Kerala gears up for e-mobility

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Directives have been issued to Regional Transport Offices to issue city permits to only e-autos in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, and Kozhikode

Having made a silent entry into the three-wheeler market in Kochi in February, the number of e-autos in Kerala is set to grow manifold by 2020 in a market dominated by noisy and polluting petrol and diesel autorickshaws.

The Thiruvananthapuram-based Kerala Automobiles Limited (KAL) and a couple of other players are set to roll out their attractively-priced e-autorickshaws. This will see their number increase from 20 in operation in Kochi city to a few thousand in less than a year.

The government has announced a subsidy of ₹30,000 for each e-auto from the KAL stable, while others may get up to ₹25,000 subsidy, it is learnt. While the Centre has fixed 2030 as the target to have only e-vehicles in the public-transport sector, the State is gearing up to achieve the same by 2025.

Aimed at rolling out a red carpet for these autos, directives have been issued to Regional Transport Offices (RTO) to issue city permits to only e-autos in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, and Kozhikode, Minister for Transport A.K. Saseendran told.

“It will soon be extended to other districts to ensure pollution-free commuting. The government has accorded priority to autorickshaws since they are considered more polluting than other commuting modes. It is also easier for auto owners to shift to e-mobility,” he said

Recharging stations

“Other players are also most welcome to the Kerala market and plans are afoot to extend subsidy to them as well. Our aim is to make Kerala a pioneer in the e-mobility sector. The crucial factor to propel shift from fossil-fuel-run vehicles to e-vehicles is to provide adequate number of recharging stations. For this, the KSEB has been selected as the nodal agency to identify land. This part of the work is expected to get over in two months. Initially, they would be set up in the premises of KSRTC’s refuelling stations,” he said.

In recharging, there are two options – either park at the charging stations and recharge or choose swap drained-out batteries with fully-recharged ones to save on time, just as refuelling petrol. Japanese firm Toshiba has agreed to invest in charging stations.

Mr. Saseendran is expected to accompany Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to Japan in a month to have a first-hand idea of the system.

Already, recharging points are being installed at government offices for official vehicles. Private players too can provide space for recharging/battery swapping points and the government is expected to come out with a policy for this.

The Minister spoke of how the introduction of Bharat Stage-VI norms in April will usher in better quality petrol and diesel, causing less emission.

The slow shift to e-vehicles will further lessen the impact of automobile pollution. The government is also keen to encourage e-taxis in Kerala. Referring to the importance accorded to e-mobility, Mr. Saseendran spoke of how Kerala was the first to ready an e-vehicle policy.

e-buses for KSRTC

Aimed at ushering in e-mobility in mass transport, the KSRTC had leased out 10 e-buses a year ago. “Modalities are being finalised to settle issues pertaining to rent with the fleet owner, since the revenue-income gap is high. Moreover, we have applied for 250 e-buses under the Centre’s FAME-2 scheme. One hundred each will operate city services in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, while Kochikode will be allotted 50 buses. We may need viability-gap funding for their smooth operation,” he said.

Players galore

Following the KAL footsteps, the Thrissur-based Hykon too is expected to roll out e-autos in early 2020. Kinetic Green was the first to leave its footprint in the Kerala market, by allotting 20 e-autos to a cooperative society run by auto driver unions in February. These vehicles operate from metro stations in Kochi city.

The firm is engaged in trial of the battery-swap system, prior to augmenting its fleet in Kochi and making a foray into other districts.

“This is important to prevent autos queuing up for refuelling like in CNG-vending stations. Simultaneously, the existing fleet of 20 e-autos will be upgraded as technological developments are rapidly taking place. On its part, we hope the government will set up recharging stations every three km or so to usher in confidence among people to purchase e-vehicles,” said an official with the firm.

Altigreen is among the players that are set to enter the Kerala market in a few months. “We will be launching at least 500 e-autos in phases in a couple of cities. Fifty charging stations, all located within 3 km, are being readied in Kochi for this,” said Abhijit Saxena, firm’s market head.

Batteries hold the key

From making do mostly with parts imported from China in early 2019, most firms have managed to indigenise to up to 90%. Similarly, with disposal of batteries becoming a concern, much progress has been made to reuse batteries of e-vehicles for static use – in inverters, cell-phone towers and energy-storage locales. Such batteries can then be recycled. This will in turn considerably bring down the cost of e-vehicles.

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