How big of a market could India be for EVs? Presentations from recent conference

From Clean Technica, June 2017

How big of a market could India be for EVs? How quickly could India’s population really electrify its fleet? Could India genuinely become the first country to go fully electric? Could it go electric by 2030?

There are a few things to consider here, but there’s a lot more to explore in order to answer these questions.

On the plus side, India is propelling itself into a clean energy (solar and wind energy) future super fast. It is more or less the hottest renewable energy market in the world**. And this is despite long struggling with blackouts, brownouts, and large problems with grid connectivity and stability. But the point here is that all of that solar and wind energy could benefit a great deal from a responsive grid full of EV batteries that could absorb extra renewable output when needed and perhaps also pull from those EV batteries in times of great stress.

Another thing: while the upfront cost of electric vehicles is still steep by India’s norm, we are on the verge of commercial self-driving vehicles, and electric vehicles will rule the day there. Elon Musk has noted that Model 3 electric cars will all be produced with hardware that is sufficient for fully autonomous travel, and that Tesla is working on a system that will allow drivers of Tesla vehicles to send their cars out as robotaxis when not in use, even potentially creating more revenue for the owners than they spent on the cars. On the one hand, that would make it highly economical for anyone who can foot the upfront costs to buy a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y instead of … well, basically any other car. On the other hand, those electric robotaxis will provide cheap, convenient, flexible transport for the riders as well … especially in highly populated places (like India).

So, at a quick glance, despite the barrier of upfront costs, electric cars look like they could be very pragmatic and beneficial solutions for grid stability and, indeed, cheap transportation.

One of the first high-profile situations I landed in as a cleantech blogger was in 2010 when CNBC interviewed me in its London studios for an “Energy Opportunities” series supported by Harvard Business Review and Shell. I ended up talking a lot about how India and other developing countries could leapfrog the dirty energy problems the developed world has spent decades suffering through, because clean energy allowed for an increasingly cheaper, more democratic, and more flexible solution to their growing energy needs. Back then, the uninitiated were probably rolling their eyes when I looked the other way, but then India ended up plowing full force into clean, renewable energy — because it was obviously the best solution for the country’s economy, air, and people.

I think we’re at a similar point with electric vehicles and the developing world. Again, it seems logical on the surface that rich, developed nations would be first to electrify all the vehicles in their parking garages and driveways (and, frankly, I think any country will indeed be hard-pressed to catch up to Norway and beat it to 100% electric transport), but there’s a case to be made that betting on developing nations, especially India, is a strong bet. Looking at India’s currently meager electric vehicle share of the market could be deceiving, and ignoring the strong potential of a national government teaming up with the experience curve of batteries and electric cars could leave you snickering or rolling your eyes about India’s aim to be the first fully electric nation.

I’d keep my cash in my pocket a bit longer before betting on India passing the finish line first, but the possibility is something we’re going to delve into more deeply in the coming months (and probably years). Furthermore, reaching the finish line first isn’t the most important thing — what’s important is that India is committed to an EV future, is working to bring it about, and may even usher Tesla into the country under special conditions in order to speed up the rEVolution.

*Here are three CleanTechnica videos of the presentations mentioned above:

**Though, China has a good case for why it’s #1.

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