Two key initiatives launched by India during the recently-concluded Clean Energy Ministerial in Goa are steps in the right direction towards achieving clean transportation

Last week, two important developments took place that have brought the focus back on decarbonising the freight transport sector in India, one of the largest contributors to road emissions. First, India became perhaps the only country to announce a unique High Level Ambition Group (HLAG) that will work with the government towards framing a comprehensive policy towards zero freight emission in the country.

Second, around 15 prominent companies, including the Birla Group, Amazon, Danfoss India, Gentari, JSW, Maersk, Nestle, among others came together under the Zero Emission Vehicles Emerging Markets Initiative (ZEV-EMI) and the government's E- FAST (Electric Freight Accelerator for Sustainable Transport) programme to advance the electrification of trucks in India.

Around 70% of India’s 4.6 billion tonnes of goods moved annually by the rapidly growing freight transport industry are ferried by diesel trucks, which despite representing just 3% of the total vehicle fleet, are responsible for 53% of PM emissions.  Although India has the FAME-II scheme to generate demand for EVs, it is for electric scooters, auto-rickshaws and cars , and does not incentivise the switch to electric trucks.

Therefore, for India, these two developments are very important given that addressing emissions from heavy freight transport is critical towards its target of achieving clean mobility and reaching its Net Zero Goal by 2070. These two initiatives coupled with the recent technical roadmap defined by the government for the deployment of ZETs by undertaking field research, expediting product development, and undertaking pilot projects, have definitely helped steer the conversation back towards electrification of this key sector.

What will HLAG do?

The HLAG on Zero Emission Trucks  in India was launched at the 14th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM)  held recently at Goa. The initiative was launched by the India ZEV Research Centre at the University of California, Davis, Climate Group and CALSTART’s Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero program (Drive to Zero) in association with NITI Aayog’s E-FAST Platform.

The HLAG aims to work on defining both a policy as well as a technology roadmap to transition the Indian medium and heavy commercial vehicle (MHCV) industry away from Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). It will also aim to bring the demand and supply sides together to explore opportunities for pilot deployments of electric trucks.

The HLAG’s other key objectives will be on international cooperation between the public and private sectors to unlock access to technology and finance for ZET transitions. Overall, the idea is to create a strong market for ZETs in India, as well enabling the country to export the vehicles.

On the other hand, 15 prominent companies have come together under ZEV-EMI and the government's E- FAST initiative to advance the electrification of the truck market in India.  The ZEV-EMI initiative and the E-FAST platform – led by NITI Aayog and supported by World Resources Institute (WRI) India – aims to bring businesses and policymakers together to initiate action on electrification of the country’s freight transport sector.

Apart from announcing several pilot projects, the companies have indicated a demand for more than 5,000 electric trucks in India by 2027 and around 7,700 e-trucks by 2030. The companies have also agreed to work together to establish market conditions for the deployment of electric trucks through a national task force.

Fig 1: Transport sector contributes substantially to emissions. Photo Reuters

Why decarbonising the goods transportation sector in important for India

There are around 5.5 million trucks plying on the Indian roads at present.
Around 22 million people are directly engaged in India’s steadily growing freight and logistics sector, which is estimated to be worth $160 billion. The sector is growing but with a disproportionately large economic, social, and environmental burden.

Transportation costs are a major driver of India’s overall logistics costs, accounting for 14% of its GDP, according to a NITI Aayog report. In that, diesel fuel costs account for the majority. Therefore, ZET adoption can dramatically lower associated fuel costs by up to 46% over the vehicle's lifetime, the report stated.

India is also the world's third-largest net importer of crude oil and petroleum products, importing over 80% of its crude oil needs. Road transport, especially trucks, which is one of the biggest consumers of the fuel, at present contributes substantially to emissions.

Given these scenarios, it is imperative for India to kick-start this transition as early as possible for it to move ahead towards the clean mobility path and position itself as a major player in this sector globally.

According to a report brought out jointly by the International Energy Agency and the country’s public think tank NITI Aayog at CEM, energy demand and CO2 emissions will peak in the 2040s and dip only marginally thereafter.

The increasing use of private cars and the expanding truck fleet, with continued reliance on gasoline and diesel, will eventually drive the rise, said the report – ‘Transitioning India’s Road Transport Sector - Realising climate and air quality benefits’-- quoting IEA’s Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS) that reflects existing policies and measures.

Road ahead

Ambitious policies can help in reducing the energy demand by 30% in 2050 relative to current policies, thus saving the country 70 million tonnes of oil equivalent (80% of the sector’s current energy needs), the report said.

It added that CO2 emissions will peak in the mid-2030s and fall to about 20% below today’s levels by 2050. Cumulatively, this could avoid up to 4 Gt CO2 between 2021 and 2050, compared to the current policy framework.

The report also advocates for the need for long term planning for quick transitioning of the road transport sector.

“The last significant review of India’s transport planning dates to 2010. Launching another round of long-term planning could help provide a common vision for the sector, support policy alignment and provide certainty to industry, financial markets and consumers,” it added.

Given India’s steady approach towards clean mobility, with stress on electrification of transportation, both the initiatives (HLAG and E-Fast) are steps in the right direction towards decarbonising the freight industry and presents India with an opportunity to become a key player globally in this segment.