Global warming is a major challenge all over the world today. If the world fails to act fast on it, the earth will be in serious trouble over the next twenty to twenty-five years. The global warming is largely due high use of fossil-based energy in the world. India ranks 103rd in the world in terms of per-capita electricity consumption and have a similar ranking in terms of per-capita CO2 emissions. One may feel that with such low per-capita consumption, the onus on reversing global warming does not lie with us and should largely be the responsibility of those who consume over ten times or more energy and have much higher CO2 emissions as compared to India’s. However, given its large population, India is also the third largest contributor to the Green-house Gas (GHG) emissions in the world. Further, as its per-capita income grows and energy consumption increases rapidly (led by higher use of air-conditioners and vehicles), India’s share to GHG emissions will continue to sky-rocket. It cannot afford to sit back and must act today to reduce its fossil-fuel consumption and help in containing Global warming.

Tasks for India

India’s current electricity production is dominantly coal-based. Most cooking is done using LPG gas; and industry extensively uses of coal and gas for heat-generation in addition to using electricity. India’s transportation sector largely uses petrol and diesel. In other words, almost sectors are dependent on heavy use of fossil fuels. This is so even when cost of producing electricity from solar and wind has dropped down to the range of ₹2 to ₹2.50 per kWh, whereas cost of electricity produced from coal varies from ₹2 to ₹4 per kWh, depending upon the age of the plant and the extent to which pollution-control equipment is installed. Yet, the total electricity produced from solar, and wind is a mere 8% of the total . Given, the geographic location and its climatic conditions, India has significant potential for Solar and Wind based energy to meet most of its electricity needs today and in the foreseeable future. However, Solar and Wind energy is available only when the sun shines and wind blows. The energy generation is thus not controllable as in coal-based plants. The only way solar and wind energy can be made controllable is by introducing storage so that energy can be stored when available and used when needed.

In terms of Energy Storage, Chemical Energy storage (Battery) systems such as Lithium-Ion Batteries are now one of the most promising storage today. The effective cost of usage of such batteries depends upon not just the capital costs of such batteries, but also on the interest costs over its lifetime. With Interest rates as low as 2% in countries like Japan, USA, and Europe, the per kWh storage has an effective cost of under ₹4, but as the interest rate go up to 10% or more in countries like India, this cost of storage rises to ₹8 to ₹10 per kWh, considerably adding to the generation costs.

IITMRP initiative

The IIT Madras Research Park (IITMRP) has taken up this challenge and work for India to move towards 100% RE. As a first step, it has decided to get its 1.2 million sq. feet commercial complex become as green as possible. Roof-top solar (1 MW) can typically meet only about 10% of its energy requirements. However, IITMRP can get solar and wind energy generated outside of the campus (even hundreds of kms away) in a captive generation mode and wheel the electricity to IITMRP using the existing transmission and distribution infrastructure of the grid at a cost of about ₹2 per kWh, as per the existing open-access policy of the government. To meet its needs fully from RE, IITMRP will have to set up about 6 MW of solar and wind plants. The only problem will be that the energy generated and wheeled-in would not be used up instantaneously and will require energy storage to meet its round the clock demand. Today’s cost of such wheeled in electricity including demand charges is about ₹6 per kWh.

IITMRP aims to build two kinds of energy storage. As 40% of energy consumption of such commercial complexes in India is air-conditioning, IITMRP has built a chilled-water storage system; in addition, it would build Li Ion Battery Storage. If innovatively built, the Li Ion battery storage will add ₹7 for each kWh of energy stored and retrieved. If only 30% of generated electricity would have to be stored on average, and the rest consumed directly, the storage would add about ₹2.10 for each kWh of the electricity consumed by the Park. Thus. it would be possible for IITMRP to convert all its electricity to renewable at a total cost of about ₹8 per kWh. Commercial complexes like IITMRP today spends about ₹11 per kWh for its electricity, including the charges it pays to power utilities, demand charges and the cost of electricity generated using diesel generator during power-outage. Further, the ₹8 per kWh for RE based electricity is only going to go down over the next few years, as renewable energy, wheeling-in and storage costs come down. One would need to manage every entity involved in generation, transmission, storage, and usage of electricity, so as to minimize any losses and to match demand and supply at every instant.

Scaling the initiative

Thus, the approach not only helps IITMRP move to renewable energy, but also saves costs of electricity. Currently there are over 40,000 such commercial complexes in India and they are only expected to increase in number. There is no reason that such an approach could not be adopted by all such complexes. Educational institutes and Government buildings pay less for electricity today and would be able to adopt the approach as the costs come down. Industry consumes about 40% of electricity in India today but pay less per kWh; yet it is only a matter of time, before which they would also financially benefit in adopting a similar approach. Large urban housing complexes could also follow suit and benefit. The important point to note is that commercial complexes and industries have the capital today and would be able to invest in such an approach as long as they financially gain. All these sectors together consume about 70% of electricity in India today. Thus, India would be well on the way to become Green.

Fortunately, India’s solar and wind generation potential is large enough for it to move towards this target. The technologies to scale this approach are available today, although innovations will be required to keep the costs low. The approach however has a few issues. While solar energy does get generated round the year with small day to day variations, wind energy generation is highly seasonal and has large peaks over four to five months in India. Chilled water storage and Li Ion battery storage would be good to alleviate short-term variations in demand and supply (usage within few days), but they are not useful for long-term storage. The months when wind generation peaks fortunately vary a bit across different parts of India. A focus on strengthening the Indian power Grid would enable us to effectively transmit the RE all over the country and would partially help manage the supply and the demand gaps in certain months. If we also take the initiative to create an international power-grid connecting neighboring countries in Asia, we may be able to considerably solve the problem as aggregation of RE generated over the regions would help us balance supply and demand patterns. An equally important task would be to reduce transmission and distribution losses on the grid. These are all today’s tasks, that do not require waiting for new technologies and R&D, even though there will be lots of innovations in the space.

R&D Imperatives for India

Yet, India needs a third and a fourth renewable energy source, as well as some long-term energy storage options to fully move towards a 100% RE. Unfortunately, such technologies are not available or economically viable today. Fortunately, the solar and wind generation, wheeling-in of electricity using the grid, and Li-ion plus chilled water storage technologies available today will take time to build and deploy all over the country and could be pursued to get us close to 60% to 70% RE usage in the next five to seven years. Alternatives would be needed in due course and R&D needs to be pursued so that technologies become available at the right time to complement solar, wind and battery as well as chilled water storage. There are a few R&D areas, which could give early results and help in this task. One such area is to enhance energy-efficiency across all areas, so that energy-wastage is avoided. This is particularly important in HVAC and cooling, as its usage is expected to grow rapidly in India. Another immediate area of work is heat-pumps, which can help industry use electricity instead of fossil fuels for heat-generation for their processes. Similarly, one has to innovate to make electric vehicles affordable in India so as to replace petrol ones at the earliest. R&D in all these tasks are essential as we pursue this 100% RE goal.

Future alternatives for green energy generation that needs to be pursued includes the use of biomass to electricity, which could become economically viable in the next five to ten years. R&D is needed today for us to get there. Energy generated from ocean-waves is a potential option in Nordic countries. However, the sea around India is calmer with smaller waves. India therefore needs to pursue R&D to generate wave-energy cost-effectively from these smaller waves and make it economically viable for use. Nuclear in the form of Small Modular Reactors (SMR), is being aggressively pursued today in different parts of the world. India needs R&D in the area, keeping in mind the costs. A break-through in any of these options would help India significantly get to 100% RE. Hydrogen is often talked about as yet another source of energy; we should note that it is not a source of energy, but is a energy-carrier. Its usage will be in storage.

On the storage end, the costs of Hydrogen based energy storage is very high today, several times that of Li Ion battery storage. Extensive R&D is needed in India for hydrogen to become economically viable for electricity storage. But far-more important is the use of Hydrogen directly high-intensity heating and as an agent for reduction in cement and steel industries. Hydrogen could be equally useful for long-haul heavy-vehicle transportation. Yet another area that would require intense R&D is alternative chemistries for batteries. Zn-air and Al-air appear to be very promising and may provide long-term storage that the current technologies are not able to offer. One could attempt to make these technologies economically viable in the next five to ten years. There are other areas like compressed air storage, which may take longer time, but as long as there is light on the other side even in 15 years, the R&D needs to be started today. IITM Research Park would watch and promote R&D and innovation and will especially welcome start-ups in all these areas.

Policy Imperatives

The rise of Solar and Wind along with the steady decline in the cost of storage technologies has made a compelling case for RE, and this shift towards a 100% RE now looks inevitable. However, the speed at which this transition takes place is dependent on policy measures, the capacity to innovate and adopt solutions at a wider scale. Understanding local environmental and market conditions and setting appropriate policy mechanisms will be key aspects to ensure technology interventions are successful and economically viable at least in the long-term. The Research Park will play an active role in policy research and advocacy to inform and influence both governments as well as corporates to take up the right approach in this critical movement towards 100% RE.

IoE project towards 100% RE

The Institute of Eminence (IoE) project “Towards 100% RE” initiated at IIT Madras aims to take up this push by demonstrating the technical feasibility and economic viability of renewable energy, first in multistoried commercial complexes. The project will showcase the IIT Madras Research Park as a building complex that has successfully transitioned to 100% renewable energy in a sustainable and cost-effective manner. The main components of the project include,

    – Wheeling in (captive procurement) of electricity from Solar and Wind plants to IITM Research Park- Building a large-sized Li-Ion Battery Energy Storage System (1 MWh to 20 MWh). It will store excess solar and wind energy for later use. The Storage will also help eliminate the use of Diesel Generators

    – Using a state-of-the art Chilled Water storage system at IITMRP in addition to Li-Ion Battery storage

    – Managing the generated Solar and Wind energy, the electric load of the complex, and the Li-Ion Battery and the Chilled Water storage system through a comprehensive Energy Management System

    – Implement the above such that the total cost of RE based electricity (including that of Storage) is less than or equal to the current electricity costs at the Research Park

    – Develop sub-systems used in EV and Chargers and drive them to early commercialization, so that EVs in India become affordable to it population and get adopted rapidly

    – Enhance Energy efficiency of HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air conditioning) systems deployed in commercial buildings, so that energy consumed is minimized

    – Start exploring mid-term and long-term R&D requirements of 100% RE. They include (i) Zn-air storage and charging -discharging, (ii) heat pumps to move industry away from coal / oil usage to electricity usage, (iii) Hydrogen generation and storage as well as its industrial usage, (iv) biofuel based electricity production, (iv) small modular nuclear reactors, (v) electricity from low-intensity ocean waves, (vi) compressed air storage.

The IIT Madras Research Park will demonstrate the technology readiness and economic viability of shifting towards a 100% renewable energy in a commercial complex. As mentioned earlier, India has over 40,000 such commercial building complexes which may use this approach to move towards becoming 100% RE user. A similar approach can then be used for industry and housing complexes. Coupled with the conversion of transport to EVs, India will move towards 100% RE.

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[1] US $1 = ₹75
[2] This is so, even though in terms of installed capacity for electricity generation, the solar and wind contributes to almost 25% of total. But as the capacity utilization factor (CUF) for solar and wind is less than 25% on the average, whereas that of coal-based plants goes up to 85%, the actual electricity from renewables is only 8% of the total electricity produced.