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Fleet Electrification to Tackle Urban Pollution 

Context:

The air quality index (AQI) in numerous cities across India has consistently reached the red zone on multiple occasions this year. This has posed significant health risks to millions of individuals, highlighting the urgent need to prioritize mitigation strategies.

Relevance:

GS3- Environment- Environmental Pollution and Degradation

Mains Question:

Discuss the need for truck fleet electrification in India. Also highlight the persisting challenges and suggest a way forward in this regard. (15 marks, 250 words).

Relevant Studies:

According to two influential studies focused on Delhi—Urban Emission (2015) and the TERI study (2018)—a substantial factor contributing to urban smog is the presence of PM2.5 and PM10 pollution, primarily stemming from the transport and construction sectors.

Truck Fleet in India:

  • The number of trucks on the road is steadily rising, with approximately 900,000 new trucks being added to India’s existing fleet of 7 million trucks each year.
  • India transports more than 2 trillion tonne-kilometers of freight by trucks annually. These trucks, which make up over 70 lakh in total, account for more than a quarter of India’s oil imports and contribute to over 90% of CO2 emissions from road transport.
  • As the road network continues to expand in a developing economy, the growth in the truck fleet is expected to persist.
  • If all these new trucks continue to rely on diesel-powered internal combustion engines, as is currently the case, it will lead to a significant increase in PM2.5 pollution in our cities.

Need of Electrification of Truck Fleet in India:

  • In the current urgent scenario, where every breath matters, swift deployment of solutions is crucial. The recent call for 7,750 electric trucks in India by 2030, if realized, could save over 800 billion liters of diesel until 2050.
  • The need of the hour is a pipeline of financially viable projects, well-structured to attract private and institutional capital at a ratio of at least six rupees for every rupee of public investment.
  • Although achieving more than 50% electrification in three-wheelers is a significant accomplishment for India’s 2070 net zero agenda, the decarbonization of the transport sector must be spearheaded by the electrification of trucks.

Challenges in Truck Fleet Electrification in India:

  • The electric vehicle penetration rate on Indian roads has surpassed 6%, but the adoption of electric trucks faces challenges such as high upfront costs and limitations in charging infrastructure.
  • While the government is commendably pushing for the electrification of bus fleets and setting electrification targets for bus aggregators, there is a need to broaden the focus to include diesel trucks and dust mitigation.
  • With the Indian truck fleet projected to reach 1.7 crore by 2050, there is a pressing need to accelerate the transition to electric trucks. Relying solely on public funding is insufficient to meet the required transformational scale.
  • These are significant sources of particulate matter (PM) that demand immediate attention, considering both energy security and sustainability perspectives.
  • The upfront cost of a mid-range electric truck is approximately ₹1.5 crore compared to about ₹40 lakh for a diesel truck. Additionally, the logistical costs of charging pose significant hurdles.

Way Forward:

  • To pave the way for green freight corridors, designating certain expressways and national highways as such would serve as a demonstrative step in the country.
  • Accelerating feasibility studies, demand aggregation, ensuring supplier readiness, and implementing a prudent risk allocation strategy are essential for establishing these green freight corridors in India.
  • The initial focus could be on small stretches of 500 kilometers along routes with heavy truck traffic. Achieving this will require innovative financial instruments, incentives for charging infrastructure, support for entrepreneurial initiatives, and a regulatory environment conducive to progress in truck electrification in the country.

Conclusion:

Fortunately, rail freight transportation in India has already transitioned to electric power. However, this electrification covers only around 20% of the total freight transported in the country. Recognizing the urgency of concerted efforts is crucial if we aspire to breathe new life into our cities.


February 2024
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