India wants to transition to electric vehicles quickly. The government has made its intentions clear with subsidies and incentives, while major car OEMs like Tata Motors are gearing up to launch several new electric vehicles.
But even as the number of EVs available in the market continues to grow, a persisting problem is the charging infra. As of now, most EV owners, who are early adopters, charge their vehicles mainly at home. But this limits their vehicle usage to areas from where they can quickly get back home to recharge.
India will need to develop a robust public charging infrastructure eventually, but it must overcome several challenges to achieve it. Digitimes Asia spoke to Maxson Lewis, MD at Magenta EV Solutions, to understand the unique requirements here and what it takes to overcome the challenges.
Dealing with the 4Hs
Magenta has been working on developing EV charging solutions since 2018, and one of their earliest realizations was that solutions available in other countries would not work in India. Lewis attributes this to four primary reasons, or "4Hs" - heat, humidity, harmonics, and humans.
While heat and humidity in Indian conditions are apparent, Lewis uses the term harmonics to refer to the unreliable power infrastructure in the country. To put it bluntly, India does not have the power required to meet its growing needs. Even the generated power is often disrupted because of the lack of modern equipment and grid.
The fourth 'H' – humans – refers to how Indian consumers use the charging infra. This comes in various forms, including the customer's cost-conscious behavior, which stops them from using safer, better-quality products.
"Harmonics-related concerns refer to the power grid and the telecom infrastructure," Lewis elaborated. "In some areas, it's not just about the availability of power, but also the quality of power. Typically, in India, you are supposed to get 230V, with a maximum 5 percent variation. But in reality, we see up to 15 percent variation in the voltage. So, quality and availability are two different challenges. In Tier- 1 cities, power availability is reasonably fine, but the problem begins when you move away from these places."
In fact, this is precisely the problem that EV users face now because most of them cannot take their vehicles outside the cities because of a lack of proper charging facilities. Magenta deals with this problem by offering charging stations at gas stations with a power backup.
But safety is the priority
Even before these factors come into play, the biggest concern is safety. Some of India's leading EV scooter makers have recently made headlines for their batteries catching fire. Lewis explained that charging infra can be a bigger risk than batteries.
"The biggest issue right now is unsafe charging," Lewis said. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of new players in the market coming up with solutions, which are not really public charging systems. They use the standard 3-pin sockets, which are basically residential charging systems. They're not for public charging. The biggest problem is that there is a fire hazard in them. What happened is that the OEMs provide a small mobile charger to charge the vehicles at home, but that is not supposed to be for public charging."
The 3-pin socket is meant for specific uses, and any airgap in them could lead to a fire. According to Lewis, using these sockets for public charging is a disaster waiting to happen.
The need for smarter solutions
EV charging solution providers will have to think out of the box to deal with the tough conditions in India. Magenta has several plans to go about this, incorporating smarter technology that could ensure high-quality and uninterrupted power beyond the major cities.
"We have a guarantee of service to be provided to the last mile mobility platforms," Lewis said. "But unfortunately, the availability of power is dependent on a lot of factors, including natural disasters. This is why we require smart solutions. It may be a bit early, but we are working on some exciting concepts right now along this line, where we may be able to move totally out of the grid. This will be a combination of battery and balancing technology, and we are about three or four quarters away from its launch."
Long road ahead, with partnerships
EV companies in India are clear that partnerships are integral to their growth. Lewis points out that there can be no company in this ecosystem that does everything, and collaboration is the future. Global supply chain partners will have an important role here, but as Lewis pointed out earlier, copying international solutions may not work, but adapting them is the key.
"We believe there are a lot of collaboration opportunities in several areas, especially in the charger technology itself, although we have had to localize the tech," Lewis said. "But there's also a lot of collaboration that can come through in the DC charging space. There's also going to be massive collaboration possibilities in wireless charging."
India will have to grow its charging infra while adapting to the challenges to achieve its EV targets. Companies like Magenta will have a significant role in this, along with partnerships in the supply chain.