In an interview with POWER TODAY, Dr Rahul Walawalkar, Executive Director, India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA), recommends that India must actively pursue bilateral agreements with rare Earth-rich nations, besides exploring such materials on its own territory to successfully meet the requirements of the emerging energy storage industry. He also urges the need for the creation of a special incubator to nurture a robust energy storage ecosystem in the country.
Which sectors of the Indian industry have evinced maximum interest in energy storage technologies?
Energy storage technologies have the potential to significantly transform the Indian electricity grid into a greener, resilient and reliable grid within the next decade. Advanced energy storage technologies can play an important role in renewable integration, energy access, electric mobility and the smart cities initiatives of the government. According to the IESA estimates, the country has the potential to integrate over 300 GWh of energy storage between 2018 and 2025. This includes not only existing applications such as backup power, but also newer applications like wind and solar integration, frequency regulation, peak management, transmission and distribution deferral, diesel replacement and electric vehicles (EVs). In 2017, India crossed 2 GWh of deployment of advanced energy storage solutions. E-rickshaws, telecom towers and other distributed systems led to this early deployment. Also, from this year, the Indian industry has started investing in setting up manufacturing capabilities for developing Li-ion battery packs in the country with IESA members such as Exicom, Delta and ACME leading the way.
Apart from the stationary storage, EVs have also received a significant boost from the government. Energy Efficiency Services (EESL) has concluded the world's largest procurement of 10,000 EVs in a single tender. IESA expects that solar integration of EVs and their charging infrastructure and the commercial and industrial applications of EVs will act as catalysts for the adoption of energy storage. Similarly, energy storage also needs to be considered as a part of the solution before making huge investments in transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure, which might otherwise remain underutilised for many years thus, leading to inefficiencies in capital allocation. Ancillary service regulation is another low hanging fruit where the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) has already defined the services, but current procurement rules only allow thermal plants to participate. Meanwhile, in the past four to five years, utilities have started shifting ancillary service procurement to advanced energy storage solutions, globally.
What is the general feedback that you receive during your various interactions with potential customers for storage solutions?
Customised Energy Solutions (CES) empower clients by helping them understand and manage the inner workings of the energy markets and emerging technologies better. We believe that India has the capability to leapfrog in the adoption of energy storage, micro-grids and electric transportation technologies. To help in this transition, CES launched IESA in 2012 to bring together various stakeholders and create awareness about these emerging technologies.
We see tremendous interest from various customer segments about advanced energy storage technologies. Many of them are trying to understand which technologies are the best fit for their applications and whether this is the right time to invest in storage projects. For some, there is a temptation to wait for allowing further price reductions, while others realise that by waiting longer, they are leaving money on the table due to higher operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of the current systems. There is a clear financial benefit for the use of advanced energy storage to minimise diesel consumption in commercial and industrial segments, such as hotels, hospitals, data centres, shopping malls, SEZs and townships. But due to the high initial cost and lack of interest among facility owners, its acceptance and implementation rates are low.
However, for integrated solar rooftop, various facilities like toll booths on highways, petrol pumps and commercial buildings have already started integrating lead acid and
Li-ion batteries. Similarly, on EV adoption, lack of choice of vehicle models and charging infrastructure create hurdles in their proliferation on Indian roads. Various utilities and central PSUs are willing to move ahead with energy storage pilot projects for EVs. Therefore, similar to other industries, there might be a mixed feedback during the initial stages of adoption. But we, at IESA, are confident that early adopters will drive this market and India will emerge as one of the largest markets for energy storage and EV adoption over the next decade.
Presently, what are some of the main challenges faced by the manufacturers of storage solutions?
We are at a critical stage for building a manufacturing ecosystem for advanced energy storage technologies in India. Around the globe, over 200 GWh of advanced energy storage manufacturing capacity is already built and another 200 GWh of new capacity will be built within the next three to five years. China, South Korea and the US lead the manufacturing race right now, but a number of other European countries have also stepped up efforts to build their manufacturing capacity. We are pleased that various Indian companies have already entered the cell-to-battery pack assembling. Given the huge opportunity in the country for Li-ion cell manufacturing, there are some discussions underway in the industry on the raw material availability.
The government, therefore, must actively initiate bilateral agreements with lithium and cobalt-rich nations like Bolivia, Chile and Australia, besides fostering exploration of such raw materials in the country. Apart from Li-ion technology, India must look at other emerging technologies like flow, sodium-air, zinc-air and aluminum-air batteries. IESA has set a vision of making India a global hub in R&D and manufacturing of advanced energy storage technologies by 2022. To achieve this, we need to aim at least 10 GWh of manufacturing capacity by 2022 and at least, 50 GWh manufacturing capacity by 2025.
IESA has already shared its inputs with various government bodies like NITI Aayog, Department of Heavy Industry (DHI), Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) to develop an advanced energy storage manufacturing policy for India. IESA also organised two master classes in association with the Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers Association (IEEMA) at Delhi and Mumbai with over 70 industries for the creation of a manufacturing ecosystem in the country.
Are things on track as far as provisioning of trained manpower and setting up of manufacturing facilities for storage solutions are concerned?
Although India has a good talent pool, it lacks in terms of R&D facilities for battery cells manufacturing. On a good note, Indian labs like Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI), Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (CMET) and International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) are actively working in this area and there is further scope to enhance India's R&D standards. We also require a supply chain strategy. In the past three years, the country has witnessed the creation of hundreds of accelerators or incubators focused on areas of information technology, healthcare, etc. There is a similar need for a special incubator to nurture energy storage technology startups and provide them with suitable facilities for accelerating their progress, starting with lab commercialisation. IESA has been working on the creation of such incubators for energy storage sector in line with the Atal Innovation Mission.
"Advanced energy storage technologies can play an important role in renewable integration, energy access, electric mobility and the smart cities initiatives of the government."
We are also working with the government’s Skill India initiative and various academic partners to identify skill and training gaps in this area.
What are your expectations from the proposed National Energy Storage Mission that is expected to be established in the 2018–19 fiscal?
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has constituted an expert committee to draft the National Energy Storage Mission (NESM), and IESA is a part of this committee. The current Minister of Power and New & Renewable Energy, Raj Kumar Singh has taken a very proactive view of the opportunity for energy storage in India. Under the leadership of MNRE Secretary, Anand Kumar, an expert committee is working on the drafting of NESM, which is expected to be launched in the next two or three months. This mission will cover aspects related to renewable integration at the transmission level, distributed renewable integration at the distribution level, the role of storage in energy access, microgrids, EV charging infrastructure, and battery requirements. Once this document is in place, it will act as a ready reckoner. A key consideration is the inclusion of demand projections up to 2022 for various applications that are expected to be between 50–75 GWh in total.
- Manish Pant
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