In January of this year, Greenpeace published a report on the level of air pollution in India stating that, countrywide, 1.2 million deaths take place every year due to air pollution. This loss of life costs the Indian economy an estimated 3 percent of GDP.
The report, titled “Airpocalypse,” shows that none of India’s cities comply with standards prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and that very few cities in southern India comply with Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) standards.
The report quoted Sunil Dahiya, campaigner for Greenpeace India, as saying, “We are facing an apocalypse right now due to unbreathable air. Deaths due to air pollution are only a fraction less than those due to use of tobacco, yet authorities are laying a deaf ear to the numerous scientific reports that have set alarm bells ringing.”
According to Greenpeace, the report was based on information obtained through online reports and Right to Information applications from State Pollution Control Boards across India. The assessment of air quality was done in 168 cities, across 24 states and union territories.
Cars are to blame
The report concluded that fossil fuel was the main culprit for India’s deteriorating air quality, and that “if the country’s development is important, fighting air pollution has to be a priority.”
The government was quick to react. State power and energy minister Piyush Goyal announced at an April conference that, after 2030, no petrol or diesel car would be sold in India. The minister stated that the scheme would first target “larger consumer centers where pollution is at an all-time high,” referring to cities like Delhi.
The Netherlands and Norway also plan to phase out petrol-driven cars by 2025, and the Indian government seems to have taken a cue from these countries. The passenger car market in India, however, is more than 15 times larger than that of Norway. Norway sold 200,317 cars over a recent one-year span. Over that same period, India sold 3,046,727 vehicles, of which fewer than 1 percent were electric.
A gradual process
At the start, the government will begin by limiting the number of petrol and diesel cars sold through a public lottery system. Preference will be given to registration of electric cars instead. Given that the cost of maintaining and running electric cars is far cheaper, however, consumers might be naturally inclined to buying electric cars if they are available.
Making electric cars available to the average consumer, however, is likely to be challenging at best. Mahindra has a range of electric cars available at a lower price range, in contrast to Toyota and Honda, whose electric cars are significantly more expensive.
In a press release, Tesla recently put on hold its launch plans in India citing the “absence of an ecosystem for the supply of electric vehicle components.” The transport minister offered Tesla land near ports so that the company can set up manufacturing units in the country and make it an export base.
Thus far, Tesla has not responded to the administration’s proposal. Manufacturing of electric cars will have to be given major incentives, and manufacturers encouraged to increase production, if the plan for 2030 is to succeed.
Critics of the plan have pointed out that, presently, India does not have enough electricity for its rural areas. That being the case, how it will ever have the electricity to drive its cars? The Finance Ministry’s response is that plans are afoot to have electricity in all Indian villages by 2018. And this plan appears to be succeeding: At the moment, only 4,141 villages still need to be electrified, of 640,867 villages in India.
Why not electric cars?
A comprehensive recharging infrastructure will have to be built to cater to the projected charging needs of 350 million cars and lorries post-2030. One unanswered question is: What will become of our existing petrol pumps? Will they be converted to recharging stations?
Electric cars are presently charged at too few charging stations, or through sockets in personal garages, a process that can take hours to complete. This will have to change, and charging of vehicles will need to be swifter, as well as readily available in all areas.
The government also needs to ensure that the power supply in charging stations across the country remain uninterrupted, as running charging stations through diesel-fueled generators, will completely offset the advantage of electric cars and generate more greenhouse gases.
The government’s 2030 plan is comprehensive and would substantially bring down the pollution levels, but it is a mammoth task fraught with challenges. Information Technology (IT) will certainly have to play a role in resolving some of the challenges.
Available IT tools and technologies can be used to track progress of the implementation plan and report on risks and problems as (and when) they occur. IT service companies can come to the aid of the government by providing solutions for tracking cars sold and used across the country especially in heavily congested areas. Software can also be used to track the sale of used cars which, if left untracked, has the potential to negate the environmental benefits of electric cars.
Additionally, but more significantly, there is huge scope for developing small programs and applications for the benefit of the consumer who may otherwise be reluctant to drive electric cars.
Understandably, there will always be some degree of reluctance about doing away with petrol automobiles. There are three particular instances where programs and applications using IoT can help the consumer make a smooth transition to electric cars and directly help the government meet its 2030 target.
- The transition to electric cars could be accomplished through hybrids. The cars could be programmed to warn drivers when their charges are running out and automatically make the switch to petrol or diesel. Periodic reports could be generated to tell the driver the percentage of time the vehicle was running solely on electricity. As charging infrastructure is enhanced the driver will notice less dependency on petrol and diesel and find it easier to operate fully electric cars.
- An existing network of charging stations available needs to be visible to the driver. Stories of electric cars running out of charge on the highways are not unheard of and have, to an extent, created apprehension about relying on such vehicles. Displaying regular information on a dashboard regarding the distance to the nearest functional charging station and the maximum amount of distance a car can travel with the charge available, could assuage some of the initial fears of being stranded at inopportune times.
- Vehicles could also be networked to help charge other cars in an emergency. A car could send an SOS like signal when it is low on battery and other vehicles could choose to respond and help jumpstart the low battery car so that it can reach the nearest charging stations.
Admittedly, each of these applications are small steps, but they can help the government meet its 2030 goal.
For the government, making the transition to 100 percent electric cars by 2030 is an uphill task with a number of significant hurdles to clear. However once implemented, this could be a life saving measure. So a bit of effort on the part of all responsible citizens of the country could help the government realize the goal beneficial not only for Indians alive today, but also for future generations.