Sustainability Assessment of Electric Vehicles: Opportunities and Challenges

02 Sep 2022 02 Sep 2022

On 2nd September 2022 | 15:30 AM - 17:30 PM

As the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change has grown stronger, the global community has come together to implement several measures to mitigate it. Among these, one of the most popular climate mitigation measures of recent times is in the automobile industry; involving a transition from internal combustion engine (ICE) cars to electric vehicles (EVs).

Integrated decision-making is a prerequisite for decarbonizing the transport system in an economically viable manner. This entails bringing multiple agencies together on a common knowledge platform that will benefit the diverse stakeholders in the entire EV ecosystem to gain knowledge. This sets the basis for the Digital Library on Green Mobility which is the result of a collaborative effort of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and TERI under the India component of GIZ’s Nationally Determined Contributions Transport Initiative for Asia (NDC-TIA) project.

In India, there are over 0.5 million electric 2-wheelers and a few thousand electric cars today which is less than 1% of the annual vehicle sales; however, the industry has the potential to grow more than 5% in a few years. This is owing to policy incentives like 100% FDI in the sector and schemes like Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) II. More recently, the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for the automotive sector was launched to encourage domestic production of batteries to support the EV industry with requisite infrastructure and reduction in costs.

Such a rapid transition poses both opportunities and challenges for India's economic and social sectors. An increased number of EVs would reduce the pressure on the demand for petrol and diesel thereby cutting India’s import bill. EV manufacturing is also likely to generate substantial employment in the country. Thus, this transition to e-mobility is seen as a one-shot solution to the multitude of problems that India’s facing, including air pollution, climate change mitigation, oil imports and unemployment.

An excellent case of contribution to the economy from the EV sector has already been demonstrated during the pandemic. While the global automotive industry was negatively affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global electric car sales rose 70% in 2020.

However, such opportunities come with a fair share of challenges. From an environmental perspective, EVs are the preferred option due to their reduced use-phase emissions, but no holistic sustainability assessment has been done for them in India. EV manufacturing involves the use of critical rare earth minerals like lithium and more, which are highly energy and resource intensive. Additionally, the electricity used for charging the EV batteries has a high share of thermal-based generation. If the environmental footprints of these factors are to be considered, the envisaged benefits of EVs may not be as high as perceived. Another major challenge associated with a large-scale rollout of EVs is the corresponding requirement of charging infrastructure which warrants significant capital investments over and beyond current government spending; 86% of which is currently going to demand-side incentivization.

In such circumstances, challenges can be mitigated with modeling of potential outcomes followed by decisions being taken based on scientific findings. This is crucial for all stakeholders including auto manufacturers and customers to make evidence-based decisions. Thus comes the relevance of sustainability assessment of electric vehicles for careful scrutiny of existing policy and for proposing necessary amendments for future.

Another crucial aspect associated with EVs is from the socio-economic perspective. EVs are priced at a higher rate than their ICE counterparts. This has the potential to exacerbate existing income-based fault lines of Indian society due to factors of access and affordability. While the product, in theory, is only estimated for its economic and environmental implications; as EV penetration increases it is likely to have some impact on social structure and its factors including but not restricted to human rights, diversity and inclusion, health and safety, and community impact.

One of the most effective tools of sustainability assessment is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is a systematic analysis of potential environmental impacts of products or services during their entire life cycle including the end-of-life phase. There have been to date several LCA studies done on EVs globally but none in the Indian context. LCA can also be coupled with Hotspot Analysis Tool (HAT) for targeted interventions to improve EV performance, particularly in stages where it is lagging.

Other sustainability assessment tools are Social Impact Assessment (SIA) which might help forecast long-term impacts of EV penetration in Indian villages and other harsh terrains like mountains and deserts along with their spill over implications on the economy and social factors like human health and education. The need is for an integrated sustainability assessment for EVs incorporating environmental and socio-economic factors to help generate relevant data and fill existing knowledge gaps through robust results and fool proof policies.

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Contact Details: Ms N Deepa, Fellow, Knowledge Resource Centre, TERI, Email:

Electric vehicles

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