A series of incidents involving electric two-wheelers catching fire has highlighted the need to incorporate fire safety as a core component in policies and schemes to promote EV and battery manufacturing
India’s EV growth story seems to have hit a speed bump. After registering impressive growth in sales, electric vehicles, more specifically electric two-wheelers are now confronted with concerns around product safety. What started as one-off malfunctions leading to electric two-wheelers going up in flames late last year has quickly evolved into a dangerous trend that has dented consumer confidence. Since December 2021, at least 20 separate incidents of EVs catching fire have been reported from across the country resulting in the loss of at least four lives and injuries to several others. The spate of incidents prompted the government to constitute a special committee tasked with identifying the causes and providing recommendations that can help minimise the fire risks of EVs. Meanwhile, the electric two-wheeler industry’s big players have recalled close to 7,000 units.
The loss of life is unacceptable, and consumer sentiment which has cooled off considerably in light of the fire incidents reflects this. The ability to address safety concerns around EVs will heavily determine public buy-in. EV manufacturers have long pointed to studies such as this to argue that li-ion batteries are by far the safest when it comes to mobility use-cases. The flurry of recent incidents though is a reminder that the equation is not quite so simplistic, but rather dependent on a range of conditions and quality parameters.
Preliminary reports of the probe into the incidents has presented a range of issues that caused the fires, all related to the battery. As reported by Reuters, the probe found issues with battery cells, modules, battery casing and battery management system as being behind the first reported incidents of fire. Some experts argue that these are just teething problems that will be ironed out in due course as the industry grows. But this will require filling in the current gaps in protocols across quality, testing and manufacturing. Government and industry players will also have to identify what they must do to ensure safety standards for EV batteries.
There have been reports of the government planning a battery policy that will cover not just testing and manufacturing standards, but also the heat resistance of these batteries. But the lack of clarity on when such a policy will be implemented is concerning. The government, however, has acknowledged that imported battery cells do not suit Indian conditions. And that’s the first step.
Where there is smoke, there is fire
India has put electric mobility under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles Phase II (FAME II). This scheme sets an ambitious target of 175 GW of power from renewable energy by 2022. The government wants 15% of vehicles to be electric by 2030. This includes electric two-wheelers making up 80% of all two-wheeler sales by the end of the decade. It is, therefore, in a race against time.
With such pressures, designing and manufacturing EV batteries for Indian roads is bound to be a challenge. According to professor Sagar Mitra of the Energy, Science and Engineering Dept of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, “In India, knowledge about cell chemistry, battery pack, manufacturing and assembling is still low. For example, research on battery pack design is next to zero, which is such an integral part of battery production.” Mitra also pointed out that the stability of battery chemistries being used in India is questionable. A majority of the batteries use a composition of nickel-manganese-cobalt, which does not have the highest stability standards.
“The EV industry is definitely growing and many players are trying to play catch, but we need to invest in better knowledge, research and development for long term sustainability and safety,” Mitra added.
Rahul Lamba, CEO, The Energy Company, pointed to the lack of high-quality battery management systems (BMS) in Indian EVs, which are an integral fire safety feature. “Batteries are thermally stable up to a certain temperature, beyond which they risk going into a thermal runaway state. It is the BMS’s job to cut off this temperature rise to avoid overheating. Currently, in India’s EV industry, very few are developing their own BMS, but using them off the shelf. These need to be designed in tandem with other battery parts and customised for Indian circumstances.”
Rocky road ahead
India is unique in that it varies greatly in its temperature, geography and road conditions across regions. Testing standards, therefore, cannot be uniform and have to be designed in a way that makes EVs resilient in all conditions. Shreshth Mishra, co-founder, Simple Energy, said, “In so many instances, our two wheelers are overloaded beyond capacity with 3 to 4 riders, but this isn’t accounted for in testing. Testing and safety standards need to come from the OEMs as much as they should come from the government.”
Lamba points out other gaps in testing standards apart from the lack of customisation. “An important component of a battery is the connector. Currently there is no test that calls out the lifecycle of a connector used in the battery. In the majority of failure instances, the connector pins actually melt, and that’s the point where the first short circuit happens, which triggers the entire process towards thermal runaway.”
Indian roads also test the vibration thresholds of vehicles. Testing batteries’ ability to withstand intense vibrations is, therefore, a necessity. “We are not creating a real-world scenario in our labs when testing the impact of vibration on batteries. The intensity of the vibrations in a lab are much lower than what it would be outside when in the vehicle,” says Lamba.
In April this year, government think-tank Niti Aayog announced a draft of the battery swapping policy for electric vehicles. While it is low on details, it did highlight the government’s intentions to ensure rigorous testing for battery swapping. But does it touch upon the issue of fire safety adequately? Lamba says it is too early to ascertain this, and it will be known only once the final policy comes out. But the fear of fires during battery swapping and charging is real and has to be addressed. “Yes, there is a fear that when batteries are swapped there are higher chances of them catching fire. This is because multiple battery packs are stored in a substation and if one battery catches fire, it could spread to the others.” While there is some truth to this fear, Lamba said there is an easy solution to this problem.
Communication between the charger and the battery pack becomes key in this instance. So if a battery pack has a BMS that isn’t working, it should be able to communicate to the charger that its switches are malfunctioning so the charging needs to stop, says Lamba. “What is happening in a majority of the batteries out there in the market today is that they are not communicating with chargers. So the charger keeps pumping current inside the battery, which is why maximum fire incidents occur during charging,” Lamba says.
According to experts, in order to ensure high safety standards, manufacturing all battery components domestically is imperative. The government, on its part, has incentivised domestic battery manufacturing through its FAME II scheme. The push to localise India’s battery production has generated interest among Existing lead-acid cell makers, auto original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and energy companies looking to diversify their portfolio, according to recent statements by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant.
While the industry might be bullish on the future of India’s advanced cell chemistry market, current rules provide ample space for deceptive accounting. “The sad reality is that many manufacturers are getting parts from China, rebranding them under an Indian supplier, and in this way meeting the FAME criteria of availing subsidy, but still not producing in-country. The government needs to be more aware of such mis-utilization,” explains Mitra. The case is ripe for India to start incorporating safety as a core principle while formulating policies around electric vehicle and battery manufacturing. In order to do so, the government will first have to clarify the conditions around cell manufacturing, battery assembly and battery management system design and their testing.
While the market might eventually price in the safety risks of inferior products, relying solely on this is a risky gamble that may result in several avoidable deaths and suppressed consumer sentiment for years to come. A quick resolution to these burning issues through clear policy interventions on the other hand, will not only help restore confidence in the industry but also provide domestic manufacturing a much needed boost.
India has been reporting an intense heatwave these past few weeks. Temperature levels touched 49°C and above in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh on Sunday. According to the weather office, maximum temperatures at several locations in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Bihar, among others, were markedly above normal (5.1°C or more). In Gujarat, there were reports of birds falling from the sky out of dehydration and exhaustion.
In the northeast, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a red alert after heavy rain in Assam and Meghalaya caused floods and landslides, affecting at least 7.2 lakh people and killing 24 people, as reported at the time of dispatch.
Parts of India’s southern peninsula, however, reported heavy rainfall. Kerala issued a red alert for five of its districts. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted an early monsoon over the state by May 27. Senior scientists at IMD said this could be because of the recent cyclones Asani and Karim. These cyclones are likely to counter the effects of global warming, which has, in the recent past, delayed the onset of monsoon in India, experts said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, asked states to prepare heat action plans and asked authorities to update flood preparedness plans ahead of the monsoon season.
Half of every dollar spent on tree plantation programmes in Himachal is wasted: Analysis
At least half of every dollar that goes into tree plantation programmes is wasted, according to a tree planting analysis conducted in Himachal Pradesh. The analysis highlighted gaps in India’s implementation and design of forest restoration programmes. This analysis is, therefore, important because India plans to achieve its climate goals through forest restoration. According to the analysts, the forest department in Himachal Pradesh is unable to locate favourable locations for tree planting.
Earth’s CO2 levels hit record levels
Monthly average CO2 levels have reached record levels–420 parts per million (ppm). The new levels were recorded at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory. Scientists have previously appealed for CO2 levels to be brought down to below 350 ppm in order to tackle the climate crisis effectively. Last year, the highest level was 419.13 ppm, which was recorded in May. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which released the data, global CO2 levels are increasing about 100 times faster than other periods in history.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) also released its State of Global Climate in 2021 last week. The report confirmed that the last seven years have been the warmest on record. Worryingly, the report underscores that four key indicators of climate change- greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification – all set new records in 2021. This trend of record-setting, the report states, is further proof of anthropogenic climate change.
The Indian government banned the export of wheat, which has pushed up prices to record highs. The ban comes after a severe heatwave destroyed crops and drastically reduced yields. The ban marks a complete U-turn of the government’s previous plans to export 10 million tonnes of wheat to make up for Ukraine’s reduced supply. According to some, the ban is also a way to control domestic prices of wheat.
Sand is a strategic resource that needs to be used judiciously: UNEP
A special report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) urged for sand to be recognised as a “strategic resource” to be used judiciously. The report highlighted how sand is the second most-used resource in the world and plays a significant role in maintaining biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services. The report recommended a ban on the extraction of sand from beaches as it aids coastal resilience. It also called for an international standard to be set on how it is extracted from marine environments, and legal frameworks to be drawn up for sand to be governed more effectively.
CO2 emissions per unit of GDP fell by 34% in past decade in China, claim officials
Chinese officials claimed the country’s CO2 emissions per unit of GDP have fallen by 34% in the past 10 years. In a press conference, officials from the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee spoke about how China has been leading the rise in total installed capacity of wind and photovoltaic power generation, and the sale of new-energy vehicles.
Biden scraps 3 oil and gas lease sales in Gulf of Mexico, Alaska
US president Joe Biden cancelled three oil and gas lease sales that were scheduled in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaskan coast. The administration said it cancelled the leases because of a lack of industry interest in drilling for oil off the Alaskan coast and court rulings that have made drilling in the Gulf of Mexico complicated. The cancellation comes as US gas prices reach record highs amidst the Ukraine war.
A recent report on pollution and health published in The Lancet Planetary Health says 16.7 lakh people died in India in 2019 because of air pollution, the largest number of air-pollution-related deaths of any country, the Indian Express reported.
The report stated that pollution was responsible for an estimated 90 lakh deaths in 2019, a number that has remained unchanged since the 2015 analysis. Ambient air pollution was responsible for 45 lakh deaths, and hazardous chemical pollutants for 17 lakh, with 9 lakh deaths attributable to lead pollution. Of the majority of the 16.7 lakh air pollution-related deaths in India–9.8 lakh were caused by PM2.5 pollution, and another 6.1 lakh by household air pollution.
The report pointed out that air pollution is most severe in the Indo-Gangetic plain. This area contains New Delhi and many of the most polluted cities. Burning of biomass in households was the single-largest cause of air pollution deaths in India, followed by coal combustion and burning of crop stubble.
Cuts in air pollution in North America and Europe helped to increase tropical Atlantic hurricane activity
A new study by NOAA published in Science Advances showed that the increase and decrease of industrial soot—aerosols—plays a critical role in tropical storm activity all over the world. The research stated that aerosols often form a reflective shield in the atmosphere that can trap warmth higher up, but reduces the amount of heat reaching the planet’s surface. The research modelling suggested that an estimated 50% drop in atmospheric aerosol pollution in Europe and North America between 1980 and 2020 led to surface warming of the tropical Atlantic Ocean, where cyclones have increased 33% during the same 40-year period.
Inside Climate News reported that the impacts of falling emissions are less studied than increases, but understanding how the climate responds to such declines is also critical to protecting people from climate extremes like flooding, heat waves, dry spells and cyclones.
The lead author of the report told Inside Climate News that reducing air pollution is not always decreasing the risk of hazards from tropical cyclones. His research showed how surging greenhouse gas concentrations intensify deadly storms, droughts and heat waves, but cutting them, along with other industrial pollution emissions, will also affect global weather.
7-year Filipino inquiry finds big polluters ‘morally and legally liable’ for climate damage
According to an inquiry set up by Filipino typhoon survivors, the world’s most polluting companies have a moral and legal obligation to address the harms of climate change because of their role in spreading misinformation. The report said coal, oil, mining and cement firms engaged in “wilful obfuscation” of climate science and obstructed efforts towards a global transition to clean energy. This could add fuel to climate lawsuits around the world.
The Guardian reported that the inquiry by the Philippines Commission on Human Rights began seven years ago after a petition by survivors of Typhoon Haiyan and local NGOs. The report drew on scientific, legal and personal evidence from around the world to examine the role played by 47 of the world’s most polluting companies in the climate crisis.
Study: Cutting air pollution in the US would save 50,000 US lives, $600 billion each year
A new US study found that eliminating air pollution emissions from energy related activities in the United States would prevent more than 50,000 premature deaths each year and provide more than $600 billion in benefits each year from avoided illness and death.
The study by University of Wisconsin-Madison reported the health benefits of removing dangerous fine particulates released into the air by electricity generation, transportation, industrial activities and building functions like heating and cooking—also major sources of carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change—since they predominantly rely on burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.
Meanwhile, the US Justice Department (DOJ) announced that the government is opening a new office to enforce laws around the climate crisis, toxic pollution. The US attorney general Merrick Garland said the office will address the department’s environmental justice efforts as part of the Biden administration’s strategy to prioritise environmental justice.
The Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR), under the commerce ministry, has recommended continuation of anti-dumping duty on Chinese solar glass for two years with a view to guard domestic players from cheap imports. The duty is extended on textured tempered coated and uncoated glass.
The ministry recommended duties in the range of $192.82 per tonne and $302.65 per tonne. The finance ministry takes the final decision to impose this duty. In its probe, the DGTR concluded that the product is being exported to India at prices below normal value and that is resulting in continued dumping.
India revamps PLI scheme for solar manufacturing units, SECI to implement
The government issued draft guidelines to implement the Trance II of the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for domestic manufacturing of high-efficiency solar modules. The government has reserved $1.54 billion for companies to set up vertically integrated capacities of polysilicon, wafers, cells and modules. Mercom reported that in addition to $45 billion, an additional allocation of $2.51 billion was announced in the budget of 2022-23 to set up a larger manufacturing base for solar modules by fully integrating manufacturing units from polysilicon to solar modules.
SECI will be the implementing agency for the PLI programme. Earlier, it was the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency. SECI will have the power to inspect the applicants’ manufacturing units and offices. The applicant will have to set up a minimum 1 GW manufacturing unit to qualify for the bids.
India green hydrogen adoption targets to get delayed: ICRA
Ratings agency ICRA said India’s green hydrogen consumption targets may get delayed by the recent global surge in commodity prices. The report said the green hydrogen adoption drive in India and across the globe depended on the fall of electrolysed costs by 50% to $2-3 per kg by 2030.
ICRA’s Rohit Ahuja told ET that because of the recent surge in metal prices because of geopolitical disruptions, the expected reduction in manufacturing costs for electrolysers may be back-ended to close to 2030, rather than in the immediate term. India’s drive to enhance green hydrogen production could entail overall investments of about Rs4 lakh crore—factoring renewable energy capacity additions of 60 GW and investments in electrolyser manufacturing facilities.
Green hydrogen share in the total hydrogen production in India is expected to increase to 30% to 80%—from nil—by 2030-50, along with a four to five times increase in overall consumption to about 30 million metric tonnes from 6 mmt at present.
Research: India adds 10 GW solar capacity in 2021
Mercom research reported that solar capacity installations in the country jumped by a record 210% to 10 gigawatts during 2021. The green capacity installations reached a level of 3.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2020, the research added. Utility-scale projects accounted for 83% of the total installations and the top 10 developers of such projects accounted for 68% of the total installed projects in 2021. ReNEw Power commissioned maximum projects followed by Adani Green.
In 2022, new renewable capacity additions doubled. India installed 15.5 GW of non-hydro renewable energy capacity in fiscal 2021-22, from just 7.7 GW installed in the preceding fiscal year. About 90% of the total, or 13.9 GW, came from solar.
The Kenyan government announced that its national parks and game reserves would only use electric vehicles by 2030, in a bid to reduce the vehicles’ impact on the outdoors. The decision also comes over the fact that the country was now a founding member of the sustainable tourism global centre, and the switch is expected to affect locally-used aircraft and cars the most. While the announcement was welcomed by most over the vehicles’ much lower noise output — which is a boon to travellers on a safari while observing animals — some groups have expressed concerns over the cost of converting their existing vehicles to electric, since the first such conversion back in 2019 cost the Ol Pejeta Bush Camp $37,000.
Global passenger EV sales more than doubled in 2021, EV adoption helping avoid 1.5 million barrels of crude oil consumption per day: BNEF
A new Bloomberg NEF report on the status of global EV adoption has revealed that 6.6 million units of passenger EVs were sold in 2021, a 103% growth over sales figures in 2020. Pure battery electric vehicles make up about 70% of these sales, while around 30% came from plug-in hybrids. Market share of fuel cell vehicles was below 1%. EVs (including hybrids) in the last quarter of 2021 accounted for around 13% of total passenger vehicle sales as public charging infrastructure continued to expand in most countries with an established EVs market. The growing share of EVs is also beginning to have an impact on oil demand. While oil demand for road transport has continued to grow to 43.7 million barrels per day in 2021, EV adoption now helps avoid 1.5 million barrels of oil per day- about 3.3% of the total demand.
California: New survey finds more than 27% of public EV chargers non-operable
A new report found that over 27% of the publicly-available EV charging stations in the San Francisco Bay Area were non-operable, due to their unresponsive connectors and/or screens, as well as their failing payment and charge initiation systems. The study was conducted by UC Berkeley and non-profit outfit Cool the Earth, and found that the availability of proper EV charging stations was far below that of the 95-98% functionality claims made by EV service providers.
However, the report also noted that Tesla’s chargers were not evaluated in the study, which were usually found to be in much better repair on average. Also, many EV owners have the ability to charge their vehicles at home, at restaurants, office complexes and other public facilities, while there was no option for gasoline vehicle owners to refuel anywhere else but at gas stations. Yet, the report stresses that for California to continue leading the US in its transition to e-mobility, the level of availability for public EV charging stations must improve to stave off EV owners’ anxieties.
India: Initial probe finds fault with batteries and modules in EV fires
The initial federal probe ordered by India to determine the cause of the spate of EV fires across the country in recent weeks found that the vehicles’ batteries, cells and modules were at fault. The probe is investigating the fires reported from Okinawa, PureEV and Ola Electric, and points to the batteries and the battery management system itself for the latter. However, Ola Electric is conducting its own investigation into the fires and said that it had found no issue with its battery management system, and that the fires seemed to be isolated thermal runaway incidents. It was also working with its battery supplier, LG Energy Solutions (South Korea) to examine the issue. PureEV and Okinawa, on the other hand, had not yet responded to the findings, but all the manufacturers have been served notices by the country’s watchdog, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA).
Report warns Japan could lose 14% of GDP if it doesn’t pick up speed on EVs
A new report by the Climate Group stated that unless Japan hastened its switch towards manufacturing more EVs, it would risk losing 14% of its GDP through to 2040, and 1.72 million jobs and $6billion in profits. The report states that while most western markets — and China — are moving quickly towards selling and adopting more battery electric vehicles, the resistance from Japan has been strong and none other than the CEO of Toyota Motors has been found to spread misinformation about the technology. Japan is also not a signatory to the COP26 2040 all-electric target.
However, the report suggests that instead of continuing to support hydrogen fuel cells, the country could begin to eliminate subsidies for the technology and invest in battery manufacturing (given its history with consumer electronics) to regain some of its lost footing.
The European Commission will unveil draft measures next week that will earmark €195 billion in investments to wean its members off of Russian fossil fuel imports. The measures will be a mix of non-binding arrangements, EU laws and recommendations to national governments, and the bloc may also use resources from its enormous Covid-19 recovery fund to spearhead the transition.
The response comes as a protest against Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine and the specific goals include the EU targeting a 45% share for renewables by 2030 (instead of the current 40%), the production of 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and importing an additional 10 million tonnes, jumpstarting large-scale solar energy projects and opting for a 13% EU-wide reduction in energy consumption by 2030 (instead of the current target of 9%). Most importantly, the EU is reportedly considering loosening the administrative procedures needed to set up large-scale solar and wind projects, such as the requirement to comply with environmental impact assessment studies.
India to re-open closed coal mines, eases rules for coal mining to battle heatwave
The Indian government approved the re-opening of 100, previously-shuttered coal mines, in a bid to boost the fuel’s supply to its reeling power plants, and the government also invoked section 11 of the Electricity Act, under which the country’s import-based coal plants must generate power at full capacity. The measures come as India reels under a severe heatwave and with projections for power demand shooting up to as high as 200GW. The coal mines to be re-opened were shuttered as they were considered to be financially unviable, and the country’s power minister has reiterated that the fuel will play a major role in India’s energy mix going forward.
The state governments have also been ordered to import the fuel for the next three years, and the country’s green rules will be eased for those mines that were already approved to boost their output by 40%. This would enable them to expand their output by another 50%, and the changes to the rules will stay in effect for the next six months.
USA: California lays out plan to go carbon-neutral by 2045, slash fossil fuel use
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) laid out a plan to drastically cut the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, and stated that it would have to switch to fully-electric stoves, furnaces and other appliances from 2026. The plan is in its draft stages but it aims for the state to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2045, which would be the fastest for any US state. However, while the plan was criticised by the Western States Petroleum Association for “more bans, mandates and expensive regulation”, it was also lambasted by environmentalists for suggesting an expansion in the use of natural gas, and for keeping room for carbon capture technologies.
Bond market a back door to obtain financing for fossil fuel projects, China supports more coal
Several civil society organisations, including the Sunrise Project and Urgewald, stated that the international bond market was still being used to finance major fossil fuel projects, and that it was a back door to as much as $491 billion in financing for companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco. The activists said that the coal market was the most reliable on bonds and as major banks pulled away from the fuel, the bonds had generated 2.5 times more capital than bank loans. The mechanism is so effective that it was the primary source of raising capital in India and China, and the coal companies had together raised $12billion in 2022 already, vs. $5billion in all of 2021.
Also, the Chinese central bank approved an additional funding of $15.13billion (100bn yuan) to increase its “targeted re-lending quota” for the “clean and efficient utilisation of coal”. The increase was approved by the State Council and takes the government support for the fuel up to $45.4billion (300bn yuan), which the Chinese media claims is Beijing’s step towards boosting national energy security.