The challenge of expanding the scale and scope of our energy grid, while also staying aligned to low-carbon energy goals, demands ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions
India launched the world’s largest renewable energy programme a few years ago signifying a fivefold increase in the target for renewable energy as compared to the previous programme. The target of 175 gigawatt (GW) renewable capacity by 2022 includes 100 GW of solar and 75 GW of wind, hydro and other renewables. Despite the perennial pessimists, all reports indicate that the country is well on track to achieve this target. The powerful support from the highest level highlights the fact that “where there is a (political) will, there is a way”! In fact, there is a fair chance that the target maybe overachieved as the present indications are that India plans to increase the share of non-fossil fuel in the total installed capacity to 40 per cent by 2030. 
There is little doubt that renewable energy is, perhaps, among the most promising solutions to save the planet. However, as we know that no great thing comes easy, renewable energy, too, comes with challenges. Take for instance, the intermittence and seasonality of power generation from solar, wind and hydro. They produce electricity only when the sun shines or the wind blows. During the monsoon season, the generation from hydro is more while during winters, there is negligible output. This seasonality often renders renewable energy plants idle which, in turn, strains the transmission grid ? the network which connects power generation to demand centres.
The intermittent and seasonal renewable energy generation, thus, renders the grid unstable and at the risk of a collapse. India, therefore, must manage a tightrope walk where it has to significantly increase its energy capacity without compromising on its promise of sustainable development. The country has to achieve this feat while maintaining the grid stability. The induction of large amounts of renewable energy is the biggest challenge that the Indian electricity grid and its operators face today.
The challenge of expanding the scale and scope of our energy grid, while also staying aligned to low-carbon energy goals, demands ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions. Innovation is not just a buzz word dominating social media discourse but an actual force to reckon with. Look at some of the developed nations, such as Germany, which have completely changed the face of their energy framework by thinking out of the box and adopting future-oriented solutions.
It’s time for our nation to not just aggressively scout for innovative solutions but provide them financial and technical support. A timorous approach will not just be detrimental to our quest but may also stifle the attempts at innovation.
The Indian scenario
According to estimates by the Central Electricity Authority, between 2017 and 2022, the electrical energy requirement in India will grow by 5.51 per cent, cumulatively. While the reliance of renewable energy in the electricity grid will increase in the coming years. Highly variable and intermittent generation will pose a challenge, as mentioned earlier. Overcoming this challenge requires modifying the existing grid into a network that is capable enough to accommodate increased integration of renewables. This means that we need a reliable, robust and stable grid with significant renewable energy integration.
There are two critical aspects in ensuring grid stability – accurate forecast and energy storage. Not just tools for accurate weather pattern forecast but also upcoming variations in demand, are critical to maintain reliability of the electricity grid. Forecast helps in introducing value added/ancillary services like frequency support, voltage or reactive power support and black start support services commercially into the power market. Moreover, it helps in reducing the required reserve capacity of conventional energy sources leading to substantial savings in capital and operating costs.
The second and probably the most important pillar of grid integration is battery storage technology. The development of advanced energy storage systems, however, has been largely concentrated in select markets. India needs to promote cost-effective and scalable innovation in energy storage. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We may make full use and take maximum advantage of such innovations and breakthroughs that have already taken place in other parts of the world. Development of aneconomically-viable battery storage business modelwith improved power performance and revenue stream is needed.
While the cost of most energy storage solutions is considered expensive, their rising popularity and long-term benefits are estimated to lead to a rise in volumes and fall in cost. Grid-scale battery technology that can offer instantaneous response, supplemental reserves, higher efficiency, lower maintenance, flexibility in sizing and shorter gestational periods will prove to be a game changer in our country. Globally, there is a growing pursuit of battery technologies, and India, where possible, must take a lead here by identifying and supporting relevant innovation.
Innovative energy storage and forecast solutions can provide stability to the grid despite intermittence of renewables. They are an important pathway to explore in an effective integration of renewable energy into the transmission grid, allowing for clean, resilient and reliable power for all.
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About Gireesh Pradhan
Gireesh B Pradhan served as the chairman of Central Electricity Regulatory Commission until January 2018. He was promoted as Special Secretary in the Ministry of Power in 2011 and took over charge of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in the same year. He has been responsible for several crucial reports on the power sector.