While India’s well-timed foray in green energy is paying off rich dividends, there is intense interest and apprehension in fortifying India’s energy security strategy with energy storage systems. Fast tracking the resolution of safety concerns about energy storage is vital to protect this game changing segment. Given the intermittent type of renewable sources, a comprehensive energy policy has to address three aspects – energy security, energy sustainability and energy affordability. While utilizing renewable energy sources optimally is by itself a move toward sustainability, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) is contemplating Demand Response (DR), where demand for electricity by end consumers differs according to the price point, as an instrument for controlling variability in electricity supply to achieve energy security. However, affordable energy storage solutions must also be made part of this mechanism.
Addressing the elephant in the room
The challenges, in defining a suitable programme for energy storage are fairly direct – irrespective of the type of storage involved, while safety standards exist for individual components and technologies, there is still ongoing debate on defining the safety of the system as a whole – which includes in the case of chemical storage – the battery, charging equipment, the grid, two way connectivity with the grid, fire detection and suppression systems as well as the physical aspects of storage – the manner in which the battery is housed to combat the weather conditions that dominate the area where the system is to be installed.
Owing to the sheer histrionic nature of their make-up, chemical storage options such as a lithium ion or lead acid battery are very much like a ticking bomb – it would be catastrophic in all possible sense if safety measures either failed or worse, were not even in place. Therefore, apart from devising a system level, technology agnostic standard that addresses all type of hazards for electrical energy storage systems, it is essential to develop standards for application-wise suitability of usage.
Secondly, while chemical storage is a fast emerging favorite type of solution, other options like thermal and mechanical energy storage solutions also exist. Unlike the plausible misconception, energy storage does not refer to lithium battery storage alone –a power hungry nation like India requires all kinds of energy storage. Hence, resolving the safety aspects by establishing an all-encompassing sound technical standards, as well as defining an articulate conformity assessment programme is an imperative first step.
The third aspect is undoubtedly the larger question beyond setting standards – how to define policy and regulatory parameters to control the market forces? If energy storage in India follows the downward trajectory of solar tariffs, there is an undeniable element of risk, as the technology would become very cost prohibitive. This is a no way street, as in no price point, can the safety of the storage system be compromised.
The safest bet, in this case, would be to establish a pilot project so that all stakeholders, including regulators, are in sync about the challenges that may arise in energy storage system deployment, and therefore analyze and arrive at additional infrastructure changes needed to integrate various technologies to the grid. Integrators, installers and manufacturers then need to work with the regulator to make a well informed decision on the pricing.
A sure fire way to improve affordability is to incentivize domestic battery module manufacturers to build a strong energy storage system supply chain. This process can be fast tracked by enforcing limitations on biofuel alternatives like diesel generators and replacing them with energy storage systems. To make the market price-friendly, in the interim, leverage its strengthening East Asian diplomatic ties to redraft free trade agreements to aid in the sourcing battery components from countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
Lastly, a future where energy storage systems become the norm in India would necessitate in the government galvanizing an army of skilled manpower to manage the idiosyncrasies and the complexities of energy storage technology. With SECI and NTPC already floating tenders for hybrid projects that call for energy storage systems, the time is ripe more than ever to invest in training personnel to oversee the challenging task of energy storage system installations.
‘Make in India’ applies to standards too
Despite the dramatic changes in the energy storage industry, it is only in 2016 that the world’s first standard for energy storage systems – the UL 9540 came into being. Adopted by the US and Canada as the national standard, UL 9540 is applicable for standalone, ‘self-supply’ systems, those used in parallel with an electric power system or utility grid such as ‘grid supply’ systems or applications that perform multiple operational modes.
As the grid becomes more complex with the addition of electricity generated through renewable energy, grid stabilization, optimization of transmission network for catering peak power demand and addressing intermittency of renewable sources can all be achieved through energy storage. Hence, the government must address the challenges of compliance with grid connection.
Over the past couple of months, the government is engaged with other public and private enterprises to develop India specific requirements for electrical energy storage systems. The parties are working together to identify ways in which various technologies can be integrated to the grid under Indian environmental conditions. This process has definitely laid the roadmap to build a robust standards regime that oversees safety, quality and performance aspects of energy storage systems in India.
By V Manjunath, Standards and Program Manager – South Asia, UL