Bengaluru-based automotive startup Ather Energy, which has been in the news for its much-awaited India’s first premium electric smart scooter, the S340, has now taken upon itself to replicate Tesla Inc.’s charging infrastructure business model in India.
For the uninitiated, Tesla is a major American automaker, energy storage company, and solar panel manufacturer based out of Palo Alto, California. It is also known as the world’s most aggressive electric vehicle firm, having built over 5,400 superchargers with the goal of enabling long-distance travel for more than 200,000 Tesla owners around the world.
The startup, which is promoted by India’s largest two-wheeler company Hero MotoCorp Ltd, is currently meticulously working on preparing a blueprint to install charging stations at malls, restaurants, cinemas, offices and business parks. Their aim is to have at least some of these ready before the S340 launches next year, in 2018.
In October, 2016, Hero MotoCorp picked up a 26-30% stake in the Bengaluru-based startup through a Rs. 205-crore “strategic investment”. Some other big names that have invested in the startup include Tiger Global and Flipkart’s Sachin and Binny Bansal.
The company, which was founded in the year 2013 by IIT Madras alumni Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain, currently faces its biggest hurdle in the country’s Electricity Act, 2003. According to the act, an individual or private institution are not allowed to sell electricity directly in the Indian subcontinent. If one does aim to do that, they’re required by the law to acquire a discom licence from the state electricity regulatory commission making them eligible to sell power.
The company has even written to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) voicing their concerns about the Act and requesting a change in the fourteen year old Act. The PMO ended up moving the request to the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP)—the government body for all start-up-related policies—which in turn passed it to the officials at the department of heavy industry.
According to a report in live mint, the latest update on the matter is that the secretary in the department of heavy industry has written to the ministry of power to address the issue, and Ather has been assured that the matter is being looked into and a policy change might be in the pipeline.
The startup, if allowed to sell electricity through its own charging stations, plans to open the infrastructure for usage for other electric vehicle makers as well.
According to experts in the sector, there is an urgent need for regulatory clarity in order attract investments to the sector. Currently, there is no clarity on the regulatory aspect of sale of electricity by third parties to electric vehicles, which is not permitted under the 2003 Electricity Act.
Let’s see if the ministry of power comes through on the matter and introduces a change in the policy as soon as possible so that Ather can get to work.