In Conversation with Mr. Pankaj Batra,Member (Planning), Central Electricity Authority
● Views on the progress of Solar Energy Sector in India. Will India be able to achieve the set target?
The solar energy sector in India is expanding rapidly. Since the time solar power is being set up through competitive bidding, prices have been falling sharply with each passing year. From rate of about Rs.11 per unit they have dropped to as low as Rs.2.44 per unit in Bhadla, MP. If we consider the pure cost of energy, it is cheaper than any other form of energy, including pit head based coal power plants. However, there is a financial implication in addition to the pure cost of solar power, in the sense that stand-by generation has to be kept, to take care of the period when solar power is not available after sun set. There is also a financial implication, when clouds pass by and cause rapid fluctuations of solar power, which, in turn, causes deviation from schedule beyond the limits of CERC in the Deviation Settlement Mechanism, causing penalties. Moreover, the transmission and distribution system is not fully utilised and the cost of the concerned transmission system for evacuation of this power has to be borne by a lesser number of electricity units generated from solar power. An exercise was conducted by CEA which yielded about Rs. 1 per unit as the additional financial implication. Even after accounting for this additional financial implication, it still turns out that power from solar power would be cheaper than the cost of energy from pit head based coal power plants, considering the levelized cost of electricity. I, therefore, feel that for additional power requirements, States would like to go for solar power and, India will be able to achieve the set targets.
● How is CEA supporting the growth of solar energy sector in India?
CEA conducts a number of studies to study integration of variable renewable energy generation from intermittent sources of energy like solar and wind power to the Grid. The CEA had also calculated the financial implications in respect of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, the two States with the maximum renewable energy, and found that the financial implication of this variability was about Rs. 1 per unit, at about 30% renewable penetration. In addition, CEA has also recommended demand response, including reliable supply power and interruptible supply power, and measures for optimising transmission and distribution assets, with the use of energy storage devices, as well as flexible AC transmission system devices and phase shifting transformers. Smart meters will help provide demand response, to tackle the variability of solar and wind power.
● What are the challenges faced by the utilities in India and what improvements in terms of policy to overcome them?
The challenge faced by utilities are generic in nature, as most of the States Utilities are incurring financial losses, which inhibits them in developing the transmission and distribution system fully. In this respect, the Central Government has taken a number of measures through Saubhagya Scheme, to provide last mile connectivity. The Government of India has also, through the UDAY Scheme, incentivised State Utilities to improve their operational financial performance. The IPDS and DDUGJY Schemes of Government of India, help distribution utilities in improving their urban and rural infrastructure respectively, by provision of some funds.
● Tracing the technological progress of Energy storage in India, could the next big technological revolution be in the storage of solar energy? (A brief note on the Indian Storage Industry)
In order to balance the variations of active power generation from intermittent type of Renewable Energy sources of energy like wind and solar power, balancing power needs to be available for frequency stability in the Grid. This can either be done by easily varying generation sources, like hydro and gas-based generation, or by energy storage devices. Energy storage devices which have been existing since long time in India, are hydro power plants with storage or pondage capabilities. These plants store water in the form of energy, to be used, as and when required. In addition, pumped storage plants have been existing in India since over two decades. New pumped storage plants are also coming up, like the 1000 MW plant at Tehri in Uttarakhand and 1000 MW plant in Turga in West Bengal. These can use excess energy from the Grid to pump up water to the upper reservoir and use this water for generating energy at times of deficit in Grid. The latest energy storage devices, which are very fast developing, are the electrochemical types, namely, batteries. There are various types of batteries in the market, but the one which is fast becoming very popular are the Lithium ion batteries. Prices of these batteries have dropped by 70% from 2010 to 2017, and continue to be dropping. In a recent bid in Philippines, Solar Philippines Power Project Holdings bid for solar PV + battery, for supply of 24x7 power, at Indian equivalent of Rs.3.71 per unit, which is cheaper than the cheapest generation available in India at present i.e. power from pit-head based coal power plant. If this is the shape of things to come, there is no doubt that electro-chemical storage will revolutionise the power sector. If this trend of price drop continues, then in the next 50 to 60 years, solar power plus battery alone would be able to supply the complete power, globally.
● How competitive bidding has impacted the growth of the solar sector?
Competitive bidding has lowered the tariff of solar power rapidly. This has helped increase the demand for solar power to a large extent. Many States are going in for solar power on a large scale. Telangana has also started supply of power for agriculture during the day time, when higher amount of solar power is available.