For companies and cities willing to invest in advancing their sustainability initiatives, technology will act as a major accelerant writes Ashok Agarwal, MD & CEO – GreenCell Mobility
Companies and city administrators today understand that achieving ambitious sustainability goals, which have become core to the business as well as city development, requires a systemic approach to transformation. And in this process, technology will have a huge role to play. As more sectors across industries think about their technology and sustainability agendas, the important question to ask is whether we are bringing game-changing technology and digital thinking to the task of meeting our sustainability goals. To build sustainability as a competitive advantage the need is to integrate technology and data into their products and processes. Thus, the role of tech has gone well beyond just greening IT.
One of the sectors in which this will be crucial is the mobility sector. Since its inception, mobility has been a flashpoint for progress on the technological, economic, and social fronts, changing the very way we live. Now, we are amid another disruption in this sector. While much uncertainty remains on how this inflection point of mobility sector will unfold, many of the critical building blocks, and their potential, are becoming clear.
The transport sector is the fastest-growing greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting sector, with its share in India being about 10 per cent of total national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and road transportation contributing about 87 per cent of the total emissions in the sector according to a CEEW report. It is also a leading emitter of short-lived climate pollutants which have a high global warming potential and contribute greatly to air pollution. The global vehicle fleet is set to double by 2050 (ITF Transport Outlook), with more than 90 per cent of future vehicle growth projected to take place in low and middle-income countries. To achieve a cleaner transport sector, a combination of measures will need to be implemented world-wide; with the future of mobility being autonomous, connected, shared and electric.
In the last 20 years, electric vehicles (EVs) have experienced significant technological developments that have not only lowered their costs but also reduced their environmental footprint and increased their utility. At the same time, public transport and shared mobility are key ingredients for efficient transportation within and between cities. A handful of trends led by Technology will determine the benefits—and costs—for business and society.
Electric vehicles across categories have already hit the Indian roads, and in April 2019, Niti Aayog, the federal think tank, published a report titled “India’s Electric Mobility Transformation”, which pegs EV sales penetration in India at 70 percent for commercial cars, 30 percent for private cars, 40 percent for buses, and 80 percent for two- and three- wheelers by 2030. Although the demand for EVs is expected to grow exponentially during the next two decades, driven by favourable government policies like FAME and increasing environmental awareness amongst users especially the youth, it is the new technological interventions in the form of detachable batteries that are helping EVs achieve optimum growth and a massive uptake in the country.
Traditionally, EVs were powered with lead-acid batteries that had bulky exterior making the movement of vehicles a tedious task. Not only was it an extremely inefficient and time-consuming process to charge these batteries, but their life cycle was also quite low. Detachable lithium-ion batteries have come as a solution to these problems. The new batteries embrace advanced technology, which is more progressive than the traditional charging infrastructure available for EVs. As a result, they are being touted as the next big thing in the industry. Very soon though solutions like micro-capacitors, miniaturized solid oxide fuel cells, graphene polymer, aluminum-graphite, and gold nanowire technology and even sodium-based alternatives could very well replace Lithium Sulphur, Aluminium–air and Zinc-air batteries.
Another interesting trend to watch in the EV market are the improvements in charging technology. This is an important aspect to be addressed in the industry especially for EVs to receive widescale approval by most consumers. It simply is not convenient to have to recharge the battery every 2-3 hours and wait around 30 minutes to get back on the road for most people. To overcome this persistent issue, EV manufacturers will need to step up the availability of fast-charging stations around the world. Estimates by Grant Thornton Bharat and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry say that India will need more than 400,000 charging stations, as of Dec 2021 there were only 1,028 public electric vehicle (EV) chargers installed throughout the country (energy minister RK Singh wrote in response to a Lok Sabha question). The government is making space to scale up and technology will play a role in this. Also of interest are the developments in the space of high-powered wireless EV charging system. Wherein, vehicles can automatically charge while parked in selected pick-up/drop-off locations – an ideal solution to keep vehicles perpetually charged while delivering more convenience and less clutter in the public space.
New-age EVs are also incorporating several passenger safety-oriented features to augment overall security for both drivers and the vehicle. Specifically, in a country like India where the safety of women is an issue of grave concern, EVs in the shared mobility space are looking at introducing host of smart features like geo-fencing and GPS technologies to locate vehicles quickly and immaculately. This will make the ride convenient, environment-friendly, cost-effective, and highly secure.
Technology will also have to provide a solution for the end-of-life batteries. The proliferation of EVs will result in the availability of 100–200 gigawatt-hours of batteries that will soon need to be retired. Batteries are commonly labeled as hazardous waste because of their toxic contents or reactive and flammable properties. Hence concerns are growing about the significant environmental liability brought by such a large quantity of retired batteries. The key lies in establishing a technological and economic chain for refurbishing, reusing, and recycling these batteries.
Improvement and innovation in software will be another trend to watch. Just like the ICE industry, things like connectivity, safety, information, and in-car entertainment should see some interesting developments in near future. These new technologies will be game changers from the EV industry generating new business opportunities for e-Mobility industry players while promoting a sustainable transport option for our cities.
Post pandemic across industries without any doubt technology will continue to play a fundamental role in helping individuals, businesses and cities adapt, survive, and thrive. The importance would be on how it is used as experience has taught us that the interplay of new technology and its environmental effects has indeed been complex. As with Plastic, hailed us a wonder material that revolutionized modern life to now being recognized as a polluter. Technology will always be a double-edged sword, but new approaches to environmental factors should help blunt its destructive edge if any and hone its capacity for greater good.