Awadhesh Kumar Jha, Vice President, Charge & Drive & Sustainability, Fortum India

Q: Currently India has about 6,000 electric cars and government of India is aiming to become 100 percent electric vehicle nation by 2030, do you think it is an achievable target?

A: Well, this is a good question to begin with. In order to understand this we need to understand how market responds to new technological product or services. First of all what is market? Moore has defined in his famous book “Crossing the Chasm-Marketing and selling High-Tech Products to mainstream Customers” market as a set of customers – existing or potential- for a group of products or services who have a common set of needs or wants, and who reference each other while making a buying decision. Technology Adoption Life Cycle progresses from Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and finally Laggards.

Electric Vehicle will also pass through same product cycle. Though it might have reached early majority stage in country like Norway, USA, I would consider that in India it is at an early stage where innovators are the main customers of EV. By taking numerous initiatives like Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) & Electrical vehicles (FAME), Electric Vehicle Policy by some of the state governments, Smart Cities Mission, Standardization of EV Chargers – Bharat Charger, intent to replace fleet of Govt vehicles with EVs etc. Government has given the initial momentum to EV which will help it reach to early adaptors. As more and more countries are adopting EVs, it will shortly start moving on high pace and India being globally connected economy will reap the benefits of global adoption and it will reach to majority stage in shorter span than other countries as Indian customers will form part of early majority in terms of Global market .

The question arises what will motivate us to embrace EV? I would say having a heathy living environment is our right and Adoption of electric vehicle will provide the same not only to us but to our future  generation as well. Residents of our cities particularly metros are exposed to very poor air quality where tailpipe emission from ICE Vehicles is one of the contributor. With adoption of EVs this emission is completely removed, thus people will be living in  a healthy environment. Further, with more and more renewable energy, which is variable in nature, fed in the grid, use of EVs shall provide the flexible load to balance the system. If we see India’s vision to achieve all electric fleet by 2030 from this perspective, it becomes obvious that we have no choice but to achieve this.

Given its commitment to reduce carbon intensity under Paris Agreement, it is our responsibility now to embrace the technology and join the change. This will necessitate the combined efforts of the administration, the private sector, and the public. Taking a cue from success of solar PV capacity addition during last 3-4 years, I am confident that we can achieve this target.

Q: To keep these EVs running on road how many charging stations does the country need?

A: Number of chargers depends on various factors like battery capacity of cars, their charging capability, consumer segment etc. As per European Commission Report, it varies from 1 PEV (Plug-in Vehicle) per charger to 323 PEVs per charger across Europe. In Norway, one AC charger serves about 18 cars and  1 DC fast charger is installed per 100 vehicles while in United Kingdom it varies from 10 cars to 49 cars per one AC and DC fast charger respectively. Please note, in Nordics and Europe, DC fast charger is of minimum 50 KW whereas in India we are talking of 15 KW. Presently India sells about 22 million automotive fleet annually. Considering 10% CAGR, in 2030 India will be selling about 75 million vehicles Y-O-Y. In the best possible scenario of having reached 100% electric, we would be requiring about 1 million to 3 million chargers Y-O-Y basis. These are the number of charger poles not the charging station as one station could have multiple charging poles like we have currently multiple fuel dispensers at fuel outlet. Further, as charging technology has been continuously evolving, as charging time reduces number of charging poles would decrease as same charger would serve many more cars.

Q: Fortum has ventured in India making it the first country outside Europe in the Charge & Drive space. The company’s plans include developing charging infrastructure along with the cloud based system (SAAS). We would be interested to know from you about the cloud based system, their security and usage?

A: Fortum Charge & Drive offers a cloud solution for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging service providers and infrastructure investors. The cloud-based (SaaS) architecture enables flexible, pay-as-you-grow models, and white/grey label alternatives. The Fortum Charge & Drive service is configured to suit a wide array of custom requirements, from back-end administration that allows an operator to see the current status of each charger, control the charging at each station (e.g. start, stop, restart), and a wide array of pricing options, to the front-end branding of the consumer mobile app and web portal.

The Charge & Drive Saas cloud solution is hardware agnostic; multiple hardware manufacturers are already integrated, and more are being added continuously. Our service allows network operators to remain in control of their network and charging points, regardless of which hardware manufacturer(s) are in use, and our roaming capability with flexible payment options provide a superior end-user experience. Fortum Charge & Drive offers the only mass-market proven solution for EV charging, as well as a personal commitment to growing your charging business.

To end consumer it offers status of charging points (Available, In Use, Out of Service); advance reservation of charging slot; flexible payment option through RFID, Credit/Debit card, SMS ; multiple payment models like per minutes, per kWh, combination of two; charging history and many other features which help a consumer have a great experience charging their EV. It enables a fully secured charging, which makes sure that without authorization, through RFID or mobile app, the charging process cannot be initiated.

Q: Please share in detail how e-mobility can deliver a whole range of benefits and support the market for renewable energy sources (RES) at the same time.

A: Renewable Energy coming from solar and wind are variable in nature which adds more stress on the grid in managing the load and supply. Electric Vehicle works as a flexible load which can be used to manage the grid stability. During the day when more and more solar energy gets pumped into the grid, by charging EV during this period it will absorb the additional supply into the system. Similarly, at the time when load peaks and there is no matching supply from the grid connected generating plants, EV can supply power to the grid. Though V2G is still not dominant globally but lot of pilot projects are being run globally to manage the grid locally. Besides, EV charging through solar/wind power counters the argument of EV naysayers who terms EV as polluting as ICE vehicles. Once EV gets its energy input from renewable source like Solar/Wind/Hydro, it will blunt above argument also.

Q: Fortum is planning to roll out Charge & Drive plan to more than 150 charging stations over a period of next 12–18 months, where have you planned to install these charging stations and do you see the number of EVs increasing in the time frame of 18 months?

A: India is poised to take a big leap towards e-mobility. Indian market –both solar and EV- offers a great opportunity for researchers to find a breakthrough advancement in Lithium based storage solution. Once the price of Li based battery comes to below 100 US$ per kWh, which is expected to happen in next 3-4 years’ time, both EV and Solar storage would leapfrog to a higher level opening a huge opportunity to charger service provider.

India is already an important market for Fortum, which has flourishing solar operations in the country. With the commitment of the Indian government to transition to electric mobility, Fortum has begun charging operations in India, bring our experience as the leading Charge Point Operators (CPO) in the Nordics to the burgeoning Indian market, and making India the first country outside Europe in the Charge & Drive space.

The plans for Fortum Charge & Drive in India include developing charging infrastructure along with the cloud-based SaaS system, starting with a pilot in New Delhi and plans to roll out more than 150 charging stations over the next 12-18 months. Operations will draw from our extensive experience as the leading operator in Norway, the frontrunner of the global EV market, but will cater to a different segment including PV vehicles, public transport, and two- and three-wheelers. We will also explore the possibility of battery swapping, as reflected by the needs in the country.

Location would depend on number of factors such as potential demand, state’s policy towards EV, to name a few. We do not want to close our option of serving any set of early adopters and willing consumers.

Q: Before installing a charging station for electric vehicles what type of processes does one company have to go through, what is the biggest technical hurdle to build charging infrastructure in the country for electric cars?

A: Access to suitable location for sitting the charging station could be one potential challenge for developing charging infrastructure. Govt support would be required in making location available for this purpose if we have to roll out a good network of charging station.

Q: What type of policy does the government needs to bring-in for mass adoption of EVs and easy installation process of charging stations?

A: If EV is to reach to majority, consumer has to be given option of vehicles to choose from besides assuring them on range anxiety by having  access to wide spread network of charging points. Presently, we have very less number of EV models available in India which restricts consumer to go for EV. What is required that more and more OEMs start manufacturing EVs in India so that consumer will have choice of all variants – from basic to high end cars like they have in ICE. How this can be done?

This can be achieved by introducing Quota of ZEV (Zero Emission vehicle) – LEV (Low Emission Vehicle), similar to RPO (Renewable Purchase Obligation). RPO gave the momentum to solar deployment and we see the result. California did introduce ZEV quota successfully and now China has decide to have similar system starting with 8% in 2018 and  rising to 12% by 2020. This sound logical as we cannot achieve target of 100% electric vehicle overnight. Manufacturing has to be gradually ramped up. This would also facilitate development of associated component markets and service sectors as well.

Government should also consider providing import concession for EVs for initial few years which will help existing players like Nissan, Renualt, Tesla etc. to introduce their vehicles to Indian consumers at an attractive price. This will boost demand for EVs which will offer opportunity to existing OEMs to start manufacturing EVs in India itself.

To address the range anxiety, a robust charging station network has to be developed. In this direction, one important policy measures which will have lasting effect in addressing the range anxiety of consumers is to amend the Building Code by mandating all upcoming buildings – residential, commercial, industrial- to have provision for charging infrastructure. Most of the individual EV owners would prefer to charge their vehicle either at home or work place which is good for battery health as well. Currently, building premises do not have any charging infrastructure.

Another significant step could be to treat the EV charging as a regular commercial business. What is important for consumer to have a competitive environment in the field of charging so that consumers get benefitted as it has happened with telecom sector. This can be achieved by allowing any investor including utility to offer charging service to EVs. Here it is important to note that electricity is one of the input in the form of energy to drained battery of EVs. Besides, it involves host of other value addition. Incidentally, there is host of amendments proposed in the Electricity Act 2003 which is pending before Cabinet for consideration. One of them is to separate Wire and Content business of electricity. This has potential to revolutionize the electricity market. This will give freedom to consumer to choose their supplier of electricity. Allowing EV charging business as a service business along with this amendment will give requisite boost to development of charging infrastructure.

Adoption of globally proven charging standards – CCS Combo/ CHAdeMO should also be one of the priority for the country. Recently Government has notified standards for low voltage charging. This is good beginning as this takes care of existing fleet of 4-wheelers and also for 2 and 3 wheelers. However, for high range in 4-Wheelers segment including bus would require battery charging at high voltage level. Most of the OEMs present in India are having their connection with Europe/USA/Japan. It would be easier for them to roll out product which is used in other markets. This can be done by adopting multi standards of CCS Combo and CHAdeMO which are prevalent standards in DC Charging globally. This will facilitate faster adoption of EVs as we have witnessed in solar PV installation where we did not reinvent the wheel and adopted available technology.

Q: What type of safety risks come with installing a charging station? What would be the impact if it rains or it’s exposed to water?

A: The technology has matured enough to take care of these aspects. There are no major concerns regarding safety of operating a chargers for EV as long as it conforms to national safety standards. The charger should have at least IP 54 Rating to be used outside.

Q: Do you see the current time frame for a fast charging EVs to go down as technology improves?

A: Yes. Charging time is function of battery size and charging voltage and current and mode of charging. Fast charging is done in DC mode where On Board charger fitted in car is bypassed. Globally DC charging is done with minimum 50 KW charger. Tesla supercharger supply upto 120 KW power to car. Fortum is running a pilot project in Sweden and Norway where 3 High Power capacity Chargers (350 KW) are being installed. This will bring down the time of charging for a Nissan leaf to less than 10 minutes from present 30 minutes. This will catapult the use of EVs on large scale as consumers shall not have to wait for very long time at charging station. Incidentally, in India we currently have DC charging upto 15 KW which require a vehicle to remain plugged for 90-120 minutes. This will change as demand for EV will pick up. However, use of high voltage charging would necessitate strengthening of distribution network.

Q: Which countries would you say are at the forefront of EV growth in the region?

A: Norway is undoubtedly global leader in terms of per capita penetration, though China and USA are having large numbers of EV in absolute number. Now, India has taken its first step and I firmly believe that we have the potential to be in the forefront of EV growth globally. This gets manifested through our INDC and other commitment towards adoption of EV by 2030 which is ahead of many other countries.

Q: India’s push for EVs is closely bound to its drive for solar energy; can you say a bit more about that?

A: Though I do not fully agree to this statement, I see a clear interplay between EV adoption and solar power installation. While solar power would provide the green power to operate the charging station, EV shall bring in much needed flexibility to manage the variable load in the system. Further, increased adoption of EV means improved battery technology at affordable price. This will have simultaneous impact on adoption of storage in solar plant as well. This way we can say EV and Solar would supplement to each other’s large scale adoption.

Q: Recently in an interview you said “leaving the charging infrastructure business to private investors will bring in a lot of reliability and competition,” that’s true- but when we talk about competition one thing that always haunts us is the usage of cheap and unreliable components in the solar segment. What measures do you think can be taken to keep this sector unadulterated ?

A: First, I do not think responsible developers are using unreliable components in solar plant. Our experience suggests that most of the manufacturers we have been dealing with till now have very robust quality control system which ensure very high standard product. Additionally, as the charging infrastructure business deals with consumers who are the end-users, and for whom a happy charging experience is important, one has to be conscious of this aspect to provide a seamless user experience to consumers.

Adoption of globally proven charging standards shall also ensure that quality of equipment and protocol is fail safe.

(This interview was originally published in Climate Samurai, January-2018 issue)