Powering progress: Is energy storage part of India's next green revolution?

Dec 18, 2019
5 MIN. READ

The original Green Revolution of the 1960s modernized agricultural production in order to feed and sustain India's growing population. Is a new green revolution underway to change how the country brings power to its people?

The push and pull of energy supply and demand

India has undergone dramatic growth and change in recent decades—and nowhere is this more apparent than in the energy industry. The country recently achieved 100% village electrification and is on track to achieve 100% household electrification soon.

But energy consumption in these newly electrified homes is only set to increase. Rising affluence and the growth of the middle class are leading to a rapid increase in the use of Western-style electrical appliances such as air conditioners, water heaters, and cooking devices.

While this embrace of energy benefits India on a household-by-household basis, it requires careful consideration by the nation’s leaders. Without the means to store energy, India would have a hard time balancing supply and demand—which would result in more frequent dropped loads and power outages. What is the best way for India to take on the challenge of energy storage?

Energy storage 101

Energy storage is the process by which we capture electricity generated at one time and store it—in a device such as a battery—for discharge on demand at another. While batteries have gained traction in recent years, other forms of energy storage include pumped hydro storage as well as mechanical, chemical, electrical, thermal, and electrochemical technologies.

Imagine you’re India’s national government and part of your job is to figure out the right mix of energy sources to power your country. It’s not surprising that coal and gas historically factored heavily on your balance sheet due to their stable supply, compared to especially variable wind and solar energy. (If the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, then energy can’t be generated on demand.)

Energy storage solves for this issue and balances out the equation. Not only will it allow India to better manage its fluctuating grid demand, but it will create new opportunities to utilize renewable energy sources—reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Envisioning a greener future

As part of India's green power vision, Prime Minister Modi set a climate target of having 40% non-fossil fuel powered energy capacity by 2030. India's growing use of renewable energies has put the country on pace to exceed that target, bringing us closer to the day when everyone will have access to affordable and sustainable energy.

This rise in renewables means that traditional storage systems may no longer meet the country’s needs. Our analysis suggests that a higher penetration of variable renewable energies will trigger a transition away from energy services like time shifting (storing energy for consumption at a more convenient time) to power services like capacity firming (maintaining intermittent power output at a committed level for a period of time).

Storage provided by hydropower stations—which previously accounted for 95% of storage applications in India—is best suited to meet consistent power demands. But as India modernizes, the new electricity usage pattern is leading to changes in the load curve. Newer forms of storage are better able to handle this fluctuating demand. Therefore, these more dynamic storage systems are destined to dominate the market and drive the transition to India’s greener future.

Graph - Energy Storage Technologies

Younger storage technologies, such as electrochemical systems, enable the effective integration of variable renewable energies into the network. They can also enhance the efficiency of hydropower plants by bringing generation scheduling response times down from 8–12 hours to only 15 minutes—and by storing any excess energy that would otherwise be wasted.

The new generation of storage solutions are a disruptive force within the energy system. They’re also bringing innovation into the energy market. India will need to consider the optimal mix of storage technologies to meet its needs, from handling projected demand to increasing renewables and guaranteeing energy reliability, resilience, and affordability.

What factors should influence India's storage technology decision?

Potential investors—and, ultimately, the whole value chain—should look at options through three lenses:

1. Prioritizing applications

The choice of a storage technology depends on the specific role it fulfills in the energy system. Is the primary aim peak load management or frequency regulation? Is powering e-mobility or network reliability the number one objective? Suitable technologies can be identified by prioritizing the requirements of storage applications at grid-scale, small-scale, and off-grid. As each storage technology can serve a range of applications, factors such as round-trip efficiency and cycle life will also factor into the equation.

2. Predicting future costs

Using knowledge of historical storage technology price trends to predict the future is another valuable decision-support exercise. As few technologies other than pumped hydro storage have reached maturity, costs will continue reducing with experience and volume. Overall price reduction estimates for newer technologies range from 12%–15% a year, with some costs expected to drop by as much as 50% within the next five years.

3. Ensuring energy security

In evaluating the most suitable technologies, it’s important to keep energy security top of mind. The availability of resources to meet demand has huge significance for domestic manufacturing. Stakeholders should ask questions about each technology’s availability and provenance. While it's unlikely any country can be totally independent in terms of storage system supply, it's important not to compromise local development opportunities and raw material security through an over-dependence on imported technologies.

Energy storage + renewables = India’s new power couple

As India's population grows and its energy industry expands, the need to plan for future energy demand becomes more acute. A smart energy storage strategy that takes full advantage of renewables will help power India’s green energy transition.

By Vikas Suhag
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