Requisite insights to guide EV charging infrastructure deployment

In this article, Jaideep Saraswat and Akanksha Golchha reflect on key decision points for delopyment of EV charging infrastructure.

In 2019, out of 10 most polluting cities in the world, 6 of them were in India. The stringent lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic showcased the best case scenario where the Particulate Matter (PM) concentration reduced to an all-time low. Moreover, it asserted the significance of a few solutions that are available but not put to use due to complicated and contradictory responses. 

One such solution is Electric Vehicles (EVs). EVs are one of the most promising technologies to decarbonize the transportation sector. The Government of India (GOI) has provided tremendous support to the EV segment through interventions such as Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) in 2015 and FAME-II in 2019 under National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP). With Central Government paving way for electric mobility, more than 10 States in India have already notified EV polices and many more have released the draft version of the same.  

Still, the uptake of EVs in India remains lukewarm. In a recent survey conducted by us for a research paper, we found that the lack of EV charging infrastructure was the biggest deterrent among the sustainability conscious buyers for not investing in the EVs (see figure 1). Clearly, this problem needs to be addressed urgently.

Figure 1: Tree Chart of Responses Collected in the Survey

If we delve deeper into the issue, we realize that the choice of charging system would depend on multiple factors including distance to be traveled, time available for charging the vehicle, availability of EV charging infrastructure, tariff, etc.

Two-wheelers can be charged from normal wall sockets, three wheelers either through designated charging spaces or may opt for battery swapping, and buses through proprietary charging facilities like depot charging. On the other hand, cars can either be charged through home-based charging infrastructure using AC/slow chargers or through fast/DC chargers available at EV charging stations.

With less than 10,000 electric cars plying on the road in India, the public infrastructure providers face the classic ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum. Consumers are skeptical of range anxiety and would prefer optimal EV charging infrastructure in place before making a purchase. On the other hand, the most prominent concern for infrastructure owners is generating sufficient return on investments. Various studies around the globe elucidate that EV charging infrastructure must be established for boosting uptake of electric cars.

High upfront capital costs are involved in setting up of EV charging infrastructure and operations would entail significant recurring costs including energy charges, software and hardware costs, security, land lease, etc. It is, thus, essential that operations are optimized to generate minimum required rate of return on capital employed.

The objective of this article is to highlight parameters that must be considered for determining the optimal solutions for establishing public EV charging infrastructure in India. We suggest the decision points, discussed below, must be considered.

Figure 2: Key Decision points for identifying optimal EV charging solution

Based on the entity under consideration the order of decision points will vary. For instance, the entities engaged in EV charging infrastructure business or are vying it as a future prospect (like Aggregators), the flow would be – Decision Point 2 -> Decision Point 1 -> Decision Point 3. It is suggested that the entity may choose a flow that they closely associate with. Furthermore, each key tenet in the decision points is explained below:

a. Types of Chargers: The Ministry of Power issued revised guidelines that allowed public charging station owners the flexibility to install the number and type of chargers (CCS, CHAdeMO, Type-2 AC, etc.) as per the market requirements. Thus, an informed decision needs to be taken based on existing EVs in the market, future entrants, and intended target. 

b. Location: Perhaps the most crucial factor for setting up of EV charging infrastructure is its location. The appropriate location will not only ensure optimum utilization of assets but will also ensure business continuity by generating the required returns on the investments. Though the charger unit requires minimum space, but, the vehicle would occupy already scarce parking spaces in Indian cities, ranging from several minutes to a couple of hours. Thus, it is essential to select a location where cars can be parked for reasonable amount of time. Such places would include recreational centers (shopping malls, fitness centers, public gardens and parks, cafes, etc.), office complexes, residential complexes, airports, parking areas, education hubs etc. Further, EV chargers must be placed along the major highways and major roads to address the range anxiety concerns particularly for inter-city travels.

Overtime, it has been argued whether fuel stations are ideal location for installing EV chargers. Their possibility to act as a possible solution must not be undermined. However, concerns such as traffic jams, parking spaces conflicts, etc. must be addressed prior to selecting fuel stations for installing EV chargers, as being done by Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum among others.

In all likelihood, ideal locations for setting up EV charging infrastructure will be loaded with high lease rentals. Thus, appropriate authorities may be requested to allocate such point of interest through transparent routes. Further, depending on the type of charger installed and expected wait time, the EV infrastructure developer must decide on various amenities to be provided.

c. Source of Power: Power supplied by the charging station can be sourced from the electric utility, renewable generation sources, other parked EVs at the site, or a combination of these. To finalize the source of power, it is essential to forecast the demand, and assess the capacity of distribution infrastructure at the site. Go for an infrastructure upgrade, if the analysis says so. Moreover, it is extremely important to compare the cost of power from various options and select the most feasible option.

d. Harmonics: Conduct a simulation to calculate the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) and Total Demand Distortion (TDD) at the site due to EV chargers. Though most of the EV chargers now follow IEEE 519 guidelines, their cluster can surpass the threshold limit. If this gets validated from the analysis, opt for filters (passive or active) based on the requirement.  

Also Read: FAQs on Harmonic Pollution and its relevance to EV Charging

e. Visibility: The EV charging infrastructure should be geo-spatially visible to electric car owners along with the charger availability or expected wait time to improve convenience of consumers.

f. Amenities: Considering the wait time required for charging a car, it would be essential to design the space in such a way that basic as well as recreational alternatives are available to the EV owners. These amenities can range from rest rooms, cafes, ATMs, convenience/grocery stores, fitness centers, etc. These can either be available in the same premises or accessible at a short walking distance. This would ensure additional revenues for the infrastructure owners and improve business viability.

Related: EV Charging at Hotels for Distributed Infrastructure

The investments, once made in setting up of EV charging infrastructure, would be long-term and irreversible in a sense, with all these intertwined parameters determining the feasibility of the project. Clearly, this kind of decision should be backed with data. This data will range from the feeder data from the electric utilities, land-use data, EV uptake and its forecast data, travel patterns, behavioral data, sentimental data, demographics, etc. 

First, this data can be fed into a dynamic model that predicts the optimum location to install a charging infrastructure. The volume, velocity and variety of data flowing in suggests incorporation of big data systems. Along with this, use unsupervised machine learning to allow system to identify patterns on its own. Second, a front-end tool can be developed that takes initial inputs from the investors and allow them to make informed decisions based on the cost and location. 

Though there are a few solutions existing in the ecosystem but they are either behind pay walls or are not holistic in nature. There is an urgent need to have a similar open source tool. It will help transition to EVs in a convenient manner and will ratchet up private investment in this domain. Also, it will ensure that the electricity and other infrastructure co-evolves without causing any disruptions. This will make the model worth emulating.  This pandemic has given us a glimpse of what a world with cleaner air looks like and has given us ample time to revisit our strategy to ‘flatten the climate curve’. 

About the Authors

Jaideep Saraswat is a Senior Program Manager at Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation. He is an avid researcher with a keen interest in Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicles- Technology, Policy, and Business.

Akanksha Golchha is a Program Manager (Electric Utilities) at Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation. Her areas of interest include clean power, sustainability, and climate change adaptation.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the view of Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation.

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