Sustainable mobility to India’s largest wind farm | Earth Day 2021 drive
It’s 4 in the morning on the golden anniversary of Earth Day. Actually, it’s been 51 years since the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, but 2020 was technically a write off so we can legitimately celebrate the big birthday this year. It’s a movement that had its roots in cars, and specifically getting lead out of petrol. And over the years it has led to the formation of the environmental protection agency that mandated unleaded fuel, provided the impetus for milestone events including the United Nations Earth Summit, and has lent a voice to emerging environmental consciousness. Today it is one of the largest movements in the world – marked by more than a billion people as a day of action. And action for us obviously means a drive.
Between 1990 and 200, three key events took place, all of which are of relevance to us today. Earth Day observance became global and coincided with another revolution that was brewing in Toyota City, Japan. The world’s first mass produced self-charging hybrid, the Toyota Prius, was launched in 1997. Not only did Toyota’s hybrid technology use cleaner unleaded fuel but also had an electric motor supplementing the ICE to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency. The third event took place here in India when the government of Denmark installed a demo wind energy project in India — one of the first such projects in Asia. Situated near Kanyakumari in an area with an abundance of wind, the project paved the way for the government and private players to invest in wind energy. One of the results is the Muppandal Wind Farm — India’s largest and the world’s third largest onshore wind energy project — and that’s where we are headed in the self-charging Toyota Camry Hybrid.
It’s only good and proper that we are driving a Toyota since over the years they has done the most to reduce their carbon footprint — 16 million electrified vehicles sold globally over the past 26 years, saving 139 million tonnes of CO2 and 52 million litres of petrol. Another important factor for us driving the Camry Hybrid is that today’s drive isn’t a quick run within Bengaluru city. We’ve got a 700km day ahead of us and we can’t afford to be saddled with issues such as range anxiety and charging infrastructure.
Appropriately we set off from the Lemon Tree in Bengaluru’s Electronic City in zero emissions mode. Pure EV mode. The Energy Monitor on the 8-inch touchscreen graphically illustrates the energy flow and more often than not you only know that the engine has kicked in via this monitor; so silent, imperceptible and refined is the switch over. In fact, it is the city where the Camry Hybrid’s self-charging hybrid tech works best and studies have shown that for 60 per cent of the time it runs on pure EV, zero emissions mode. The nickel metal hydride battery feeds the 88kW (118bhp) e-motor that shares space with the internal combustion engine. The petrol engine is a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated unit that runs on Atkinson cycle where the shortened intake stroke combined with a full-length expansion stroke squeezes more energy out of every drop of fuel.
With Bengaluru still sleeping, we hit the NH 44 and as the sun comes up we come across massive wind turbine blades being transported down south. Each blade is 63 metres long, suspended between two specialised trailers and escorted by a security vehicle to ensure road safety. And it’s a timely reminder of how important road infrastructure is; transporting these blades would simply not have been possible were it not for the excellent road infrastructure from here all the way through Tamil Nadu, the four-lane carriageway ending, as we would later find out, right at Land’s End in Kanyakumari.
There’s not much traffic, and cars move surprisingly quickly down this road which means we can sustain a steady triple-digit speed in the early morning hours, the Camry ticking away quietly and absolutely impressing us with its comfort and the ease with which it chews miles. What is doubly impressive though is the fuel efficiency, the Camry Hybrid delivering an excellent 23.6kmpl. By late in the evening, after multiple detours for filming and photography, the figure went down to 21kmpl, which is still astonishingly good for a big luxury car over a 700km road trip that we completed from dawn to dusk, so it isn’t like we were driving very slowly either.
By late afternoon we present ourselves at the National Institute of Wind Energy. Here we learn that wind energy contributes to nearly 10 per cent of India’s total power generation (61.5 per cent still comes from thermal) and a significant chunk of that is produced at the Muppandal Wind Farm strategically located just off the confluence of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea and harnesses the strong winds from the three water bodies. There are over 1000 wind turbines in this area, producing more than 1500mW of energy every month. For those interested, at a wind speed of 12m/s, a single wind turbine can generate 1mW of power every hour, equivalent to 1000 units. An average Indian household consumes approximately 90 units per month — so the total number of homes that can be powered by the Muppandal Wind Farm is… well you do the math! A side benefit of the 1,000 windmills dotted all over the countryside is that it makes for a truly spectacular sight. Windmills stretching out as far as the eye can see, twirling in the strong breeze, generating clean, green energy. Only appropriate that we again hit the EV mode button on the Camry Hybrid and use electric power from the battery to drive past for the cameras. The battery is charged using the motor generator that recuperates kinetic energy from braking and deceleration. There is also active stop-start that not only switches off the engine while coming to a stop but also cuts it out while coasting on the highway and uses electric power when load demands aren’t high.
This being evo India, we obviously hit the Sport mode and this is when both the ICE and e-motor work in tandem to put out 175bhp. And here’s busting another myth, that hybrids aren’t quick. The Camry Hybrid can get to 100kmph in 10-odd seconds when you step on the accelerator and while we’re on the subject of busting myths I must also add that battery life isn’t a worry either since this is a small battery that supplements the internal combustion motor, not a 200kg battery pack that runs the full length of the wheelbase. And as we all know and have experienced; Toyotas usually outlast their owners and the same should hold true for the Camry Hybrid.
Foot on the floor in Sport mode, we make it in time for sunset, except it’s a cloudy day and we don’t get to see the setting sun. Dawn in Bengaluru, dusk at the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal at Kanyakumari — a 700km day can be super exhausting, but not today. The Camry Hybrid is quick, comfortable and extremely stress-free to drive. It’s very efficient thanks to the self-charging hybrid tech, and by the end of the day we get 21kmpl! In fact, hybrid tech is a great step up in the ladder towards sustainable transport, using the current infrastructure and delivering lower emissions and better fuel economy than conventional ICE vehicles. Plus, there are no range anxiety issues with this eco-friendly car, which means you can get out and do long road trips, see for yourself the strides our country is making in generating clean, green energy, and thus paving a path for a sustainable future where you can breathe in the fresh ocean breeze under clear blue skies.