Thinking beyond the Grind

Just like the product, this grid, too, has been years in the making.

Ather’s an in-house team of data scientists did a comprehensive audit of how the grid needed to be set up. “This team has run extensive algorithms which considered data points like safe parking, high visibility, and uninterrupted power supply. We did a ground audit of these locations before we launched,” adds Mehta.

Partnership with the local establishments

Ather has partnered with local establishments like cafes and malls that popped up during their audit. In these places, Ather sets up electric substations, which draw power from the establishment’s main meter. “Till recently, our partner establishments were not allowed to re-sell electricity to us.

They could only offer it as a service and not as a utility. They couldn’t raise the price per unit from, say, Rs 5-10 ($0.06-$0.14). We successfully lobbied with the government to get this regulation changed. Now there is an incentive to host our sub-meters,” says Ravneet Phokela, Chief Business Officer at Ather.

It’s also helped that the government, since 2018, has abolished the need for licenses to set up charging stations.

The next thing Ather’s pushing for, says Phokela, is to host independent substations at these merchant establishments without having to own or rent the land. In this way, vehicles can be charged directly by the utility. “We don’t want to jump through several operational hoops, like aggregating bills from our partners, to set up these charging spots. We want to simplify the business model as much as possible,” he adds.

Another company with similar plans is Tork Energy. While Tork doesn’t have a fully realized charging network at present, Kapil Shelke, Tork’s founder, has a few ideas on how he might go about it. Tork’s new e-bike, T6X, is set to launch in the next 6-7 months and is being packaged as India’s fastest electric bike. 100 kilometers per hour. 100 kilometers on a single charge which takes 45 minutes to an hour. A range that’s presently unheard of in the electric mobility space. So, for longer rides, say between cities, highways are Shelke’s target.

Dependence on the tight-knit

“Within the city, riders rarely go beyond 80-90 kilometers in a day. Only if you’re riding from, say, Mumbai to Mahabaleshwar will we need to plan a grid on national highways. We’re looking at land and power costs of potential charging points on routes we think our riders might take,” says Shelke. Tork is depending on its tight-knit community of electric bike enthusiasts to help them map out this grid.

“With all the data feedback from our bikes’ telematics systems, and what our community of riders is telling us, it won’t be hard to predict where these charging stations should be set up,” he says. These “fast- charging” stations will be set up at a cost of approximately Rs 1-2 lakh ($1,378- $2,756). Ather quotes a similar set-up cost for its inter-city grid of chargers.

Both Ather and Tork’s teams are working on setting up interoperable grids; ones that would cater to any electric vehicle, as long as they meet the current charging standards (ARAI Charging Norms). But there’s a catch. “Charging a scooter at a public facility is a top-up game.

Does it draw power?

You need to charge quickly. While a regular 3-pin, the 15-ampere plug will do the job, it won’t be able to draw as much power, and as quickly as a customized Ather connector,” adds Phokela, indicating that fast-charging options rather than traditional ones are where the industry’s efforts should be. “Who wants to wait five hours to charge their scooter in a public space?” he asks.

If one were to slice into Ather’s experiment with charging grids, it’s clear they’ve built the tech around India’s unique power conditions. A big challenge with owning an electric two-wheeler is that the battery is often over-taxed. By heat. By 70-watt voltage fluctuations. But Ather’s pre-empted that problem.