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As India gets on the electric mobility road, the future lies in managed charging

Aseem Goyal
8th Feb 2018
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India needs to create a robust electrical infrastructure backbone with a very reliable communication network for a strong xEV charging infrastructure.

Although it is still in its infancy in India, electric mobility will potentially be more important going forward here than any other markets in the world. This necessitates that India be “in it to win it”. After all, “infrastructure always precedes innovation”. The internet must exist to use Google; 4G telecom towers were needed to fuel data growth; and so is the case with xEVs - a robust charging infrastructure is needed for mass adoption of electric vehicles.

The government of India - conscious of the uphill task - is driving from the front and is setting up liberal rules for “charging infrastructure” to power electric vehicles.

Earlier in 2017, India announced its vision towards “All Electric by 2030”. With such a thrust from the government, a mix of “Push and Pull” factors could shape the xEV (electrified vehicle) landscape of India.

For utility and energy firms, setting up the charging infrastructure is obvious extension, given the lucrative market potential projected to be around 190 billion units (~8 percent of India’s projected annual electricity requirement by 2030 and ~15 Billion Units/7Mil xEVs by 2020). Estimates also projected that net revenues from xEVs charging alone could cut the current utilities financial debts to large extent (approximately ≥ 50-55 percent) and the sector can potentially see a turnaround from electric mobility alone.

Though xEVs presents multifaceted and impactful opportunities for India, among various stakeholders, it certainly presents a very strategic opportunity for utilities. Global analysts also see xEVs as a boon for utilities, though risks do exist.

Given the projected growth, sooner rather than later xEVs will become the largest flexible loads on the grid, enabling better renewable energy (RE) penetration and improved utilisation of existing assets. However, another large risk amid xEV charging is a sudden surge in electricity demand, which may put at risk India’s already stretched distribution network. Given the grid situation in India, we need to create a robust electrical infrastructure backbone with a very reliable communication network to create a strong xEV charging infrastructure in the country

With a “regulatory overhang” around xEVs, CERC recently listed three potential charging infra business models. Under the current regulatory framework of Indian Electricity Act 2003, any model other than the listed three models necessitate amendment in the act.

-             Distribution Licensee Owned xEV Charging Infra.

-             Distribution Licensee Franchised xEV Charging Infra.

-             Privately owned Battery Swapping Stations

Globally Time of Day/Use (ToU) tariff has helped shift charging hours to preferred times of the day and most utilities have already taken up ToU tariffs (Refer Figure US Utilities ToU Tariff).

In India, ToU has already been implemented for industrial and commercial consumers in a couple of states. However, a majority of consumers across various segments are yet to witness ToU pricing regime.

The ToD regime is a huge step forward for utilities and consumers alike and will be the founding step towards Cost Reflective Tariff and further technological advancements. However, as xEVs go mainstream, realities may differ and ToU alone may not fulfill the dream since customers often tend to begin charging the moment off-peak rates begin, resulting in severe load ramps, and utilities end up facing a “new peak period”.

What we really need is “managed xEV charging” (aka dynamic charging, smart charging).

Managed xEV charging – the solution

By 2030, India’s peak demand is projected to reach at ~380 GW. With the adoption of xEVs and unrestricted grid access, peak power demand is likely to rise additionally by ~20-25 GW, which is potentially ~5.5 to 6.5 percent of the projected peak by 2030. Appropriate regulations, policies framework, technology, and a duteously designed tariff structure can avert additional peak demand and, in turn, additional investment in infrastructure.

Recently, the Department of Heavy Industries (DHI) issued an order, standardising protocol for xEV charging, wherein variable pricing for xEVs charging is indicated. This is a positive sign; further detailed policies on such variable pricing are yet to be cleared.

It calls for very meticulous planning and fully integrated software platform development in the backdrop to create a robust charging infra ecosystem.

Given India’s strong IT capabilities, we should leapfrog towards managed xEV charging. Aggressive deployment of smart meters capable of controlling external devices like charge points and an apt EV time of Use tariff structure policy are inevitable steps while we try to achieve the larger goal.

Utilities can be the nexus

 

Being closest to the consumer and with deep knowledge of execution, customer expectations and interests, utilities can play a central role as a “nexus” for xEV stakeholders and can proactively drive cost-effective strategies across the charging infra value chain. Government and regulatory bodies are certainly conscious of the importance of utilities, especially DISCOMS in the overall xEV ecosystem. However, power and utilities need to be more involved proactively, not only for bringing overall tariff re-structuring reforms, but for shaping up commercially viable and technologically sound policies, regulations, and standards for the future. This will help better modulate xEV charging events and pave a path towards more reliable grid solutions.

Though ToU tariff regime is inevitably the first step towards the bigger goal of smart charging, as xEVs goes mainstream, the static nature of ToU rates can potentially introduce new challenges (for e.g. new timer peaks at local distribution level, since at the end of the day it’s the customer who actually drives peak and off period, with obvious preference of charging their xEVs during off-peak times).

Electric mobility is definitely a part of larger discussions around grid evolution and given their aggregate charging load (aka xEV clustering) is certainly going to be large and flexible. The key challenge is to find a way to distribute these charging events across off-peak hours or schedule charging for periods of high renewable energy production. Managed charging will surely prove to be of potential benefit for aligning high generation of renewable energy with xEV demand and improve the overall grid economics.

Planning ahead of the xEV wave

Electric Mobility can deliver numerous benefits for users, the power sector, and society as a whole. In the global scenario, the first significant “tipping point” is just a few years away, when residential solar and battery storage systems will reach grid cost parity in several parts of the world. As xEVs get cheaper than ICE by year 2025, it will determine the way future power and grid networks are designed and operated.

Despite potential benefits of managed charging like access to real-time vehicle-side-data, enabling further better decisions and efficient deployment of demand response programmes while ensuring vehicles always receive the charge they require, there are certain challenges. These include robust network communication, interoperability, and - the most important - consumer buy-in. The key is to ensure that the technology deployment is inexpensive and reliable. An effective communication protocol and interoperability are indispensable to reach there.

India has made a bright start in this regard with the DHI’s recent order Bharat EV Charger Specifications standardising “Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) as the communication protocol for all kinds of public off-board chargers by virtue of it being compatible across the value chain.

Fortunately, the said protocol has already been developed and implemented successfully by Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) with complete source code available. This means India is not dependent on any country for any of these protocol stacks.

As more EVs hit the road in the coming years, we will likely see widespread grid and business impacts across multiple levels of utility operations, from distribution planning and load management to demand response programmes and even generation and transmission. Globally several organisations like Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) are working on Open Vehicle Grid Integration Platform (OVGIP), enabling utilities to proactively manage xEV charging activities. Similarly another open protocol, e. Open Automated Demand Response (OpenADR), can be used in combination with OCPP to improve overall grid operations.

Amid the current state of policies, regulations, standards, and xEV penetration in India, it’s important that we engage with the potential possibilities now and ensure a strong base platform to ensure more sustainable and optimised electric mobility future for the country.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.) 

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