Renewable energy: How storage capacity has become critical component for this sector

In the discourse over creation of renewable capacity in India, inadequate attention has been paid to what constitutes a critical component of the renewable power system: storage capacity.

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With storage capacity essential for India to meet its targets for renewable power, the sub-sector is in the throes of growth. (Image: Reuters)

In the discourse over creation of renewable capacity in India, inadequate attention has been paid to what constitutes a critical component of the renewable power system: storage capacity. For, given that their output can vary as per the vagaries of nature, it is storage systems that make renewable sources reliable and attractive to electricity users. At the Renewable Energy India Expo held in the Capital recently, Anand Kumar, secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) was highlighting as much when he stressed the need to set up manufacturing bases for batteries in India. “Once we overcome the obstacle of storage, then the ideal of 24-hour free energy for the people can be realised,” he said. “The cost and availability of energy storage technology could dictate how close India gets to meeting its renewable targets,” EY has said in a report.

In what is good news, things have got moving of late on creation of grid as well as off-grid storage capacity. While storage projects of 46 MW were announced in 2016, projects of 56 MW capacity have been announced so far this year. In the first utility-scale storage tender in India, NTPC recently invited bids for 625 MW of solar projects with a storage component of 1 lakh units in Andhra Pradesh. The Solar Energy Corporation of India has come out with a tender for a 2.5-MW hybrid solar and wind project with 1,000 units of storage.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, storage capacity is expected to grow from 6 million units (MU) in 2015 to more than 81 MU by 2024, with more than 50% of the capacity coming from India, China and Japan. This can be better understood in light of India’s goal of creating 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022, of which 40% is expected from off-grid rooftop installations with storage capacity. In this context, Dr PC Pant, director, MNRE says deliberations are called-for on the storage systems to be utilised as per end-use.

The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) has estimated the energy storage market for off-grid renewable energy in India to be worth Rs 16,500 crore by 2022. MNRE’s plan to install 500 MW of solar micro grids in remote areas (out of reach of larger transmission network) would offer an additional opportunity of Rs 3,300 crore.

To be sure, the private sector is readying to tap opportunities. Panasonic and AES India have agreed to jointly construct a 10 MW energy storage array at the latter’s manufacturing facility in Haryana. The Acme group is also focussing on its portfolio of storage solutions. Until about two years back, there were complaints regarding the longevity of solar products used in micro grids. For example, solar-powered street lights would get defunct within weeks of installation, especially in the hills. Subhag Jain, the founding partner at Kaho, a solar lighting systems company, tells FE such issues arose mainly on account of batteries that warranted higher maintenance. “The complaints stopped once lead-acid batteries were substituted with lithium ion batteries,” he adds. The company has been providing solar lighting systems in core forest areas of Chhattisgarh, and set up a 30-MW lithium-ion manufacturing facility at Noida.

With growth in usage, prices of lithium-ion batteries have fallen by some 80% over the last five years. Even the capital cost for setting up lithium-ion battery plants has fallen from about $3,000/unit in 2008 to less than $500/unit now. In its annual report for FY17, the Indian Oil Corporation said it was looking at opportunities for manufacturing and retailing lithium-ion batteries.

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First published on: 02-10-2017 at 02:07 IST