If you grew up in India in the 1980’s and 1990’s, you would most likely remember the banks of large lead-acid batteries in many homes. India’s younger demographic might not be aware, but ‘load-shedding’ was a real thing, as the country could not generate enough power and inverters which transmitted the stored power into the house were a life-saver for many.
While some large institutions maintain an ‘Uninterrupted Power Supply’ (UPS) room with rows of batteries to cover contingencies, many homes across a majority of Indian cities don’t use inverters anymore. It isn’t as if power cuts do not happen, but the concept of load-shedding, is thankfully not something today’s generation is aware of because of massive improvements to both electricity generation, transmission & distribution.
But what if I told you that the need for energy storage is going to come back? Not because load-shedding is making a comeback, but because of distinct trends in the energy sector. The first is of course, the rise of renewable energy, particularly intermittent sources like wind and solar energy. The Government of India has really pushed renewable energy and according to the Invest India website, India’s non-fossil fuel energy stood at 178.79 Gigawatts of power, including large hydroelectricity projects. This was 43% of India’s total energy generation capacity. India added 9.83% of renewable energy generation capacity in 2022 and as of May 2023, India has an installed generation capacity of 66.7 Gigawatts of solar energy.
But now let me tell you why this is also becoming problematic. In 2022, Indian energy demand rocketed up 8%. At a pace faster than any large economy in the world. This is of course a great sign of the economic progress that India is making, but 149.7 Terawatt hours of consumption is a lot and if the first few months of 2023 are any indication, 2023 will also set new records for power consumption as well. And you can’t really generate solar energy at night or wind energy on days the wind doesn’t blow. This is why, despite moves to ‘clean up’ energy production, thermal power generated from coal will remain the core of India’s energy network. This is where the need for energy storage or banking comes in. Innovations in this space can be extremely useful for policy makers and consumers both.
Now layer this demand supply mismatch, with another trend happening right now- a massive growth in electric vehicles, particularly two wheelers and three wheelers. The batteries on some of these vehicles can store between 2-10 kilowatts of power, enough to power a small household when a vehicle is not being used. It is only a matter of time before electricity boards begin differential pricing of power, for peak and off-peak demand, so why shouldn’t consumers take advantage of cheap power supply and buy off peak energy and store it on an asset they already own. Many modern electric vehicles, like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 are already equipped with a Vehicle to Grid (V2G) system, which allows them to supply as much as five kilowatts back into the grid when there is a power outage. Or even to charge up a picnic in the wilderness.
But there is also going to be home and commercial-grade power storage solutions for renewable energy. With the extent of solar and wind energy that India is establishing, energy could be stored in large banks of batteries, which may be Lithium batteries or some other alternate chemistry such as Sodium-Ion which is still in its nascent commercial stage as of now. But at these large solar-power farms, if we are generating hundreds of gigawatt hours of power, we can store a lot of it for use for when the sun doesn’t shine. Similar for wind power farms. Recently, there was a period of time in the US state of California when ‘Energy Storage’ was the single largest supplier of electricity demand to the grid. The state having saved enough solar and wind power in batteries.
Until now only hydroelectric dams have really had any form of energy storage, because the potential energy of the water can be preserved by closing the sluice gates. But modern batteries offer great opportunities even at home, particularly with the fantastic push towards rooftop solar by some state governments such as in Haryana. Even though these modules generate only 10-20 kilowatts, owners may not need to use it while it is being generated. Without storage, one has to sell the excess power back into the grid, but with modern battery storage solutions you could store it at home as well, because there is a possibility that the grid might not ‘want’ your power or is not offering you a great price for the power during the day when there is already surplus supply. If you stored the energy you generate, you could use it for yourself at night when solar generation shuts down, or sell it to the grid when the power rates are peaking. And all of this can be managed by software.
At the same time, as we learn more about how batteries age and how they can be managed, home energy storage solutions will also give a second lease of life to electric vehicle battery packs. This will make the entire ecosystem of electric vehicles and energy storage far more sustainable. The fact is that energy storage will be a major enabler towards India’s goal of net-zero by 2070, while ensuring that Indians, even those who have not been born yet will have access to reliable and affordable energy.