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"To be true to the spirit of clean mobility, we believe that electric vehicle charging has to be clean energy sourced"

In conversation with Sustainability Outlook, Maxson Lewis, Managing Director of Magenta Power, talks about integrating renewable energy sources (RES) in EV charging infrastructure and whether this presents a viable market opportunity for growth in India.

Why are integrating renewable energy sources (RES) important for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging?

We believe that using electric vehicles is not the final solution to pollution - It is just transferring the issue from the tail pipe to the chimney stack, unless and until EV charging comes from renewable energy sources. For every unit generated in the power station there is a 20%-30% loss in transmission. If you are generating dirty power and then transmitting it to your homes, offices and EV chargers you are just transferring the problem. So to be true to the spirit of clean mobility, we believe that electric vehicle charging has to be clean energy sourced. So while we believe that EV charging has to be sourced with clean energy and that is the end game, at this point in time electric vehicle charging is more about availability, and in a few months it will be about optimization. Magenta Power has structured their plan accordingly - so right now while we have charging stations, not all are on renewable energy but the idea is to complete that transition.  That is the principle that is driving our entire ethos of clean mobility and we refer to it as ‘clean mobility’ purely because we aim to make EV charging clean.  

Does India present a viable market opportunity for growth in this area?

This can be analyzed in two parts 1) market opportunity for Conventional EV charging 2) market opportunity for solar based EV charging. Viability does not exist for EV charging till the time there are enough electric vehicles on the road. Integrating charging into clean energy is absolutely viable because when you are talking about huge amount of consumption of energy, it makes sense to go solar not even for the ‘green’ part of it but also from a pure business economics. Let’s take the case of Maharashtra where the cost of conventionally sourced electricity is INR 10/unit on average. With solar, vis-à-vis fixed cost of power reduces to INR 5/unit. Hence, the economics is driven not by the solar part of it but by the number of vehicles and the utilization of EV charging. To answer your question the economics will fall in, the solar economics is already there, the EV charging economics have to fall in place.

Are such charging stations operational in India? If so, what are some strengths/limitations of this model?

In total four of our [Magenta Power] charging points are solar-based. Our first charging station was incidentally India’s first solar-based EV charging station which was launched in June 2018. After that we have two more charging stations which are solar-based and last but not the least in November 2019 we had India’s first cooperative housing society with solar plus EV charging.

As a company while EV charging was the final destination, we started off by trying to understand the solar requirements for it. This helped us to develop a module which allowed us to give solar power the priority. We have a 60 point survey parameter for putting up a charging station, of which few of them identify whether solar is possible now or in the immediate future. You need to have real estate where the vehicle is stopping to charge. There are issues around shading, design of the angles etc. So, not all EV charging locations are amenable to solar. There is an option of incorporating centrally generated renewable power into the charging station but the regulations won’t allow it as yet. But we believe that as we progress those regulations will likely come through. As we progress, EV charging could become one of the few large electricity consumers so it would make sense to generate clean electricity centrally and disburse it solely to the EV sector.

What factors play a key role in ensuring an uptick of RES integrated charging stations?

There are multiple factors that play a role. First, it is about the economics – the economics of putting up solar will fall into place the day economics of EV charging falls into place. This is the first barrier to RES because it does not make sense to put in huge capital for solar when there is no EV charging in place. Second is regulatory – right now the regulation does not allow for people like us to put up a large 1MW of solar plant somewhere and disburse that power to various charging stations. On the demand side it has to be a minimum of 1MW at a single location and the current scale of the charging stations do not utilize 1MW of electricity. Once charging stations scale up with up to 200 chargers with high utilization that is when 1MW plant would work. Additionally on the regulatory side, if EV tariffs and solar net metering are forged, then consumers can put in excess solar power back into the grid and buy it back at a lower tariff. Even at a localized micro-grid the integration of EV tariff and solar net metering has to happen to ensure an uptick.

Maxson Lewis is an ecopreneur with more than 13 years’ experience in electricity and 5 years’ experience in automotive sector in India and globally in countries like Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Europe and USA. He is passionate about leaving the planet in a better state than how he inherited it – that drives him to improve himself, his surrounding and hence his focus on clean energy and clean mobility solutions.