Role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in enabling the transition to electric vehicles

By Chetna Nagpal and Ruchir Shukla, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation

India needs to rapidly develop its electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem to reduce rising air pollution, debilitating fuel import bills and burgeoning carbon emissions. These are the three imperatives for the Government of India’s push for EVs. While the Central Government announced the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME II) Scheme to incentivise the adoption of EVs, at the sub-national level, ten states and union territories (UTs) published their final EV policies and six released their first drafts. Despite these efforts, the rate of EV adoption has been slow. EVs constituted less than 1% of total new vehicles sales in the financial year 2019-20. We are halfway into FAME-II and close of 40,000 EVs incentivised i.e. just two per cent of the targeted 1.6 million. This slow penetration of EVs could be attributed to various barriers in India’s EV ecosystem such as limited EV variants, low demand and awareness among stakeholders and insufficient charging infrastructure. These barriers and requisite government interventions are frequently discussed at various forums. But a critical issue that needs attention is the role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in enabling the transition to EVs.

CSOs can fuel EV transition

Globally, CSOs play a key role in policymaking, undertaking research, and generating relevant evidence to push for new laws, strategies and mandates across domains including clean energy and climate action. They have played a critical role in the faster deployment of many new technologies and solutions such as renewable energy and LED lighting in India. The civil society has been supporting in setting up ambitious targets, developing comprehensive government policies, suggesting business models and deploying rooftop solar panels. They need to play a similar role in developing India’s EV ecosystem through supporting policy implementation, research, awareness, and grassroots mobilisation of resources as well, for they can sensitise relevant stakeholders such as policymakers, manufacturers, DISCOMs, corporates, and consumers.

COVID-19 plunged the pace of CSOs in transforming India’s EV outlook

The COVID-19 induced lockdown rejuvenated nature and brought back cleaner air days. Non-essential travel halted, home deliveries substantially increased and various industries including the automotive industry came to a standstill during government-imposed lockdowns. Overall, the economic slowdown received another blow with demand plunging to an all-time low. Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic and economic slowdown, the Central Government, and the states are committed to electric vehicles. This is evident from Central Government initiatives such as relaxations on localisation timelines, e-bus sanctions under FAME II, allowing vehicle sales without batteries and inviting bids for advance cell manufacturing facilities. States have also indicated a strong commitment with Delhi and Telangana releasing their final EV policies and few other states planning to roll out policies soon. The pandemic also impacted the CSO community and triggered a funding crisis for some NGOs when they needed it the most. New “work from home” culture confined employees to their homes and impacted their ability to meet and organise. Many CSOs had to put planned activities such as surveys, conferences on hold; others struggled to shift their work online. Project activities slowed down, especially for grassroots organisations directly working with local communities and end consumers. Organisational level focus was redirected from EVs to other issues such as changing mobility patterns, reducing ridership of existing public transport, financial health of state transport undertakings (STUs), revival of the industrial sector, etc. Nine months into the pandemic with recouped focus on EVs, CSOs are effectively leveraging online platforms for meetings, deliberations, workshops, and outreach activities.

CSOs could stimulate both supply-side and demand-side

To overcome supply-related challenges and support the creation of EV manufacturing ecosystem in India, there is a need to incorporate industry perspectives into CSO’s work. CSOs can undertake focused efforts to engage automobile sector companies more productively and enable industry and CSO interface. This can help CSOs have a more nuanced understanding of their challenges and identify measures to overcome the industry’s reluctance. CSOs can undertake research, draw learnings from EV markets such as China, California, etc. for implementing the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) manufacturing mandate and stringent fuel efficiency norms, and recommend local solutions to promote India’s EV manufacturing. CSOs can form state EV policies by informing stakeholders on trade and localisation issues and suggest roadmaps to ramp up the EV supply-chain. Facilitating research and development, supporting the creation of special economic zones, and pushing localisation of EV value chain and cell manufacturing are other areas of intervention.

To increase the demand for EVs, CSOs can inform demand-side incentives (e.g., tax credits, purchase subsidies, etc.). FAME-II allocates 86% of total funds towards purchase incentives for consumers and subsidises the upfront cost of eligible two-wheelers, three-wheelers, commercial four-wheelers, and buses. CSOs can focus more and investigate the benefits of incentivising other vehicle segments, especially heavy-duty freight vehicles. They can also identify measures to fast-track the implementation of policies. To accelerate the adoption of EVs for intermediate public transport and urban freight operations, CSOs could work on designing innovative financing and business models. Additionally, they can investigate end-of-life of EVs and batteries such as battery second life/re-use, recycling, and urban mining. Charging infrastructure emerges as a key barrier in the uptake of EVs. CSOs can collaborate with DISCOMs, work on the integration of EVs as a grid resource, suggest business models and support demonstration pilots for the public, workplace, home, and curbside charging.

Concerted efforts are required to increase awareness among consumers. As grassroots level organisations, they are connected with consumers, understand their needs, knowledge gaps, and myths surrounding EVs. CSOs can come together to create a network that can collectively overcome obstacles, assemble, and amplify evidence to maximise the chances of informing policies and supporting the EV transition. Additionally, they can work on developing effective links and trust-based relationships with policymakers, industry, media, etc. and leverage it to overcome barriers in the EV ecosystem. CSOs can work with these stakeholders in organising dedicated campaigns and demonstrations to increase consumer awareness. Recognising the need for stakeholder awareness, Shakti, with its partners is working on creating a digital platform that will act as a knowledge hub, bringing together different stakeholders to identify challenges and discuss ways in which the country can adopt EVs.

The EV transition is expected to impact the auto industry as well as the consumer market. Various stakeholders involved need to undertake the desired actions to fuel this revolution. While the government could strengthen the implementation of the policy, CSOs can inform policymakers about the gaps, suggest measures, and act as a bridge between consumers, businesses, manufacturers, and policymakers, catalysing the “clean mobility shift”.

About the authors

Ruchir Shukla is the Director of Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation’s Electric Mobility programme. His experience in the Electric Mobility domain includes transportation systems, connectivity, charging infrastructure, and interfacing it with renewable and clean energy options.

Chetna Nagpal is the programme manager for the Electric Mobility programme at Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation. She is a public policy enthusiast focusing on different aspects of sustainable mobility.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and does not necessarily subscribe to it. shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.

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