India has a huge leapfrog opportunity in energy transition: Jon Creyts, Rocky Mountain Institute
“Many parts of the country are still developing market rules… offering the ability to build right the first time, and to take advantage of the rapidly changing dynamics in global clean energy markets”
US-based energy-focused think tank Rocky Mountain Institute(RMI) has been in news recently for its work in the areas of renewable energy and electric mobility. The energy sector’s transition currently underway in India presents a leapfrog opportunity for modernisation of energy infrastructure like never before but, the varying condition of current infrastructure poses a serious challenge, RMI’s Managing Director Jon Creyts tells Sudheer Pal Singh in an exclusive interview to ETEnergyWorld. Edited excerpts:
What is the larger focus of the work by Rocky Mountain Institute in general?
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is an independent, market-focused non-profit that works around the world to accelerate the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions. We were founded by energy visionary Amory Lovins in the United States in 1982, and are recognised as one of the premier thought leaders of the energy transition — away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable alternatives.
We call ourselves a “think-and-do” tank because while we conduct hallmark cutting-edge research, we also take the time to engage with businesses, governments, communities, and entrepreneurs to test and refine our ideas in-practice. Our goal is always to find scalable solutions that fit the local context, speeds up the progress and benefits of energy transition such as cleaner air, affordable and predictable energy prices, resilient energy supply, national resource security, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
What is the focus of RMI’s work in India? Can you share some success stories or key highlights of the work?
RMI is working with the government and the private sector in India to build collaborative and integrative approaches for the energy transition designed to benefit all Indians. RMI’s recent activities have focused on developing transformative mobility solutions. A future transportation system that is clean, shared, and connected can lead to lower cost, less congestion, and better urban air quality for India’s growing population.
To support this vision, we are working to advance topics such as electric mobility, efficient goods transport, domestic battery manufacturing, and the improved use of data in the transport sector alongside local Indian partners. We are also initiating research and analysis at the intersection of electric mobility and the electricity grid to understand how larger shares of electric vehicles will impact India’s infrastructure, and ensure that adoption of electric vehicles solve important problems without creating others.
In November 2017, Amitabh Kant announced Pune as India’s first Lighthouse City for mobility solutions to develop and test elements of the transformation vision. As part of our work, RMI hosted the first Urban Mobility Lab (UML) in Pune last fall, bringing together private sector actors, government officials, and subject matter experts to build a set of integrated solutions for Pune that could serve as an example to the rest of the country.
Cross-functional teams tackled issues of traffic management, parking, urban freight, public transport, non-motorised transport, and the data that links them all. Electric buses, a bicycle sharing network, community charging stations, and an open data platform are all being piloted as a result. RMI is working with Pune’s municipal corporation to study the impact of these pilots. And importantly, we are also working to scale the programme to other cities in India through partnerships with organisations such as NITI Aayog, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Delhi government so that promising solutions produce more impact more quickly.
In your assessment, what is India’s level of preparedness, from the point of view of physical infrastructure creation, in adopting the energy transition currently underway?
The condition of India’s existing infrastructure is highly variable, and this inconsistency does pose a challenge. For instance, while some state governments and discoms have invested in modernisation of grid infrastructure in different parts of the country, other regions still require significant upgrades and investments to achieve basic reliability and access needs.
That said, India has a huge leapfrog opportunity: Many parts of the country are still developing market rules and physical infrastructure, offering the ability to build right the first time, and to take advantage of the rapidly changing dynamics in global clean energy markets. With double-digit percentage cost declines in technologies such as solar, wind, LEDs, and batteries every year – alongside equally impressive gains in digital technology performance – India has the opportunity to encourage development in a way that supports energy efficiency and the high penetration of renewable energy from the start, while minimising new demand for oil or coal.
India has the ability to design its vehicle fleets and buildings for large-scale electrification to take advantage of a future with low-cost and abundant wind and solar, using physical and virtual storage to help balance where needed. And, perhaps most importantly, India has the ability to build its growing cities around people rather than around vehicles, making sure that the amount of energy used for comfort and mobility is minimised by design. India’s accelerating economy will benefit substantially from the savings produced by such rapidly emerging alternatives, but only if it has the fortitude to create a different path than the well-worn one, marked by those who have developed before. Failing to blaze its own trail would be a missed opportunity to modernise smartly with the newest tools and thinking available.
From a policy point of view, do you think India is taking the right steps towards modernising its energy infrastructure? What are the top hurdles the country faces and needs to address in order to achieve this goal?
There are signals that policy is moving in the right direction. Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s National Wind-Solar Hybrid Policy, which supports coupling wind or solar with storage, and the Department of Heavy Industry’s FAME-II scheme, which provides incentives for the development of electric-vehicle charging infrastructure, are both strong examples of central government support for modernising India’s energy infrastructure.
At the sub-national level, states are implementing policies that promote rooftop solar through incentives such as net-metering, and some states, such as Uttar Pradesh, are even talking about using blockchain-based transactions for renewable energy. A hurdle will be ensuring that these policies are implemented effectively — the government needs to make sure that stakeholders have access to the benefits of the policies.