Decarbonising Of Grids To Accelerate Due To Dropping Storage Costs

Decarbonising Of Grids To Accelerate Due To Dropping Storage Costs

Participants at one of the four technical sessions of the International Solar Alliance’s First World Solar Technology Summit held in India ventured into a key area- Decarbonising of Grids. An issue at the heart of the key challenge facing renewable energy, particularly, solar power. Grid Stability and adaptability.

A key takeaway was that global regulators may no longer be required to push the deployment of clean energy in electricity grids. Several nations like India and Brazil may choose the option due to sheer market compulsion. The consensus was that the availability of cheap battery storage is disrupting power sector planning in the world today.

Out of the nearly 70 Giga Watts (GW) renewable capacity planned over the next few years in the U.S., nearly 30 GW will have storage. Nearly all of this will be battery technology, according to Nikit Abhyankar, senior scientific engineering associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA.

The power purchase parity for such utilities amounts to around Rs 3/Kilowatt Hour (KWH), on conversion to the dollar equivalent. That compares favourably to even natural gas-based power plants.

“So they are competing,” Abhyankar told participants.

In the Indian context, the cost of storage may add an additional Rs 1/KWH, so that the total cost of deploying solar energy by an hour or two during evening peak hours would amount to Rs 3-Rs 3.50/KwH.

This would again compare favourably with fossil fuel based power as the cost of solar energy will be flat for 20-25 years, whereas coal and gas-based prices would increase over the same period. “This provides a significant opportunity for rapid decarbonisation of electricity grids,” Abhyankar said, adding that such a transition can be brought about through policy intervention.

India’s energy demand is expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years. The nation is targeting 100 Giga watts of solar power by 2022.

He said that the exciting prospect is that decarbonisation of 90% of the electricity grids in the US would lead to a drop in the cost of power by around 10% by 2035.

“It means cleaning up the grid does not cost you money, but saves you money,” Abhyankar added.

The energy math has significant implications for India.

If the nation sticks to a target of 450 Gigawatts of renewable energy, around 70 Gigawatts of planned coal-based capacity would be able to operate at a Plant Load factor of no more than 10%-20% because they won’t be able to match up to renewable energy costs.

“If you keep on adding renewable energy capacity and also keep on adding coal-based power, then there is a significant risk of stranding of coal power plants,” Abhyankar warned.

Rather than build new coal power plants, it made much more economic sense to add storage capacity that provides flexibility in deploying power.

Such a strategy would enable existing coal based assets to operate at 70-80% of Plant Load Factors as well, ensuring their commercial viability, he added.

Several Indian states have already started making the transition.

Many have started shifting their electricity loads for agricultural use from night-time hours to solar hours (daytime hours) such as the southern state of Karnataka.

Mahendra Jain, Karnataka’s additional chief secretary of power, said that the state had set itself a target of being largely free of coal-based power in the next five years. Currently, the state receives 63% of its energy from renewable sources.

Karnataka has already established the world’s largest solar park in the semi-arid region of Pavaguda and is now planning two more such facilities to meet its clean energy goal.

Besides, its planning to deploy a 1,000 MW floating solar plant, as well as establish 10,000 MW of grid connected small solar power plants in water deficient states for agricultural purposes.

Other Indian states are likely to follow Karnataka’s example. India is one of the countries where the International Solar Alliance has an outreach program for distributing one million solar pumps.

“If we were to retire 500 GW of least efficient thermal power plants globally, it would yield a stimulus of $940 billion. That is equivalent to 1.1% of the global GDP,” noted Gauri Singh, deputy director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, (IRENA), UAE.

She highlighted that the capital was easily available for such deployment of clean energy as around $10 trillion worth of unsustainable energy plants were in the pipeline over the next ten years.

“Every dollar spent on solar power will give a return of $3-$8. That makes for a compelling case for investing in solar,” she told the conference.

By Biman Mukherji

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