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By 2030, Fuel Costs From Mobility Sector Could Be Reduced By 64%: James Newcomb

In February, 75 senior representatives from the government of India, the private sector, and the civil society developed ideas to transform India’s mobility sector

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In February, 75 senior representatives from the government of India, the private sector, and the civil society developed ideas to transform India’s mobility sector. Later, in May, India’s premier national policy think tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a global non-profit organization, focused on driving the efficient and restorative use of resources, presented specific and actionable solutions to transform India’s mobility sector.

They published a report — India Leaps Ahead: Transforming Mobility Solutions for All — which detailed the plan. Anurit Kanti of BW Businessworld caught up with James Newcomb, Managing Director of RMI, to discuss some of the solutions they came up with NITI Aayog to transform mobility solutions in India.

Edited excerpts:

What are the key findings by RMI and NITI Aayog with regards to transforming mobility solutions in India?
This work is authored by RMI and NITI Aayog, but is based on the thoughts of about 75 experts from government and civil society across India to develop a set of recommendations on how to transform India’s mobility system.

The unique thing about India is that it has the opportunity to make a transition that no other country has made previously. New technologies, business models are emerging now that can provide a fundamentally different approach on how to provide mobility services.

There are three elements of that - first is the transition from personally-owned vehicles to shared vehicles. If we can have electrified vehicles that are driving around the cities with multiple passengers in them, we’ll have less congestion and less pollution; second is electrification, the transition from internal combustion engines to electric mobility drive systems; third dimension is connected, both electronically, the ability for people to move from one mode of transportation to another, seamlessly and efficiently, and physically, through transport hubs, so that people coming walking or on bicycles, taxis make transitions to buses and trains smoothly.

How can India meet its INDC targets and reduce emissions with the increasing demand and supply of personal vehicles?
This is a big piece of the potential solution. Our estimates are that India could save a gigaton of carbon emissions, between now and 2030 from the transition that we described, to electrified shared transportation. So, it’s an environmental solution that builds an infrastructure for the future and very much a sustainable one. The other piece of that which is important is the storing that’s connected to the electricity grid. By having more batteries plugged into the grid, the grid will be more stable and more able to integrate high shares of variable renewables.

So, when you have solar and wind, they are always fluctuating, that’s a challenge from the standpoint of managing the electricity grid. But with a grid with many more batteries plugged into it, the charging of those batteries can fluctuate, based on the fluctuations in supply. Bringing more renewables into the electricity system is something very compatible with electrifying transportation, and these are two big engines of change for India’s energy economy.

What are the potential benefits to the economy through the transformation of the mobility sector?
If you only look at the fuel cost, for example, we estimate that between now and 2030, fuel costs from this sector could be reduced by 64 per cent. There are additional cost reductions that will come over time. Electric vehicles operation cost are lower than those for conventional vehicles. They require less maintenance. So, there are a number of dimensions of saving; they typically cost more upfront, but wherever you can look at the levelized cost, the full cost over time, electric vehicles, the technology is evolving rapidly and they will be cheaper on a life-cycle basis.

What factors enable India to be a key stakeholder for this transition into a transformed mobility hotspot?
India’s very well positioned to make this transition. As I mentioned, part of it has to do with the fact that India is building much of the modern infrastructure for its cities now for the first time. So, relative to China, India is less committed to the old paradigm. China has invested heavily in the development of super highways and despite that, it has suffered massive traffic jams and problems from congestion. India can leapfrog some of those challenges by going to electric sooner and by going to systems that put more people in the same number of vehicles.