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'Ambiguous policy': India late in advocating EVs as energy storage in national grid

By Shankar Sharma* 

This is regarding the points raised by the Chief Electricity Authority’s (CEA's) advocacy for usage of electrical vehicles (EVs) as energy storage technology, and few associated issues.
An objective reading of what he states should reiterate the enormously growing importance of battery energy storage systems (BESS) in our need to transition to a net-zero carbon scenario for the country.
It is good to know that CEA has recognised and, hence, advocated for EVs as energy storage in national grid support, what is disappointing to note is the fact that CEA, which is deemed as the apex body in the development of electricity infrastructure in the country, has done so rather late resulting in considerable economic/ ecological costs to the country, while the people of the country continued to face many kinds of associated problems.
For any modest student of electrical power scenario in the country, it should have been clear for many years that the integration of renewable energy sources into the state/regional/national grid at a high percentage of the total generation capacity will be critical, but feasible only with the appropriate usage of BESS. But sadly even today, it is not obvious for the observers of the power sector in the country that there is an unambiguous policy of increasing BESS capacity consistent with the increase in RE capacity.
CEA's advocacy for EVs as energy storage in national grid support can be viewed as futuristic in necessity/ character as on today; the same should clearly indicate the criticality of BESS for a low carbon electricity grid of the future.
But our country is lagging far behind even in installing adequate capacity grid scale BESS in the power system of the country. It is not uncommon to read in the national media that electricity companies complain about the lack of storage for RE, and/ or evacuation infrastructure.
There has always been a focus to increase renewal RE capacity for more than 10 years, BESS has been mentioned in the national media only since last 1-2 years, and that too rarely. It is impossible to notice a cohesive and diligently prepared policy initiative to seamlessly integrate BESS into the grid, and in a committed manner with early targets of sorts.
Many provinces, and even countries the size of Australia, are reported to have achieved a high percentage of RE integration/ contribution to the electricity capacity/ demand, with as high as 90% of the grid demand in some cases (even though for a limited time). A carefully planned and imaginatively used large scale BESS has enabled such a scenario. In contrast Indian planners rarely seem to consider adding BESS with the same level of enthusiasm as that for additional capacity of RE.
Optimal deployment of BESS in various nodes of the power grid (such as in all substations) will not only minimise/ eliminate the need to divert forest/ agricultural lands for power transmission lines and pumped storage power plants, but will also enable much higher percentage of RE integration at a faster pace even at lower voltage levels.
The inevitable inference of CEA's advocacy for EVs as energy storage in national grid support is the acknowledged criticality of distributed RE sources, such as batteries meant for EVs, and which are situated all over the grid.
CEA, as apex body for electricity infrastructure, should have been in forefront of studies, R&D, and  implementing suitable technologies
Additionally, the corollary of such an inference is the inevitable scenario of a very large number of small size REs, such as roof-top SPV systems and wind turbines in our power grid. But deplorably, the focus in our country continues on large scale REs such as solar and wind power parks at unacceptably high societal costs, including the large-scale diversion of forest and agricultural lands.
Distributed kind of REs also have many other advantages such as much better voltage profiles across the power grid, hence the vastly reduced energy losses, and as a definitive way of massively reducing the STATE spending because, adequate encouragement for small scale REs such as roof-top SPVs and for agricultural pump sets can attract private investments in the form of ‘prosumers’.
CEA, as the apex body in the development of electricity infrastructure in the country, should have been in the forefront of all such associated studies, R&D, and in implementing suitable technologies from all over the world into our power network, but it is generally seen as a meek follower of such innovative ideas from the developed countries; but even that too very slowly. It should be vigorously pursuing the critical topics such as distributed REs, micro/smart grids, demand side management (DSM) etc.
It is no rocket science that a diligently prepared national energy policy, enabled by the effective participation from various sections of civil society, could have addressed all such issues for the overall benefit of our country. But sadly no one including CEA and NITI Aayog, seem to be interested in such strategic issues.
Can we hope that numerous studies/ R&D/ initiatives/ developments such as the news linsk above, including many of our experiences, will persuade the Union govt. to undertake urgent and diligent implementation of such techno-economically attractive action plans to enable smooth transition of our energy sector to a net-zero carbon scenario much before the irrational target year of 2070?
As a progressive thinking society with focus on the overall development of all sections of our society, including flora, fauna and general environment, we should not make the grievous mistake of consciously ignoring the ever increasing threats associated with climate change, for which the country's energy/ electricity sector has been and will be a major contributor.
*Power & climate policy analyst based in Karnataka. This article is based on the author’s representation to the secretaries, Ministry of Power & NRE, Govt of India; Chairman, CEA; vice chairman, NITI Aayog; and Union Minister for Power & NRE



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