Interview with Ekta Gupta, Director, Snel Charge India Private Limited

Ekta Gupta, Director, Snel Charge India Private Limited

In an exclusive interview with Climate Samurai , Ekta Gupta, Director, Snel Charge India Private Limited shared about her journey, challenges of woman entrepreneur, company’s manufacturing plan, impact of global slowdown on EV industry and more, here is the excerpt:-

  • Please introduce Snel Charge India to our readers

Snel Charge India Private Limited is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chemi Tech Group. Chemi Tech is a diversified group with interests in Chemicals, Adhesives, Solar distribution, EPC, Consultancy, Thermal O&M and Government contracting. Chemi Tech has a manpower of more than 400 semi-skilled workforce and around 150 people in mid and top-level management across its various divisions.

Snel Charge was incorporated in 2018 with an aim to remove range anxiety in the minds of Indian Electric Vehicle buyers. Thus, it provides turn-key solutions, starting from site visit to design, analysis, supply, installation and maintenance of domestic and public charging infrastructure. Apart from that, own production of AC Type-II chargers, establishing Lithium-ion battery repair centres and finally, establishing our own charging network is also on agenda. We are also working out on providing remote charging solutions, wherein, if the car stops on Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Agra or Delhi-Jaipur highway or anywhere in Delhi, our truck will go and charge the vehicle.

  • What was the driving factor that propelled you to dive into this EV segment and how has been the journey so far?

Idea for Electric Vehicles came during a trip to Norway. Norway is one of the largest producers of oil and natural gas in the world but also has one of the highest usage of Electric Vehicles globally. It was the time when people had just started talking about EVs in India, and any EV we could see on the roads were e-rickshaws. There was a proposal to establish first Fast Charger came up. We installed that charger for ABB and thus, the journey began.

From establishing the 1st DC Fast Charger at Niti Aayog, which was inaugurated by Hon Transport Minister himself, we are now working with 6 automotive OEMs and 2 Government PSUs and have installed more than 30 fast chargers and 110 slow chargers across the country. Journey has been eventful and we have seen so many steps being taken by various agencies in the couple of years.

We were hoping 2020 to be the defining year for EVs in India, however, impact of Covid-19 on already stressed out automotive sector will surely be detrimental.

  • We have only handful of woman entrepreneurs in India today, what do you think can help equalize these numbers? And how long will it take to reach such a statistic?

A lot of entrepreneurs need to come up and support woman start-ups. Easy capital raising for women entrepreneurs is also important. For example, I am trying to raise capital for Snel Charge too, although I have just started with this process, but I think it is not a very easy task for a woman.

It is difficult to say when these numbers will be equalized, only a soothsayer or a punter can predict for the future I guess, however, an extremely significant progress has been made in the last decade, and in the next 5-8 years, the numbers will rise exponentially. I will be glad if a lot of these numbers can come from smaller towns and villages, as there, we will see an actual empowerment.

  • What is the biggest hurdle today that is stopping a woman to be an entrepreneur?

Societal factors have always been a hindrance for woman entrepreneurs in the country. The inherent responsibilities are such that it gets very tough for women to stay committed to a cause. However, situation has greatly improved over the years and it is continuously improving every day. Everything cannot be government’s responsibility, gradually as the society progresses, there will be a greater share of women entrepreneurs.

  • To achieve the target of all EV by 2030 and keep these EVs running on road how many charging stations does the country need?

The question is not about number of charging stations, but whether people are comfortable taking their EVs everywhere they want. Whether a group of friends will be able to travel from Bangalore to Ladhakh in their EV even without a single thought.A major factor that is overlooked is that our power system needs to be upgraded if we need so many charging points at so many locations. For example, a typical mall in Delhi, with a parking space of maybe 2000 cars, will need around 100 charging points to cater the crowd on a typical day. Suppose we have 50 kW chargers, it will make it a 5 MW load, maybe the entire mall would not have that kind of a load. New electrical network, new wires, new panels, if there are 3-4 malls in the vicinity, maybe the entire substation will have to be modified.

Thus, country needs a lot of charging stations, one every 2-3 kms, and country will need a lot of power also to make the dream come true. Power quality also will be a critical factor.

  • India’s push for EVs is closely bound to its drive for solar energy; can you say a bit moreabout that?

As mentioned in the previous point, for an entire EV scenario, a lot of power is required, good quality power. Only thing that can make it viable is solar energy. If implemented properly, solar energy can help in reducing transmission losses by localizing electricity production. Furthermore, carbon footprint of the country will reduce further.

Agencies need to plan and make the electricity cheapest when solar energy is maximum, i.e., between 11 am to 3 pm. An ideal scenario will also be Solar + Storage + EV in a single setup.

  • Do you see rise in installation of charging stations at home in coming years? What will it taketo propel this segment?

As individuals start buying more and more EVs, naturally home installations will rise too. We have already installed more than 100 home chargers and have a pipeline of nearly 500 home chargers for the current financial year. During the covid-19 lockdown, people have seen first-hand the effects of reduced pollution on climate and noise levels. Similarly, many relaxations that were provided in Budget has encouraged many buyers to opt for EVs

  • Are you planning to assemble or manufacture Electric Vehicle Chargers at the state-of-the- art manufacturing unit that you are setting up in Hyderabad? When does the company plans to start the commercial production of these EV chargers?

It will start as an assembly unit, which will move onto full-fledged manufacturing operation as soon as the market is robust. We plan to start the commercial production by December 2020. Prototypes have already been prepared.

  • Will the chargers be exported outside the country from this manufacturing plant?

Definitely! We will be actively exploring South East Asian, Middle Eastern and South American markets to export the chargers. My co-founders already have a lot of experience of working in these regions and we are already in talks of starting an office in UAE or KSA and have established a few connects in Chile

  • SCIPL is planning to construct explosion-resistant repair centres for Lithium Ion Battery pack repair and maintenance, can you please share more info with our readers.

Lithium-ion storage and repair has been taken lightly till now. There have been scattered incidents of the battery exploding and we have all seen the how explosive the batteries can be.

As advanced EVs will come to the market, battery sizes will also increase and so will be the complexities associated with their repair.Our repair centres will cater to automotive OEMs who would like to get their battery serviced without putting a lot of strain on their existing dealer/service network.

We have already identified a land in Delhi NCR and have an explosives license also for that land. Similarly, we plan to open such centres in 11 cities in the near future. However, it is a bit of a Capex guzzling exercise and we are reaching out to investors for it.

  • As far as Snel Charge India is concerned, how are you managing the situation with work from home options and factories closed?

A lot of our orders have been put on hold. We saw the writing on the wall in early February itself, when there was a dearth of Li-ion batteries in the market due to delayed shipments from China.

Since most of the work is site-oriented as of now, we have no option but to let a lot of ground staff and engineers to remain at home. However, we expect them to learn some soft skills and have given them a lot of literature to read about our industry.

  • How is the Coronavirus spread impacting EV businesses in India? It is said that pandemic will leave a trail of economic disruption across sectors, recently a German battery manufacturing company has h applied for the opening of insolvency proceedings.

As mentioned, for most of the industry, writing on the wall was clear from early February itself. Automotive sector anyway was grappling, now, showrooms are closed, factories are closed and there are no new strategic discussions going on in major OEMs. Even for European OEMs, there will be new decisions only after there is a clarity on when this current situation will be mitigated.

Even after market opens up, the customers will be busy in covering up their own losses and managing their operations for a couple of months, so, I think, buying a new car, or a new electric car, might be just pushed at the back of their heads.

  • To what extent has the disruption in supply chain from China impacted your company.

Orders have been delayed as companies did not have batteries or other parts. There has been a disruption in our other businesses as well, especially the solar vertical. It might take 3 months more for everything to be streamlined.

  • When do you plan to role out street lamp integrated EV chargers in India?

We have the designs and capabilities to role out such a product. We have been designing and installing solar street lamps. However, a demand from the market is required for this product. We would like to lay a strong emphasis on making this product theft-proof.

  • An EV’s carbon footprint depends on whether its power comes from renewables or fossil, and quantifying exactly how clean EVs are compared to those fossil fuel powered vehicles. How does the company plan to address the environment issues currently associated with the EVs, particularly the charging stations that is not green at all!

We have installed around 12 solar based charging station on Delhi Chandigarh highway for a PSU. Carbon footprint naturally reduces manifolds when solar is used in sync with a charger. Environmental issues and carbon footprint can not be made 0, but, they can be minimized by ensuring equipment runs for its complete life, after that, it is recycled, and there is proper O&M to ensure maximum efficiency.

However, it is not justified to compare EV with an ICE vehicle as the electricity is generated in a central power station, which is much more efficient than a standalone generator/engine. Also, avenues for pollution control are much higher in a centralized plant.