Energy has always been a problem in India. People who have grown up in the country can attest to the frequent numbers of power cuts and blackouts. But now, the situation could worsen because the country's rapidly growing economy requires power to survive.
According to a report from the local government think tank Niti Ayog, India's energy demand could double by 2040. Making this slightly more complicated is the arrival of EVs. The Indian government wants EVs to achieve 30 percent market penetration by 2030.
While this will not have a massive impact on the electricity demand, it will definitely bring up more discussions of renewable energy. After all, what's the point of moving to EVs if you are going to power them up with coal plants?
The case for more solar power
According to Sunil Gandhi, CEO at JLNPhenix Energy, solar companies have a vast potential to deliver the additional energy demand created by EV adoption. It can be integrated into the national grid or can come in the form of a microgrid serving the cluster of EV charge points.
"Current measures with respect to solar power generation and feeding to the grid are enough," Gandhi said. "However, if solar power has to be targeted for EV charging, then it needs some innovative solutions as both solar-generated power and required EV power are in DC form, thus the present multi-level conversions from AC to DC back to AC can be avoided, and overall system efficiency can be improved substantially."
But not everyone feels that the country is ready to take on EVs with solar energy. According to Sandipan Das, a solar energy consultant, it'll still take some time to dictate the required traction. This could be somewhere about three to five years to set up the infrastructure, but even longer for mass adoption.
"This would include the time that residential and commercial sites take to include solar energy as a source to set up their EV charging systems," Das said. "But for people to accept and adopt the technology, we may need more time. Having said that, EVs definitely make good collaboration partners for the solar industry because it would help solar power companies to make a package and offer their clients."
Overcoming challenges for solar-EV collaboration
The solar industry may look forward to EV collaboration, but it still has to overcome several challenges before things can reach an ideal level. In fact, at the moment, there are more challenges than advantages to list.
"The biggest challenges include infrastructure, land, lack of energy storage, and variable (time of the day) pricing," Gandhi said. "Need to identify non-productive land, develop the complete infrastructure including the energy storage to deliver in non-solar hours with a premium price."
Das pointed out that solar energy had grown to become a popular mode over the last decade until certain regulatory decisions slowed it down. One of them was an increase in GST, which hiked the cost of panels. Another was an import-export tax introduced in 2022, along with a mandate that only solar panels registered with the government would be allowed in the country.
"This became a huge challenge because the Indian market was not at all ready to supply the required quantities of modules that the Chinese market was able to provide," Das said. "Chinese players had dominated the Indian market for a decade by then because they were able to provide quality at a low cost. The arrival of the taxes made Chinese products costly. Unfortunately, it also made the Indian products more expensive because importing crystalline became costlier."
However, Das now feels that the market has become more stable, with more people accepting the current market rates. Obviously, more policy matters must be ironed out, like a uniform subsidy system. At the moment, different states provide different discounts at their convenience and discretion. Questions are also being raised about the effectiveness of these discounts and if they can reach the end customers.
Local and international collaborations are inevitable
Although many solar power companies can source most of the components locally, there are several areas where collaborating with foreign counterparts would help mutual growth.
Gandhi explained that they offer a range of products meant for solar applications ranging from small energy storage devices for solar-powered streetlights and home solutions to small grid energy storage solutions for commercial and industrial segments. His company imports li-ion cells and the rest of the components are sourced locally.
"It's good to have potential suppliers across multiple geographies," Gandhi pointed out. "Our major criteria are quality & reliability, price, consistency – both on quality and delivery, acceptability among our customers, new technology, tech transfer possibility especially in power conditioning systems, energy management systems, battery management systems, etc."
Of course, government policies and changing market conditions would impact how foreign companies can work in India. But with strategic placement and partnership, the Indian market remains a substantial opportunity for any innovator. As EVs become more common and sustainable energy becomes increasingly popular, more companies and collaborators are necessary.