23rd Jan 2024: Delving into the future of India’s sustainable energy landscape, the Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, President of IIT Madras Research Park, IITM Incubation Cell & RTBI in an interview with ET Energyworld, emphasized the crucial role of green hydrogen in decarbonizing heavy industries. Stressing the need for technological advancements in electrolyser technology and the strategic deployment of green ammonia, he outlined key strategies for energy storage.

Additionally, he underscored the importance of scaling up India’s solar energy manufacturing to reduce import dependence and highlighted the role of Micro Modular Nuclear plants in enhancing India’s renewable energy capabilities. . Edited excerpts:

Q: How do you envision the role of green hydrogen in transforming India’s energy sector, and what are the key challenges and opportunities you foresee in its widespread adoption?

A: Green hydrogen is pivotal for the decarbonization of industries like steel, cement, ammonia, and aluminium production. The critical factor is achieving the right price point, ideally around $1/kg, for the economics to be viable. We anticipate reaching close to $1.50/kg by 2025, but this will require significant work and effort. The application of hydrogen in transportation is somewhat uncertain. We are observing an increase in the use of battery storage for transport, while green hydrogen is becoming more relevant in manufacturing. For long-distance goods transportation, innovative solutions like HASHTIC (High-Throughput Autonomous Sustainable Human/Goods Transportation for India’s next Century) are in the conceptual stage. This system, which directly uses green electricity instead of green Hydrogen, will be showcased in the upcoming conference for future mobility. While green Hydrogen has a long way to go before it can compete with batteries for transportation, it’s a possibility that cannot be ruled out.

Q: In your view, what are the most promising advancements in electrolyser technology that could make green hydrogen production more efficient and cost-effective in India?

A: There are several private and public groups focusing on electrolyser technology. For instance, Ohmium, an R&D partner of IITMRP, is working on PEM electrolysers, and EH Group is exploring fuel cells. We have a special session at Envision 2023 where CSIR labs will present the key electrolyser technologies being developed in their labs across the country. It’s crucial to examine these technologies to see if they can be commercialized and made cost-effective. This area holds promise, and we should closely monitor its progress.

Q: How significant is the role of green ammonia in the context of India’s energy transition, particularly as a storage and transport medium for green hydrogen? What are the technological and infrastructural challenges in harnessing its potential?

A: Green ammonia is a crucial base for fertilizers, aiding in replacing fossil fuel-based fertilizer production. Its role as a storage and transportation medium for green hydrogen is still being explored. We need to assess its full potential more closely to understand its significance fully. The technological and infrastructural challenges in harnessing green ammonia’s potential are areas that require further research and development.

Q: Given India’s geographical advantages, how do you see solar energy evolving in the next decade, and what steps should India take to fully exploit its solar potential?

A: In the next decade, both solar and wind energy are poised to play a dominant role in India’s energy sector. To fully exploit the solar potential, our focus should be on large-scale manufacturing in India rather than importing. We need to start shifting the global supply dynamics currently dominated by China. This involves several stages, starting with solar polysilicon, where competing with China’s huge capacity is challenging. The second part is manufacturing crystals and wafers for solar cells, where India can start chipping away at the market. The third stage involves solar cell manufacturing, which requires large investments and where Chinese dominance is apparent, but Indian companies like Adani’s, Reliance, and Tata can make a foray. The fourth part is solar panel manufacturing, and India is doing well in this area. However, we face challenges with Chinese panels being rerouted through Malaysia and Vietnam. What we need is wider deployment of solar energy, ensuring users who rely on solar do not use the grid for storage or pay for it if they do. Additionally, policy and regulation should facilitate seamless renewable energy integration.

Q:What are the major technological and infrastructural developments needed in India to ensure grid stability and reliability as we shift towards higher integration of renewable energy sources?

A: Ensuring grid stability and reliability with increased renewable energy integration is a major task. Currently, there’s little happening in this area, and R&D should be set up to incentivize and enable the deployment of technologies for transmission and distribution of electricity. Energy storage will be crucial in this, ensuring deployment at scale to aid overall grid stability. At IIT Madras Research Park, we are on the lookout for technologies and teams that can drive these efforts, including deploying large-scale storage.

Q: In the context of India’s growing energy demands and climate commitments, how do you see the role of nuclear power evolving? What are the main challenges and opportunities for integrating nuclear power with India’s existing and future energy infrastructure?

A: Nuclear power has the potential to replace a significant share of fossil-free power. However, we need to focus on scaled deployments of Micro Modular Nuclear plants for a more rapid and widespread reach. Envision 2023 will showcase a workshop on micro nuclear systems, which could potentially replace diesel generators. This initiative needs to be driven by the private sector and executed in tens of thousands of numbers to be effective.

Q: How can nuclear and renewable energy technologies complement each other in India’s pursuit of a sustainable and reliable energy future? Are there specific innovations or policy interventions that could facilitate a more effective integration of these technologies?

A: The integration of nuclear and renewable energy in India hinges on cost competitiveness. For nuclear power to serve as a backup, it needs to compete with diesel generators, which currently cost Rs. 30/KWh, a feat nuclear power can achieve. However, as a base load, it must compete with solar and wind energy, which are significantly cheaper at Rs. 2.5 -3 KWh. Overcoming this challenge requires collaborative efforts. We are focusing on micro nuclear generators, which could complement solar and wind energy due to their potential cost advantage.

Q: Could you share your insights on how next-generation fuels might alter India’s energy strategy, particularly in terms of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels?

A: Biofuels are expected to play a crucial role in the future, especially in the waste-to-energy sector, which will also streamline the recycling process and contribute to cleanliness. However, significant advancements in technology and cost-effectiveness are required for biofuels to compete with existing alternatives. A critical concern with growing biofuels is the potential displacement of food crops and land availability. CSIR is currently working on some interesting projects in this area.

Q: Could you shed light on any recent or upcoming collaborations that IIT Madras is engaged in, particularly in the realm of energy research and development? How do these partnerships aim to contribute to India’s renewable energy goals?

A: IIT Madras has collaborated with leading battery companies like Triolt and solar companies like RSOLEC & First Solar to promote renewable energy research and development. We are also focusing on decarbonizing the built environment and commercial buildings. A report titled “Zero to Green,” which will be launched at EnVision, discusses the techno-economics of moving towards 100% renewable energy. We have partnered with various industry players, academia, and startups to make this vision a reality.

Q: What role do you see for higher education and skill development in fostering a workforce ready for the renewable energy sector in India?

A: In our higher education system, there is a need to focus engineering education on R&D and commercialization, especially in nuclear energy, which requires more trained engineers and technologists. For renewable energy, a larger workforce is needed for the installation, management, and maintenance of solar panels. Skill development is crucial, particularly for high-school or ITI graduates. One such initiative is our incubated company, SkillVeri, which trains individuals in the installation and maintenance of solar panels.

Publication: ET Energy World

Read more by clicking on the link to the featured article below:

Green ammonia, next-gen fuels to play crucial role in India’s energy strategy: Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, ET EnergyWorld (indiatimes.com)