How e-vehicles can check Bengaluru's air pollution woes

How e-vehicles can check Bengaluru's air pollution woes

Representative image

By Prajwala Hegde,

The public health emergency declared in New Delhi, owing to the high levels of air pollution, has highlighted the crucial need for more public transport. Air pollution is said to be the leading cause of death in India and the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic. Another study by the Central Pollution Control Board revealed that Bengaluru tops the list of six major polluting cities in India. The contributing factors to the pollution are attributed to increased industrial activities along with the high number of diesel generator sets and increasing vehicular emission. To combat pollution, electric buses are being considered by the administration.

A study by Northwestern University quantified the differences in air pollution generated from battery-powered electric vehicles (EV) versus internal combustion engines. The researchers found that even when their electricity is generated from combustion sources, EVs have a net positive impact on air quality and climate change. It also provides evidence that making this switch would improve overall air quality. 

The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) doesn't have a single electric bus yet and a tender to induct 300 e-buses was floated in October, after a wait of five years. This was following a sanction by the Centre under the Phase II of Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) in India Scheme. BMTC even had a trial launch of e-buses in 2014 but was unsuccessful in introducing this initiative. 

BMTC Managing Director C Shikha said, "Accepted model now is GCC (Gross Cost Contract) as per FAME 2 policy of DHI (Department of Heavy Industry). Four depots selected as per grid plan for converting to electric bus depots are Hebbal, HSR, KR Puram and Whitefield." 

Roads congested: Activist

A college student Sumedh Sunil Kedari, who owns an electric bike, stated that he has been travelling 24 kilometres on a daily basis for seven months. However, he is reluctant to take it out of the city due to the scarcity of charging stations.

Urban affairs activist Sanjeev Dyamannavar stated that the roads are so congested that buses would take an hour to cover 10 kilometres and the battery would get drained.

He added incentives such as the recent tax reduction on battery-operated vehicles are also needed. While he thinks that a bus priority lane would make it easier, he still remains sceptical on the feasibility of e-buses in the city. 

Dyamannavar mentioned that ideally the buses should draw power from an overhead live current line like trams, bringing down the cost of procuring, maintenance and energy, and only the investment would be high. 

He points out that reusability of batteries is a concern and there should be a secondary market so that the used battery can be utilised for other requirements. 

Need infra, tech

In 2019, Hyundai Motor Co. launched India’s first electric SUV, but only 130 Kona SUVs were sold to dealers through August, in a country with 15 crore drivers. The lack of charging infrastructure is a primary reason behind EVs not picking up pace in the world’s fourth-largest auto market. Official data suggests China, the largest market for EVs, has about 456,000 charging points, compared to India’s 650 charging stations in 2018. Also, there are only 27 cars for every 1,000 Indians, compared with 570 for the same number of Germans, showing global automakers the potential in India’s EV market.

In 2017, a southeastern city in China, Shenzen, announced that 16,359 buses had gone electric. Policy incentives such as national and local subsidies played a huge role in closing the cost gap between e-buses and conventional diesel buses. While e-buses in Shenzhen have high upfront costs, their operation and maintenance costs are significantly lower than those of diesel buses, according to a study conducted by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility.

The city also adopted a type of e-bus wherein charging for five hours was enough to support 250 kilometres of driving, which is enough for a full day of operation. Bus manufacturers also provided a lifetime warranty for vehicles and batteries. Shenzhen has reportedly met its air quality improvement goals in 2016 and 2017.

 Traffic expert M N Srihari stated that while China has always come up when talking of e-buses, India lacks the infrastructure and technology to emulate those results. He stressed on the development of faster recharging as the buses cannot be in an idle condition for long and mentioned the lack of storage facilities for such batteries.

(Author is Bengaluru - based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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