India – the energy storage revolution


Energy storage is at an important – and exciting – juncture in India undergoing massive growth and with the prospect of the emergence of a local manufacturing industry. To find out more about these developments, Smart Energy International spoke to Dr Rahul Walawalkar, who has become synonymous with energy storage in India and the founding of the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA)

What are the origins of the India Energy Storage Alliance?

We started working on storage in India back in 2010, which probably was a little bit early, but it has evolved and all the stakeholders from the prime minister at the top down are realising that it is a new opportunity for the country.

I first became involved in storage working with Customised Energy Solutions in the USA in 2004, where I had gone to do a Masters and then PhD. We started looking at energy storage in deregulated markets and we did a project with NYSERDA on the role of emerging technologies such as flywheels, sodium sulphur and flow batteries in New York’s electricity market.

Dr Rahul Walawalkar

At that time I got involved with the US Energy Storage Association, where I was elected to the board of directors in 2009 and which also was an inflection point. There was a start of bringing work down to the state level and the formation of storage alliances in countries such as Germany and China and that is when we started IESA.

Then in 2014, we created the Global Energy Storage Alliance to support the creation of national alliances but also to open up the global markets. Since then a lot of collaborations have emerged so now it looks like the message is reaching all the corners of the world.

What are some of the main activities and achievements of IESA?

I would say one of the biggest is that we have consistently worked with the central government, mainly the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Science and Technology and NITI Aayog on getting instrumental policies to open up to create an energy storage and e-mobility market.

We have worked with them on the first energy storage roadmap, then the energy storage pilots and national energy storage mission. We also started working on the manufacturing policy in 2016 and have worked closely on the advanced chemistry cell battery manufacturing incentive programme. We also have worked with multi-national agencies such as IRENA, World Bank and IFC on issues such as the financing of storage.

So we have been able to influence a lot of activities on the policy side. The other area, I would say is industry awareness and we are pulling together the companies and helping them to develop their own strategies.

Going forward, we still have some ambitious plans such as an IESA academy as a central learning and skills development platform for the industry. We have initiated IESA-WE on women in energy in which we are taking steps to identify what member companies can do to facilitate women’s participation. We also are working to accelerate EV adoption in India through the EV-Adopter Circle Initiative.

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What are the main challenges around the storage market in India?

On the technology side, the technologies are evolving very fast so it can be difficult to decide which technology to invest in or whether to wait for a further fall in prices.

On the regulatory side, an issue that has arisen in almost every country is the unintended barriers that have been created. Ancillary services is a classic example as when the regulation was written there was no awareness of storage and the language limits the participation in those services to legacy technologies such as classic thermal plants or hydro storage.

It has taken us time to resolve that, but we are on the verge of seeing those barriers removed and are hopeful of starting to see active participation of storage in these areas.

The other classic issue is financing. While there is a lower total cost of ownership the upfront costs are high and to fund that needs a good partnership between the technology companies and the financing entities with the right warranties and other support so they feel comfortable in loaning to the project.

The industry has done amazingly well on technology development in the last decade, with energy density improvements, cycle life improvements and cost reductions and this will continue. Taking care of the business model part of it, then we will see exponential adoption of both stationary storage as well as electric vehicles.

What is the prospect for a local manufacturing industry?

We believe that storage would enable us to reduce dependence on oil imports on both the stationary and transportation sides, but it wouldn’t work if we ended up replacing dependence on oil from the Middle East to buying batteries from another country such as China.

So having a complete supply chain with local manufacturing is going to be critical for national energy security. That doesn’t mean that we need to do 100% in India, and based on our current outlook, we think we will end up having a mix making some battery types and importing others and maybe exporting some. It’s about diversifying the supply chain. The Indian government has set up a goal of localising a 60% value chain for the advanced chemistry batteries within the next five years and IESA is firmly supporting this vision.

What are the areas of R&D expertise in India?

India is blessed from the R&D point of view, with many national institutions and it was one of the first countries in the world to create a dedicated university of electrochemical chemistry, the Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI), which was established in 1953. But the research got stagnated on lead-acid batteries and there was little commercialisation of advanced technologies and many scientists ended up leaving India to go on to make a major impact in research labs around the globe. We want to change that by ensuring that Indian scientists have sufficient opportunities within the country.

While the academic research side is good, the industry-led research is lacking and it’s an area where we are looking for vibrant international collaborations, either with people of Indian origin or international folks who are interested in India as a market to help to set up R&D and manufacturing facilities in India.

In that connection we also are looking at some high-level training of researchers, perhaps with the US national labs, so when they return they can help accelerate some of these developments.

The Indian government’s investment policies are structured with the electricity sector having 100% foreign direct investment and the same is permitted for battery manufacturing. Several Indian corporate groups are right now actively looking for joint venture partners so if there are any international companies who are looking for such an opportunity or licensing technologies, this is a perfect time for doing that.

What are the goals of World Energy Storage Day (WESD)?

As the Global Energy Storage Alliance, we started the ‘WESD’ by picking 22 September – the day of the equinox – back in 2017 to celebrate the role of energy storage technologies in balancing the grid and emissions from the transportation sector.

The first Days were celebrated mainly in each individual country but then in 2019, we started doing joint webinars and last year with COVID more than 30 global alliances came together to organise a global virtual conference covering regional updates from each region of the world and looking at cross-regional opportunities among other topics.

Last year we had more than 5,000 participants from 65 countries for parts of the Day and this year, which has seen months of planning, we expect more than 10,000 participants. The event, which is free to attend, includes 10 parallel workshops and also will serve as a platform for the launch of several new start-ups and new products. Other highlights include a 360-degree virtual tour of US DOE National Labs and a photography competition.

World Energy Storage Day 2021 is taking place on 22 September.

Read more about the event and register here.