Ever Green - Clean Energy Drive in a Mercedes-Benz EQC


‘Silent as a tomb’ is an awfully ominous phrase, but it’s one that won’t leave my head right now. It’s genuinely eerie, this sensation, and something I’ve never experienced on Indian roads before. For the first time on this drive, I’ve got a relatively long stretch of smooth highway devoid of another soul, another clattery truck engine, another unnecessary honk from a horn. Night has fallen, the sky has opened up and I’ve got the moon for company, lighting up the cabin through the windscreen and sunroof. And silence. Not a sound from under the bonnet, nor from under the wheels. The novelty, I suppose, is what makes it almost unsettling at first, but I soon realise that what it is, is pure serenity. I sink further into the driver’s seat, flick on the massage function (now the noisiest thing in the cabin) and just relax. If this is what the future of motoring will feel like, I’m all in.

Rewind to earlier that morning and the Mercedes-Benz Centre of Excellence at its Chakan plant. We unplug the EQC from the on-site fast charger, satisfied at the ‘100%’ readout on the car’s digital cluster. It’s a welcome sight, given we have a long drive ahead of us, but range testing is not on the agenda for today. No, our quest on this Clean Energy Drive is, as the name suggests, to look at clean sources of electricity that could – and should – power the rapidly swelling EV wave in India.

You see, while EVs make a powerful statement about saving the planet – that green number plate is certainly a badge of honour – their detractors are quick to point out that the electricity powering them comes from sources no cleaner than the tailpipes of internal-combustion cars. The comparison isn’t quite apples to apples, but they’re not entirely wrong. In India, a whopping 62 percent of our electricity still comes from thermal power plants, which are a huge contributor to pollution and greenhouse gases. But there’s hope on the horizon, as green energy is coming up in a big way – and as we’re going to find out, it’s only getting bigger.

Star power

It does help that we’re embarking on this journey cocooned in the veritable velvet glove that is the Mercedes EQC. It’s only fitting that the first luxury EV in the country is the one we use to explore the future of electric motoring in India. Thebig star on that gloss-black ‘grille’ section makes one hell of a statement as we navigate parts of the Maharashtrian hinterland. And besides, you want to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible on a long road trip, right?


A grand flag off at the gates of the Mercedes plant ushers us on our way to our first destination – Khopoli, and Tata Power’s 100-plus-year-old hydro facility. This journey, a huge chunk of which is done on the wide and smooth Pune-Mumbai expressway, is a good demonstrator of the EQC’s abilities as a high-speed highway cruiser, an ability owners might be reluctant to explore. You see, in a complete reversal of what we know from ICE-powered cars, an EV consumes more power on the highway and less in city traffic. While we’re certainly not planning to do this entire journey on a single charge, an 80kWh battery with a claimed 414km of range gives us a comfortable real-world buffer to get to Khopoli, roughly 75km away. Time to stretch our legs!

Nothing quite as satisfying as this sign before a road trip.

408hp and an AMG-like 760Nm are not small numbers by any standard, and this, remember, is a car that will be measured against the yardstick of other similarly sized luxury SUVs. We’re more accustomed to somewhere between 150 and 300 horsepower in these cars, 350 to 500Nm of torque, so the first time I really drop the hammer on the open road in the EQC, it’s an eye-widener! I’m pinned back as that huge reserve of torque all sweeps in instantly. Huge distances are swallowed in seconds as we constantly nudge the speed limit. And it’s made all the more bewildering by the only audible accompaniment – a light ‘whoosh’.

Water way to go

The navigation tells me to branch off the Expressway and back onto the old highway where, on a section I’ve driven a hundred times, an unassuming offshoot I’ve never noticed before takes me down a verdant path to my destination. Soon, the EQC and I are whisked through a giant pair of tall, high-security gates that swing open to reveal a courtyard with some delightful old buildings. The Khopoli hydro facility is a combination of heritage structures and modern tech, and keen to show us around is Tata Power’s chief of hydro, Prabhakar Kale.

Incredibly well versed in not just the science behind the tech we’re looking at today and the case to be made for this form of clean energy, but also the history of hydro power in India, it looks like we have an insightful hour ahead of us. But first, time to juice up the car! Unfortunately, in the case of this plant, we can’t tap the source for 100 percent clean electricity because it feeds into the main grid (mixing with other ‘unclean’ forms of power) and we have to plug into there. But Kale tells us that all the buildings in the plant themselves run on pure green energy, so it would technically be possible to set up.

Old versus new: EQC charges up next to a 100-year-old turbine.

The futuristic EQC plugged up right next to a century-old water turbine is a wonderful juxtaposition, as are the heritage building and the modern power plant, constructed side by side. The old building is an incredible time capsule (that even houses a literal time capsule at its centre) that transports you back to a gritty, industrial time, with larger-than-life machinery and the tools that made it all work. We’re warped forward in the almost minimalist modern facility, and it’s hard to fathom that over 70MW comes out of this building to feed power to the homes and offices of Mumbai.

Tata Power Khopoli’s heritage building is home to hydro tech from several decades past.

The process is more or less as simple as you think it is. Water stored in a reservoir at a height is allowed to fall onto a turbine, spinning it. This, in turn, spins a generator, and voila – electricity! The principles behind it are simple too – the greater the height and volume of water, the greater the power generated – and though a drought or dry spell could affect things, the reservoirs are large enough to sustain power generation the year round. This is something we soon find out as we unplug the EQC and drive up to the mighty Valvan dam that feeds this plant. Fed in turn by several water bodies in the region, the reservoir and dam dwarf our SUV as we park up for some photos.

Infra city

The price of our thrilling high-speed jaunt down the Expressway earlier is now playing on my mind, as our next stop is 185km away, a night stop in Satara district. It’s from there we’ll set out the following morning, and we will be charging overnight, but with all the driving and shooting along the way, aninterim top-up is warranted; the short time on the 15A plug at the hydro plant only did so much.

25kW DC public chargers are fast, but reset if there’s a power cut.

There’s a Tata Power DC fast charger just outside Pune – a convenient location en route, but here’s where we encounter our first tryst with what is an as-yet-undeveloped public charging infrastructure. Just 30 minutes at this 25kW DC charger should give us another 15-16 percent of battery charge, but once we get there, the sole plug already has three other EVs queued up for it; it’s a convenient location for many, as it turns out. Nothing for it but to reserve our spot and quickly top ourselves up with tea and snacks. The wait isn’t short – over an hour before we can even plug in, which throws a spanner into our schedule. But comfortably juiced up – a surprisingly easy process once you have the Tata Power app on your phone – and we’re on our way under the cover of darkness.

It’s quite late by the time we reach our overnight halt and charging stop – another Tata Power DC fast charger, this time situated at a secluded hotel on the highway in Satara. There’s no rush here, mercifully, but as we’d soon find out, another issue would rear its head. Plugged in for the night, we leave the EQC and head off for dinner. Ten minutes into my well-earned Butter Chicken, however, a text alert on my phone tells me charging has stopped. Rushing back to the charging site reveals there had been a power cut, but even though the power has since returned, the session was ended, and I have to unplug and start it up again. This happens once more that night, and I have no choice but to wait by my phone until the car has a satisfactory amount of charge. Just goes to show that even with chargers in place, it means nothing without an uninterrupted power supply.

Wind it up

The next morning all prior stress is alleviated by another proud 100% flashing on the digital display, and the fact that our next destination is rather close by. No Expressway this time, however, as we move further and further from the highway on narrower rural roads. The EQC truly does stand out here, the locals craning their necks for a glimpse of the silent sentinel as it whizzes past. It’s not that luxury SUVs don’t roam these parts; it’s just that they’re usually accompanied by the clatter of a diesel engine.

Climbing a hill is a sure-fire way to drain an EV’s battery quickly; luckily, you can claw some of it back through regeneration on the way down.

It’s not long before they appear, dotting the horizon – wind turbines as far as the eye can see. As our route meanders towards them, however, I notice they don’t just get closer, but move higher up too; we’ve got both a literal and metaphorical hill to climb. You see, inclines are the enemy of range in EVs, and hauling such a heavy car up a slope really takes its toll on the batteries, more so when you have to do it slowly and don’t have momentum on your side. Moreover, as it’s built around the ICE packaging of the GLC’s platform and retrofitted with an electric powertrain, the EQC’s big bank of batteries hangs low between the axles, resulting in ground clearance that’s lower than what you’d expect from an SUV.

The trail up the plateau to Tata Power’s Agaswadi wind farm was designed for goods carriers and hardy Mahindra Boleros. Hedged with spiky bushes, littered with stray rocks and carved out by the very wheels that drove through it, it’s not a route you’d want to take in any car. So, admittedly, it’s a very slow trudge up the hillside, trying not to get distracted by the spectacular view as I plot each wheel carefully. The EQC’s battery-filled belly does make light contact once or twice, in only the most unavoidable places, but it’s interesting to see how quickly the two-motor e-4Matic AWD system reacts to send power exactly where it’s needed.

They probably didn’t have luxury EVs in mind when they carved out the ‘road’ to Agaswadi wind farm.

You don’t realise just how massive a WTG (wind turbine generator) is until you’re right up next to it. Each one is a structure unto itself, with a door through which an engineer can enter and monitor its functions on a control panel. They soar hundreds of metres into the sky and you can almost feel the force of the spinning blades when you’re standing right under them. I raise my voice above the windy din to greet NandkumarSatre, zonal head of Wind Farms at Tata Power.

EQC's 4Matic e-AWD makes climbing to the top of the wind farm a cinch.

“Nice driving,” he says with a smile as I show him around the EQC. The engineer in him is intrigued by the tech, which much like the turbines, has come a long way since the days of old. He explains that they used to be much larger and more difficult to install, and that they generated far less power – just about 300-500kW compared to the 3-3.8MW each of this farm’s units can produce. In fact, this 10-year-old facility with its 33 WTGs, generates about 50MW. Spread across 80km, the facility runs 24x7 and is managed by a small team from a single control centre.

Wind Turbine Generators (WTGs) today produce more than 10 times the power they did a decade ago.

Having left this control centre a few kilometres behind, I suddenly remember we have to charge the car, but it’s no problem. A team of engineers is quick to draw a 15A line directly from one of the turbines that plugs straight into the car. It doesn’t get much greener than that!

The future's bright

The trek back down the hill is no less treacherous, but it does give me a chance to use the EQC’s three-stage regenerative braking as a sort of manually operated hill-descent control function. Gives us a few precious percent of charge in the process, too, but again, our next destination is not too far away. It’s not the smoothest bit of road though, with potholes, broken patches and poor surfaces giving the EQC’s suspension a comprehensive workout. Moreover, the slow going has meant that we’re now well into the second-half of the day, and we don’t want to lose light at our next destination, which is all about the sun!

More so even than the wind turbines, driving into the heart of a solar farm feels like driving straight into a sci-fi movie scene. Thousands of panels on either side of me stretch seemingly to infinity, light bouncing off their glassy surfaces as the EQC hums across the dirt path between them. Right at the centre sits the control room, where Mahadeo Sabale, zonal head for solar at Tata Power, and his team await us. “We hear you want to charge it,” he says, getting right to business, and once again, we are able to source power directly from the bank of panels itself!

Drawing power straight from the source meant a truly zero-emissions charge.

With the car plugged in, we walk through the fields as he explains to me why solar is unlike any other green energy source. It’s all about scale, you see – on one hand you have facilities like this, spread over 250 acres with over two lakh panels generating 55MW and offsetting the equivalent of over 67 million kg of CO2 annually! And on the other, you can quite easily install some panels on the roof of your home and generate clean energy all by yourself. It’s not just the ease and low cost of installing solar panels, though – it’s also the resultant low cost of energy, as little as Rs 2 per unit. It’s no wonder solar is the fastest growing clean power source in the country! And yes, if you’re wondering if all the space these panels occupy could have been better used for something else, Sabale is quick to reassure me that we’re standing on non-arable land located more than 20km from the nearest town, so as to be less of an inconvenience. In fact, a solar farm coming up in Kutch that promises to be the largest in the world is built pretty much in a desert!

Prior to his role at this facility, Sabale has been an expert in alternative fuels and has written many papers on the subject. A true advocate of a sustainable future, then, he shares with me a hopeful outlook for the years to come. “There are many tenders coming in to fulfil just the domestic requirements [for renewable energy], and the government has set remarkably high targets, so surely, going forward, we are going to have 100 percent renewable energy for all applications.”

Solar is the most popular and fastest growing form of clean energy in India.

The last two days have been an eye opener, and also the science lesson I didn’t know I needed. It’s reassuring to know that not only are green energy sources already well established in India, they’re also growing at a rapid rate. As the charging infrastructure for EVs slowly grows, we can rest easy knowing that more of it is being fed from clean sources, eventually leading to a truly emissions-free motoring experience. As an orange glow engulfs the EQC and the thousands of panels around me on my exit, I think back to that silent, soothing highway drive from the night before. With EVs becoming more and more feasible, what felt like a brief, fantastical scenario might become a reality sooner than we think.

Which type of clean energy is best?



Prabhakar Kale, Chief - Hydros, Tata Power 

  • Hydro is the most reliable – wind is uncertain and solar is only available at certain times of the day
  • Once you store water during the rainy season for 3-3.5 months, it is readily available
  • When to generate, how much to generate, for how much duration to generate is entirely up to us



Nandkumar Satre, Zonal Head - Wind farms, Tata Power

  • In solar, there are limitations for generation, for hydro you have to construct a dam to store water. But with wind, you can generate power 24x7
  • Because of these wind projects, the local infrastructure – from road, hospitality, medical facilities – grows. So wind energy is quietly contributing to the GDP
  • Global R&D centres use India as a hub because in every country the weather pattern is different, whereas we have all types of weather here



Mahadeo Sabale, Zonal Head - Solar, Tata Power

  • It can be used for any kind of application like charging an electric vehicle directly from the supply taken from the stream commander box
  • Solar has the simplest installation, which hardly takes 6-8 months even for capacity of more than 100-200 megawatts
  • The cost has now come down so low, to just Rs 2-2.15 per unit, compared to other forms of energy which are much more expensive

Q&A: Santosh Iyer, VP - Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz India


On Mercedes-Benz going green.

The government has an ambitious plan to go 40 percent renewable by 2030. We can debate whether that will happen or not, but from our perspective, we are encouraging all clean sources. Even for all our charging tie-ups, our priority is to ensure the charging stations and the power come from renewable sources. And, in the car we have 85 percent recyclable materials and 95 percent renewable. We want to make this almost 100 percent in the next eight to 10 years.

On the adoption of EVs in India.

The most important thing is availability of a lot of products. We’re happy there are many brands in the luxury space and others will come in with more products; that should drive consumption. The government is now putting a lot of incentives behind it, there are regulatory pressures in terms of meeting CO2 norms in the next five to seven years, and consumers themselves are being more aware and more proactive.

On India’s place on the electrification world map.

Globally, by 2030, we will be fully electric and will stop introducing IC engine cars after 2025. Can we accelerate it so fast in India? I think the tipping point will be the local OEMs. In the next two to three years, we may see a robust growth and I draw a parallel to mobile phone growth. When it happened, you didn’t have the infrastructure; you don’t have it even today. But the growth is there, people are able to live with what they have and that’s something EVs will also follow.

Hormazd Sorabjee

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