 2018-19 and again spiked to 167,041 units in 2019-20.


As per estimates, the overall electric cars on the Indian roads will be almost 100 million in 2030, which is a staggering rise from the current numbers. With a steady rise in the manufacturing of electric vehicles now (Ola Electric’s rapid pace of manufacturing one electric scooter every two seconds), its market share is also expected to rise greatly. India’s GDP is expected to grow by an amazing 25% by 2022.


In addition to reducing environmental pollution, as per a study by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), EVs are also expected to lower crude oil import by about Rs one lakh crore ($14 billion) by 2030. Thus the reduction of the import cost will be highly beneficial to the Indian economy.


However, while these vehicles are extremely beneficial for the long run, affordability can be a major factor deciding the presence of EVs in the present market. The high-cost of EVs in comparison to a regular model, is estimated to be the major factor influencing the sale of EVs.


Simran Grover, founder of Bask Research Foundation, a research and policy firm working towards energy equity and climate action in Rajasthan, explains the skepticism around buying EVs.


“Suppose someone is embarking on a long road trip with an EV, there are some questions that will naturally arise - Will the EV be able to cover such a long distance, or what if there is no charge left on our vehicle and we are stranded on a highway without any proper charging station”, questions Grover.

There are 69,924 petrol pumps in the country as of August 2020 and they’re easy to find on most highways & urban areas; the apprehension around the infrastructure is not unfounded - current estimates suggest that 80% of the charging happens in personal spaces like homes and in some instances, workplaces; the lack of publicly available charging stations comes with what is referred to as range anxiety.


A report in Financial express states “As per a MarketWatch report, India would need around 4 lakh charging stations to accommodate the demand for 20 lakh EVs on the roads by 2026. Currently, the country has 1,800 charging stations as of March 2021.”

However, Grover is optimistic.


“This is a chain process. This skepticism will reduce, with better infrastructure - more charging stations and electrified roads. And this fact will subsequently lead to more adoption of EVs. The reverse scenario will also be applicable then - higher number of private EVs traversing the highways, will make the government upgrade the infrastructure”, he says.

Grover lauds this e-highway proposal, believing it's a good start - “Right now, the presence of Electric vehicles (EVs) in the Indian market is still quite low. However, with these upcoming charging stations, it is likely that the number of EVs will increase in the future.”

An existing EV charging station (Image credit: Autocar India)

“These charging stations are being seen as a formidable replacement for petrol and diesel. With more people opting for EVs, it is likely to be highly beneficial to the environment, with reduced pollution and a reduction in the Carbon footprint. This improved environment will subsequently improve the health of the people”, says Grover.

The road ahead

This e-highway proposal is expected to be the start of a massive change in our country, with a slight and gradual shift from the petrol and diesel operated vehicles to the electric modes.


While Hero, Mahindra, Tata Motors and Hyundai are among the notable manufacturers to have already launched all kinds of EVs in the recent years, the entry of Ola Electric scooters is expected to be a game changer in this market - easy reservation process, refundable deposit offers and rapid manufacturing rate. As per official estimates, Ola received more than one lakh reservations, within the first 24 hours!


While certain factors like affordability and infrastructural setup can pose certain questions along the route, effective marketing strategies by manufacturers and timely government interventions are expected to brighten things up in this market.

 

Edited by Aparna Chandrashekhar

 

Some resources and links to help you learn more on the e-highway proposal:

  1. Charge car on the road — Delhi-Jaipur stretch could be India’s first e-highway by mid-2022

  2. Nitin Gadkari invites EU to build electric highway, plans LNG for trucks, buses