The green scam: How electric vehicles harm the environment that they’re supposed to save

The green scam: How electric vehicles harm the environment that they’re supposed to save


In 2032, India will need a billion tonnes of coal, partly to charge EVs in urban areas via power generated by coal power plants


The green scam: How electric vehicles harm the environment that they’re supposed to save


Five Indian cities, including the capital, New Delhi, consistently rank in the world's top ten worst air-polluted cities.

Vehicular emissions are significant contributors; Delhi alone has around four million cars – no wonder the government of India is promoting electric vehicles (EVs) on a large scale.

While India's target is a 30% market share of EVs by 2030, the share is currently only 1.1%.

Moreover, concerns exist about whether EVs are a green option, if pollution is transferred from the cities to the countryside.

To achieve its goal of net zero by 2070 to cut down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, India is expanding its EV market.

The hope in New Delhi, for example, a rise in the number of green-number plate vehicles will herald a day when its air will become breathable again. 

However, India's EVs depend on just 8,738 Public Charging Stations (PCS) that are operational as of June 2023, as per the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), Ministry of Power data.

The number of PCS needs to increase to a minimum of 1.32 million, states the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on 'Charging Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles,' to support the 30% market share target. 

But will EVs really be emission-free?

For an EV to achieve maximum environmental benefit, the electricity used for charging must be generated from green or renewable sources. 


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However, much of India's electricity is still dependent on coal power plants, and the government is on a spree to auction more mines and make non-operational mines functional again.
India's total power plant installed capacity is 238 Gigawatts, of which coal is 116 GW
Electricity demand is increasing by 4.7% annually.
As per the National Electricity Plan (2022-32), the projected peak electricity demand for 2026-27 will be 277 GW, and for 2031-32, it will be 366 GW. 

Despite efforts to generate electricity from renewable sources, according to NEP 2022-23, much of India's electricity will still be derived from coal power plants by the early 2030s.

The share of coal-based capacity of the total installed capacity, for the year 2026-27, is likely to be 39%, with not much percent reduction for at least 10 years

"All projections including those of IEA (International Energy Agency), anticipate that coal-based generation is likely to peak around the early 2030s following which the generation will fall and the generation from non-fossil-based sources will increase," Swati D'Souza, an independent energy expert and former energy analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysistold RT.

The 'Transitioning India's Road Transport Sector: Realising Climate and ... Benefits' report by the IEA, in collaboration with NITI Aayog, says that the transport sector contributes to 12% of the total GHG emissions in India.

But as India seeks to satisfy the mobility needs of its growing, urbanizing, and rapidly developing population, energy demand and CO₂ emissions from the sector could double by 2050.


A billion tonnes within a decade


NEP projections indicate a substantial demand for coal, with an estimated 831 million tonnes in 2026-27 and 1018 million tonnes in 2031-32.

Power plants relying on coal will likely import at least 40 million tonnes to meet the growing demand.

But, V K Shrivastava, a former advisor for petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, and energy at BEE, told RT that the central government is launching several schemes and incentives to encourage the use of green energy for charging stations, which would go a long way in making EVs emissions-free, even indirectly. 

He emphasized open access to renewable energy, a way of procuring green energy from renewable sources through the power grid; consumers choose their preferred source and pay only for what they consume without owning or operating a generation plant.

"The open access route 2022 is a noteworthy incentive for power distribution companies (DISCOMS) as it provides a 20% rebate on electricity prices when they provide green power to charging points in public spaces during the daytime. Additionally, the Open Access Transaction limit has been reduced from one MW to 100 kW to enable small consumers to purchase renewable power through open access," he says.


Will EVs just SHIFT GHG emissions from urban to rural India?

Concerns regarding the rise in rural pollution lead to the question of whether the adoption of EVs will offset urban pollution in rural areas as the demand for coal-based electricity increases, because many more coal plants would be located in rural areas

Dr. Jayanarayanan Kuttippurath, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology - Kharagpur (IIT-K), told RT that agricultural waste-burning, road transport, thermal power plants, refineries, and the steel industry contribute about 45% to the total nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions in rural India, and thermal power plants are a significant source of CO₂ emissions. 


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"NO₂ pollution has been increasing in rural areas for the last 20 years," says Kuttippurath, the author of 'Air quality trends in rural India: analysis of NO2 pollution using .... "It is also important to note, while the adoption of EVs might lead to reduced CO₂ emissions in metropolitan areas, this reduction may be counterbalanced by an increase in the mining activities or emissions from thermal power plants."


A report' Decarbonising Transport: What Does It Mean for India?' released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in March 2023, states that according to the Fuel Institute, a think tank in Europe, 73% of the emissions from Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) vehicles are released due to vehicle operations while for EVs, 72% of the emissions originate from the fuel burnt to produce electricity which charges the EV battery. 

In December 2022, the CO2 baseline database for the Indian power sector, released by the Central Electricity Authority, showed that around 0.968 metric tons of CO₂ emissions are released for the generation of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity by thermal power plants running on fossil fuels in India, which are majorly located in rural areas of the country.


Optimism on renewables


But D'Souza is hopeful that with the rise in renewable energy, India may not see a surge in coal-based power generation beyond what has already been planned. 

"I'm not sure about the potential increase because a large many coal mines are actually shutting down in this decade, so we may not see a surge in coal-based power generation, and pollution in rural areas can be mitigated. But a lot needs to be done to mitigate existing pollution. However, India would import more coal from Russia”. she says.


Randheer Singh, ex-director of NITI Aayog and currently the CEO of ForeSee Advisors, echoes D'Souza's views. He told RT that the Power Ministry has taken several steps for grid modernization while the capacity of renewable power generation has increased multifold in the last five years, although it still is only a few percent of total generation 

"With the introduction of the green energy obligation, many emission factors may be countered. However, more needs to be done, including introducing stringent emission standards and rural electrification and renewables," Singh told RT. 

Another problem is the load-shedding in most cities and electrified villages. As per NEP September 2022, the peak power deficit in India during 2021-22 was just 1.2 %, but an increase in demand for electricity for charging stations and the consequential deficit in supply might become bigger problems. 

"If we look at projections, by 2030, we can see the share of EVs, which is likely to increase, as mostly two and three-wheelers which can be charged at home.
The PCS comes into play when we think of four-wheeler electric vehicles,
 adds D'Souza. 

Environmental impact of Lithium mining in India

In 2021, the Ministry of Heavy Industries launched the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme, with an allocated budget of INR 259,380 million ($3.1 billion) for the Automobile and Auto component industry, to encourage and enhance the domestic manufacturing of Advanced Automotive Technology products including EVs and their components. 

However, 70% of India's lithium-ion cell requirements for EVs are imported from China and Hong Kong, a roadblock in delivering domestically-manufactured, cost-efficient EVs. 

In February 2023, lithium deposits were discovered in Jammu & Kashmir. Initial estimates by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) suggest a reserve of 5.9 billion tonnes of lithium, positioning India as a potential lithium producer.
It may reduce its dependence on other countries for EV batteries.


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The central government plans to auction the newly discovered mining blocks by December. However, the mining process will be complex and resource-intensive as the J&K blocks are in the form of hard rocks, unlike the brine found in South America, which will need more water and electricity. Additionally, mining in the region's fragile ecosystem will have a major environmental impact on its biodiversity and natural resources. 

D'Souza says that in India, though there are laws against environmental pollution from mining activities, they face challenges in implementation, and there is a growing concern about the potential weakening of these laws, as observed in the case of the Environment Protection Act this year. 

"The development and production from lithium mines will take at least ten years, so the government has time to reinforce environmental protection laws associated with mining activities to address the environmental challenges posed by lithium extraction in J&K," she says. 

Shrivastav opines, while the mining of lithium will have an impact on the ecosystem, it will be far less than that of coal mines. The recycling of used-up batteries will become a major challenge


"The lifespan of an EV battery, about 8-9 years.

After losing up to 40% of their charging capacity, a small quantity of these batteries, whereas unfit for EVs, remain suitable for powering communication towers and instrumentation circuits," he says.

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Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT


(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.”

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."

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