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Renew | August 2017

Connecting storage technologies with rural micro-grids can go a long way

<span style="font-weight: bold;">Hartek Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, Hartek Group.<br /> <br /> How much has the energy storage segment grown, esp for solar?</span> <br /> It is something which is not easy to quantify. The energy storage segment has been growing consistently, be it home or office inverters, UPS, telecom towers or electric rickshaws. Backup inverters make up for over 60 per cent of India's energy storage market. Energy storage technologies are particularly useful when it comes to stocking up renewable energy. <p></p> <p>Traditionally, energy storage has been limited to off-grid solar. In the past couple of years, we have witnessed a trend towards combining solar with grid interactive solar and other renewable sources of energy. The solar sector has witnessed significant growth globally in the last few years, aided by a proactive government approach and innovations by private players. A 2014 market study conducted by the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) estimated a 15-20 GW market potential for energy storage by 2020. In its recent update, which µtakes into consideration current opportunities as well as a detailed overview of various growth scenarios and key government initiatives', the IESA has revised the figure to over 70 GW by 2022.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Will demand rise equally across segments, with sustained growth?</span><br /> The residential segment has been leading in storage (inverter with battery), followed by the commercial and industrial segments. GoI projects have taken the lead in storage and will generate maximum growth this year with several tenders announced that link storage to solar. Rural electrification projects that involve power packs and solar lanterns have also given a boost to the energy storage market.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">What threat do unclear policies and fluctuating markets pose?</span><br /> Regulatory policies can play a big role in ensuring the growth of the energy storage market. There is a dire need to come up with a regulatory framework and policies which encourage storage. For instance, storage should be made an essential part of the rural electrification programme. </p> <p> Connecting energy storage technologies with rural micro-grids can go a long way in promoting the storage market. Though the government has doubled the solar park target from 20 GW to 40 GW, on-ground implementation is slow with the execution limited to a handful of states.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Solar parks mean high investments and long payback periods. Does the risk appetite exist?</span><br /> Solar prices have dropped by more than 80 per cent in the last 10 years, and a similar drop can be expected in energy storage. As more and more capacity building projects are set up, payback periods will also come down. Just as in the case of solar, storage will see a consistent drop in prices in proportion with the increase in project volumes, thus resulting in access to inexpensive capital and thereby making way for a higher risk taking capacity.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Technology-wise, lead acid batteries dominate the market, will lithium-ion take over any time soon? </span><br /> Lead acid will dominate the market in the short term, but eventually lithium-ion batteries will take over. Prices of lithium-ion batteries have been dropping steadily, and they will soon become more viable than lead acid batteries in coming years. Moreover, Li-ion batteries make more sense in solar projects as they have a longer life span of 10 years, as compared to lead acid batteries, which last just three years.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">How are domestic players doing in this space? How has the technology evolved in India?</span><br /> Domestic payers have been doing well. Companies offering lead acid storage have witnessed impressive growth. We have seen the advent of Li-ion companies in the last few years, though their role is confined to assembly of imported cells. Li-ion batteries are mostly restricted to mobile phones and laptops. Large-scale deployment is still missing. We expect a lot of innovation in this space.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">GoI has large scale solar parks planned, are you a part of any of these?</span><br /> We extend EPC services to developers who have secured projects in solar parks. Energy storage is expected to be an integral part of these solar parks.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">What is your emphasis on R&amp;D? Have you developed anything India specific?</span><br /> We are working on specific technologies which combine solar energy with storage. We are in the process of developing some niche applications, which involve solar trees, solutions for rural warehouses and running rural micro-grids on systems that combine solar energy and storage.</p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold;">How do you expect GST to impact the solar sector? </span><br /> There is still a lot of ambiguity on the actual impact of GST on the solar sector. But overall, GST will have a positive impact on the solar business, though prices are expected to increase marginally in the short term. Energy storage technologies will cost more with batteries attracting the highest tax of 28 per cent.</p>
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