New Delhi: The Himalayas offer a unique landscape. The region extends across 13 states in India. This region amounts to approximately 40% of the total of 29 states and 8 Union Territories of India. Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Assam, and West Bengal are the Indian states that fall in the Himalayan region. Most of these states are leaders in organic agricultural practices. This is also because of the significant efforts from the Indian Government to substantiate sustainable development in this region. Due to this, various studies have been undertaken to preserve the Himalayan Ecosystem under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC).
However, according to a paper published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in 2017, the soil had significantly high levels of Sulphur (490–2033 ppm), which the scientists attribute to the heavy traffic moving on these roads. The total length of roads in the north-eastern region of the Himalayas is 58,97,671 km. Also, the average road density per 100 Sq Km of the area is 143.72 Km which is against the national average of 115.30 Km. The exhaust gases expelled from diesel engines, specifically from heavy-duty vehicles, emit a significantly larger quantity of Sulphur in the form of its oxides. The emission is exacerbated due to the high gradient and circuitous nature of these mountainous roads. This determines the need for the proliferation of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in these corridors. The Government has come up with various policies, but a lot more needs to be done to curb this. Currently, the adoption rate of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the Himalayan region is way less compared to other parts of India. This indicates an urgent need for the adoption of ZEVs in the Himalayan states at a rate on par with other physical regions of India. To achieve this, the following strategies can help these states lead the transition and adopt ZEVs.
First, build comprehensive EV Policies – Among the 13 Himalayan states, six states are yet to come up with their EV policies. Of the remaining states, six states have approved Electric Vehicle Policies, while one state’s electric vehicle policy is in the draft stage. The notified policies provide relaxation of taxes to boost supply, and incentives to boost consumer demand while few of them list the targets for EV penetration. These are laudable. But, had these policies included the implementation
plan, change in skillsets needed for transition to electric vehicles, and customization according to its unique physiography; it would have made the EV policies much more comprehensive.
Second, leverage the limited availability of fuel stations – 31 tunnels with a total length of 53km are being constructed in addition to roads in the border areas, to boost accessibility and connectivity. Also, 8480 km of National Highways are yet to be constructed in the North-eastern region. Furthermore, because of the limited availability of fuels, various tenders have been released to set up fuel stations in this region. This provides an opportunity for the states to leap and lead the
transition to ZEVs.
Third, solve the issue of Range Anxiety – Because of the difficult terrain, the Himalayan roads are narrow and are connected via several tunnels. Scientists believe the Himalayan region can support roads up to only 5.5m wide. This provides a difficult case for the deployment of charging infrastructure along the corridors. With, projections of tourist visits of 240 million per year by 2025, it is imperative to ensure the availability of a charging mechanism in this region. Though the government has come up with a mandate for the installation of charging infrastructure along every 25 km on the national highways, it becomes unlikely for this to be adopted here. A few solutions to this could be the inclusion of the battery as a service model in their respective state policies, which NITI Aayog has recently come up with. Though the battery swapping policy is in the draft stage and is applicable only on electric two-wheeler and three-wheelers, the goal is to further scale it to four-wheelers. The idea of batteries being sold in any commercial shop including the Kirana shop can work well for the adoption of EVs in the Himalayan states. For four-wheelers, and heavy-duty vehicle segments, commercial shops like restaurants and dhabas can offer a charging solution. Here, the dhabas themselves can offer to charge vehicles while the passengers have food in their restaurant. Additionally, the unemployment rate in a few states of this region, especially in Jammu & Kashmir, and Tripura are 20.2% and 13% respectively. This is way higher than the national average of 6.9%. This could be a possible win-win situation and would further lead to an increase in revenue, boost green jobs and lead to the proliferation of the few wayside amenities along the roads.
Fourth, Harness the potential of Renewable energy in the region – The Greater Himalayas offer extensive opportunities to generate both solar and wind energy, while the lesser Himalayas and the Shiwaliks offer the potential to generate solar energy 2 . Also, according to NHPC, 78% of hydroelectric power generators will be in the Himalayan region. Since the per capita energy consumption in this region is less than the per capita national average consumption, the electricity demand can be met
by tapping the potential of renewable energy. The vehicles can be charged with renewable energy and can help India contribute to SGD Goal 7.
For all the strategies mentioned above, the Charging point operators need to work with various commercial segments to deploy charging stations. The Government will need to build regulations and standard operating procedures for new business models such as battery as a service, where handling of batteries will need to be taken care of.
Currently, the tourism and hospitality sector of Himalayan region contributes $71.5 billion to India’s GDP. Implementing these strategies can enhance the proliferation of green jobs and boost the demand for electricity in the region. This can also increase the connectivity and development of border areas and lead the contribution of the lofty Himalayan region to India’s dream of achieving a $5 trillion economy.
[This piece was written exclusively for ETEnergyworld by Priyadarshini Alok, Assistant Program Manager, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation]