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Go Digital Or Go Home: India’s Focus On Renewables Looks Promising But Is It Sufficient?

Blockchain is gaining traction in P2P power trading, where owners of small-scale generation can sell excess power directly to other consumers.

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On January 8, 2021, India’s efforts towards clean energy transition got a boost as Tesla incorporated its Indian subsidiary in Bengaluru. This move will contribute tremendously towards meeting India’s ambitious target of replacing 30% of its automobile fleet with electric vehicles within the next decade. Increasing demand of electricity due to EV adoption and transformation in other consumption sectors necessitates a swift transition to renewables-based power generation. Naturally, the government has running an ambitious drive towards setting up more solar and wind power plants in the country.

Under the Paris Agreement, India committed to raise its share of non-fossil capacity to 40% by 2030. While we make huge strides towards a renewable energy sufficient India with decarbonization at its core, we also need to take a look at whether the energy produced is being utilized in the most efficient way.

According to a research, more than 50% of energy is lost in transmission and distribution, even before it reaches the user. Additionally, the supply-demand mismatch often leads the majority of the power getting wasted. Such problems are accentuated in distributed energy like the solar and the wind where power generation holds a high amount of uncertainty. With greater emphasis on renewable energy, it becomes essential to integrate decentralized energy sources, while keeping it stable and affordable. Addressing each challenge may seem insurmountable but digital technology and its applications might come to the rescue in most of the cases.

Countries across the world are transitioning towards a more digital approach. Two technologies - artificial intelligence and machine learning – have the maximum potential to change the face of the energy industry. Applications including Smart Grids and Net Zero Buildings, AI and ML can give us answer we have long been waiting for. AI-powered Smart Grids help predict the consumption of any meter at any point of time, thereby facilitating supply distribution tailored to the real need of each consumer. Not only does it reduce energy consumption by minimizing surplus energy, but also helps in effective distribution during peak loads. Net Zero Buildings nullify the net carbon emissions from buildings by allowing them to draw electricity at night and during cloudy days and return an equivalent amount of electricity to the local grid on sunny days through their own solar panels. At scale, the aforementioned solutions can exponentially drive the energy capacity of the country by sourcing it from the consumers themselves.

In this regard, even blockchain is gaining traction in P2P power trading, where owners of small-scale generation can sell excess power directly to other consumers. Being a developing country, India’s energy requirements are only going to increase and such advancements in technology seem to be the only way forward.

It is not to say that India hasn’t taken any steps in this direction at all. Start-ups like ZTRIC, ThingsCloud and Solar Labs have sprung up in recent years to deliver AI-based solutions to the renewable energy industry. Even the major energy incumbents are gradually realizing the power of digitalization. Adani Solar, with the help of Huawei’s AI Boost intelligent grid connection algorithms, successfully connected its power PV plant in Rajasthan to the grid in a weak grid connectivity area. BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL), in November 2019, partnered with Australia’s Power Ledger, a global leader in blockchain technology, to launch consumer-to-consumer solar power trading on a trial basis. All encouraging initiatives but bupkis in front of the challenges faced by India.

Mass adoption of digital technology accelerated by bold policy changes is the need of the hour. To make this dream a reality, technological deployments need to be made right at the most fundamental level. Universities ought to modernize their energy curriculum to include latest improvements in technology, with a special focus on digitalization. A strong industry-academia collaboration should be set in place to equip budding professionals with the relevant knowledge and skills demanded by industry. Eminent universities across the globe can act as a guiding light. In 2006, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with energy corporations like Eni, ExxonMobil and Shell, founded the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), which has now become a leading hub for energy research, education and outreach. In 2018, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, it initiated an ambitious effort of bringing electricity to every household. Not only that, the MITEI’s Seed Fund Program awards grants to early-stage energy research and start-ups of up to $1 million to promote innovation in the sector. It is high time that Indian Universities establish similar collaborations to promote innovation and eliminate skill gaps, and collaborate with the Industry to tackle not just the current digital gap but also address every other future need of the society.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Ashwin Agarwal

Consultant Deloitte India

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Shalini Sarin

Co-founder Elektromobilitat, Chair Plaksha Center for Clean Energy

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