Shifting to electric vehicles, say e-tractors for farming and e-trucks for carrying goods, can vastly improve profits of the rural household

Unlike some developed countries, India has been showing uncharacteristic commitment and, at times, even assertiveness in achieving its EV penetration targets without much hurdle. A rising number of electric vehicles, mostly 3-wheelers, seen transporting people and goods, is a prime example of how rapidly EVs are being adopted. Several policy initiatives, including subsidy schemes and improvement in power infrastructure, have led to this change.

Today, electric 3-wheelers are widely seen plying on roads in tier 2 and 3 cities as well as villages. According to Clean Mobility Shift’s EV Dashboard, electric 3-wheelers account for more than 53% of the total 3-wheeler sales in India so far this year. Uttar Pradesh has sold the most electric three-wheelers in the country at 1,44,000, followed by Bihar (43,000) and Assam (37,000) – all states with a significant rural population.

Overall, the EV penetration has reached a little over 6%, a decent figure given the fact that the technology is new.

The initial success in EV adoption is heartening, but much more needs to be done to meet the 2030 EV target, including for 2-wheelers and 4-wheelers. India aims to have EV sales penetration of 30% for private cars, 70% for commercial vehicles and 80% for two and three-wheelers in the next seven years. While a significant effort is underway to ramp up the EV ecosystem in cities, there is a need to focus similarly on the countryside.

What’s The EV Potential In Rural India?

As a result of erratic weather events that often damage crops and lead to sudden flooding, people in rural areas appear conscious of the need to tackle climate change. However, they are yet to warm up to the idea of EVs for private use. This hesitation stems mainly from three factors: high upfront cost, lack of charging infrastructure and EVs being a new technology. These concerns are understandable, but electrifying rural mobility cannot be delayed anymore if we intend to develop rapidly.

About 90 crore people, or 65% of the total population, live in rural India and they contribute nearly half of the country’s GDP. About 47% of them depend on agriculture for livelihood, according to the latest Economic Survey. But the rising fossil fuel prices have put pressure on their income. Those who are not engaged in agriculture run their own small businesses and neighbourhood shops. They have to regularly travel to cities to source raw materials and other products. Many of them use two-wheelers to commute and the supply is usually delivered to them in trucks and other diesel-run vehicles.

Fig 1. The goal of a clean transportation system cannot be achieved without the inclusion of rural areas. Image by moEVing Urban Technologies.

Switching to electric vehicles, such as e-tractors for farming and transporting crops to ‘mandis’ and e-trucks and e-bikes for carrying goods to shops in villages and towns, can vastly improve their profits.

To offset the steep upfront cost of EVs, the government can chip in with suitable financing schemes for end-users. It can also promote leasing options during the farming season. To address range anxiety of EVs, studies are already underway to further improve battery storage solutions and reduce the charging time. As more people start adopting EVs and production increases, the vehicle cost will soon come down.

There is immense potential for growth of the EV industry in rural India. Most buyers there plan to purchase a vehicle (2, 3 or 4 wheelers) for the first time, so it should not be difficult to convince them to go for an option that is more in line with the environment, than opting for the traditional ICE vehicles.

Fig 2: Image credit: Shutterstock

Focus Areas

Policymakers and manufacturers initially focussed on EV education and deployment in urban areas because the early-market vehicles had inefficient batteries leading to shorter ranges – suitable for urban commute. A fallout of this was lower EV awareness in rural areas. As awareness grows through workshops and other publicity campaigns, the demand for EVs will rise significantly. There are some structural issues that need to be addressed to be able to catch the consumer appetite at its peak.

People in rural areas travel long distances for business or personal reasons. So the vehicle manufacturers need to keep in mind that the consumers would want electric vehicles that can cover at least 200 km on a single charge.

Fig 3: A farmer uses a tractor in his field. Photo: Flickr/Phil Bus, CC BY-SA 2.0

Additionally, authorities would need to make provisions for charging stations at a certain distance on highways and expressways. There should be an adequate number of charging points at strategic locations with sufficient parking areas within the limits of a village or a town as well. The power grid infrastructure will need to be upgraded to make them robust and the tariff will have to be rationalised. Already, the roads are being upgraded.

Once the infrastructure is in place, authorities may then focus on introducing electric buses in villages and towns. Unlike cities, there is no dearth of real estate in rural areas to set up a large number of charging stations, some of which can be powered by solar energy. It is way more rewarding to create greenfield infrastructure than to refurbish the old. Building new adds to the existing infrastructure.

Public health stands to gain from reducing local air pollution in rural areas and EVs can be our trusted partner in this effort as they emit zero tailpipe emissions. Irrespective of where we live, everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits provided by EVs.