Webinar: Electric Vehicle Sustainability Assessment: Opportunities and Challenges

September 2, 2022 | 15:30 – 17:30

As the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change has grown, the global community has come together to implement several measures to mitigate it. Among these, one of the most popular climate mitigation measures of recent times concerns the automotive industry; involving a transition from internal combustion engine (ICE) cars to electric vehicles (EV).

Integrated decision-making is a prerequisite for decarbonizing the transport system in an economically viable way. This involves bringing multiple agencies together on a common knowledge platform that will benefit diverse stakeholders across the entire EV ecosystem to gain knowledge. This lays the foundation for the Green Mobility Digital Library which is the result of a collaborative effort between the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and TERI as part of the Indian component of the Nationally Determined Contributions Transport Initiative for Asia (NDC-TIA) from GIZ. .

In India, there are now more than 0.5 million electric two-wheelers and a few thousand electric cars, ie less than 1% of annual vehicle sales; however, the industry has the potential to grow by more than 5% within a few years. This is due to policy incentives such as 100% FDI in the sector and programs such as Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) II. More recently, the Production Linked Incentives (PLI) program for the automotive sector was launched to encourage domestic production of batteries to support the electric vehicle industry with the required infrastructure and cost reduction.

Such a rapid transition presents both opportunities and challenges for India’s economic and social sectors. An increased number of electric vehicles would reduce the pressure on gasoline and diesel demand, thereby reducing India’s import bill. The manufacture of electric vehicles is also likely to generate substantial employment in the country. Thus, this transition to electric mobility is seen as a one-stop solution to the myriad of problems facing India, including air pollution, climate change mitigation, oil imports and unemployment.

A great case of contribution to the economy of the electric vehicle sector has already been demonstrated during the pandemic. While the global automotive industry has been negatively affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global electric car sales have increased by 70% in 2020.

However, with such opportunities come a fair share of challenges. From an environmental point of view, electric vehicles are the preferred option due to their reduced emissions in the use phase, but no holistic sustainability assessment has been carried out for them in India. Manufacturing electric vehicles involves the use of critical rare earth minerals like lithium and more, which are very energy and resource intensive. In addition, the electricity used to charge the batteries of electric vehicles has a high share of thermal production. If the environmental footprints of these factors are to be considered, the envisioned benefits of electric vehicles may not be as great as perceived. Another major challenge associated with a large-scale deployment of electric vehicles is the corresponding requirement for charging infrastructure that justifies significant capital investments beyond current government expenditures; 86% of which is currently spent on demand-side incentivization.

In such circumstances, challenges can be mitigated through modeling of potential outcomes followed by decisions made based on scientific findings. This is crucial for all stakeholders, including automakers and customers, to make evidence-based decisions. Thus comes the relevance of assessing the sustainability of electric vehicles for a careful examination of existing policy and for proposing necessary modifications for the future.

Another crucial aspect associated with electric vehicles is from the socio-economic point of view. Electric vehicles come at a higher price than their ICE counterparts. This has the potential to exacerbate the existing income-based fault lines of Indian society due to access and affordability factors. While the product, in theory, is valued only for its economic and environmental implications; as the penetration of electric vehicles increases, it is likely to have some impact on the social structure and its factors, including but not limited to human rights, diversity and inclusion , health and safety and community impact.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one of the most effective sustainability assessment tools. LCA is a systematic analysis of the potential environmental impacts of products or services throughout their life cycle, including the end-of-life phase. To date, several LCA studies have been done on electric vehicles globally, but none in the Indian context. LCA can also be coupled with the Hot Spot Analysis Tool (HAT) for targeted interventions to improve EV performance, especially in stages where it is lagging.

Sustainability assessment tools are Social Impact Assessment (SIA) which could help predict the long-term impacts of electric vehicle penetration in Indian villages and other challenging terrains like mountains and deserts, as well as their impact on the economy and social factors such as human health and education. The need is for an integrated assessment of the sustainability of electric vehicles integrating environmental and socio-economic factors to help generate relevant data and fill existing knowledge gaps through robust results and foolproof policies.

Registration link: https://register.teriin.org/webinar/webinar_register.php?w_id=V0VCSU5BUl8xNzA=

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