Article | April 16, 2021
The evolution of smart grid and the transformation in the power sector?
The concept of a Smart Grid has taken centre stage with an evolution of Solar, Wind energy sources, advanced technologies such as AI/ML , Energy storage , introduction of Electric vehicles, sensors that transmit real time data all of which make a smarter, more efficient electrical power grid possible.
In contrast the Existing grid is facing some complex challenges that include integrating renewable energy, Cyber security, high losses, unable to support large Electric vehicle penetration and empowering consumers to become power producers.
It is time for India to make this paradigm shift that touches right from Generation, Transmission, Distribution and consumption. So, the first step would be the installation of smart meters and Advanced Metering infrastructure which is a key component of the smart grid. The roll out of smart meters has already started and integrating other pieces into this smart meter value chain and other building blocks. This new metering system enables two-way flow of information between consumers and utilities and improve the overall grid operations, cost efficient and support large scale penetration of Electric vehicles. A major transformation is underway and utilities need to develop their roadmap for creating a modern Smart Grid.
Solar is seeing low tariffs and what one can interpret from these solar tariff trends?
In the last one year, more than 10GW worth of solar projects are auctioned and tariffs discovered are between Rs2 to Rs 2.5. These low tariffs are result of many factors that include aggressive bidding, entry of foreign players, and expectation that module prices will further fall. Also this Covid pandemic has shrink the economy, thus there are fewer tenders from the govt. with more developers chasing fewer tenders to stay in the race.
These low prices put enormous pressure on EPC companies and Module suppliers to deliver at these rock bottom prices. These bids take into account the low prices of Chinese imports, now with BCD (Basic custom duty) in force from April 2022 it will be challenging for power producers to continue executing projects at such low prices.
Another concern is the delay in signing PPA’s (Power purchase agreements) by Discoms. PPA’s once signed are valid for the entire term of PPA which is usually 25 years. But given the tender tariffs falling every few months, Discoms prefer to wait and delay the signing or renegotiate the existing PPA, dampening the investor confidence and threatening the viability of the Projects. In these circumstances the role of regulatory oversight increases to protect the interests of all the stakeholders. However, in the coming years technology improvements with addition of energy storage and better forecasting techniques, Solar would become the major source and also the cheapest source. So sunny days ahead of solar.
The decentralized solar and innovative business models and financing?
In the current system of centralized power system, a large power plant produces power, transmits, and distributes it among industries and homes. This process is inefficient as some of the electricity is lost in transmission and distribution.
A De-centralized solar is more efficient to generate and consume power locally. It also helps create small businesses and technicians to build and maintain these solar plants. Also as Solar and battery systems increase and become more economical Peer to Peer energy trading is possible where consumers become prosumers (both producers and consumers) and sell their excess power to their peers.
This next generation Energy Management and Peer-to-Peer Energy trading facilitates buy and sell orders just like share trading stock exchange. The Energy trading platform maps the buyers and sellers as per their bids and settles the trades. By introducing Block chain technology for energy trading further reduces the transaction costs. The possible business models would be Community based Solar plants where rooftops and open spaces could be used to generate power and trade. All of this result in less losses and brings the much needed dynamism in the distribution of energy.
Role of AI and data analytics in the energy sector?
The Power sector generates large amounts of data from various nodes on the grid and unfortunately most of this data go unanalysed due to lack of infrastructure and domain expertise. But now with the maturity in data management systems and two-way communication enabling real time data from various components of the grid giving latest and integrated snapshot of the entire power system, it is possible through the application of AI to provide services such as Fault detection, Predictive maintenance, Power quality Monitoring, and Renewable energy forecasting.
Many discoms are plagued by theft of power and Cyberattacks. The recent Cyber attack on Maharashtra power grid is an example that caused massive power outage in Mumbai last October plunging the city into darkness. By using the power of AI/ML, algorithms can be trained to detect any attack based on certain attributes. As soon as the attack is detected an alert is sent to the security engineers to bring the system to safety mode. In addition, Smart meters with pre-paid mechanism are expected to be deployed for remote meter reading and accurate billing thus preventing revenue loss.
AI/ML has the potential to cut energy waste, lower energy costs, and bring more operation efficiencies for the utilities.
Strategies in EV charging and integration with smart grid?
EV’s are promising solution to cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the cost of transportation and improving the health of citizens. The emerging business models are Public charging stations, third party owned operated charging station, and owner operated charging station.
However, the ground reality is far fewer EV’s are running on road due to higher cost, Range anxiety, and long charging times. So, there is need to work closely with all the stakeholders right from utilities, Regulatory bodies, Car manufacturers, charging station operators to expedite the process of EV related infrastructure and incentivize customers to adapt to EV’s rather than convention vehicles.
In your question you asked about integration with smart grid and this is a term that captures the shift from basic to smart charging. A smart grid is key to smart EV charging as large number of EV charging at same time can degrade grid performance causing voltage and frequency fluctuations and cause peak power demand or sudden drop in demand. With smart grid in place it is possible to do load balancing, adjust charging patterns and avoid peaking of power.
Also one more challenge is there are 3 competing standards and India should define its own standards and enable charging of any vehicle at any charging station. This interoperability is possible by developing standards for front–end and back-end communication and signalling process between Electric vehicles and charging stations and the grid that supplies the power. Smart grid is essential for large deployments of EV’s.
Investment opportunities and job creation in this transformation to clean power?
Covid has changed the entire investment paradigm and made all of us Environmentally conscious. This is wake up call to prioritize a more sustainable approach to investment in companies that are high on Environmental, Social and Governance score.
The recent momentum in ESG investment with more than 3,300 ESG funds is an indication that businesses that demonstrate business ethics, transparency, Sustainability benefit companies and investors and attract best talent too. The spectacular rise of share price of Tesla is a clear message from investors on clean energy and EV transportation. As the world is getting serious India has a catching up to do from the findings of Refinitiv on ESG.
As Asset managers, Pension funds, Oil and Gas companies evaluate their exposure to fossil based energy sources and switch towards clean energy this is going to create new Green jobs. These new Green jobs range from retrofitting homes with solar panels, providing home based charging stations, energy efficient appliances, Solid waste mgmt, e-waste mgmt. Similarly, Smart cities, Green buildings, greening of enterprises can be achieved by training the work force on these new concepts and driving investments towards job creation and sustainability.
In summary, power sector is in for a major transformation and utilities, industries need to tap the right talent to deal with this disruption and reap immense benefits.
Article | April 5, 2021
In the last forty years, there has been a dynamic increase in the use of solar energy in the United States. As recently as 2018, an additional 10.6 GW of solar power was harnessed, bringing the country's total use up to 64.2 GW. Yet this apparently successful addition still only contributes 1.6% of the total electricity used across the States. However, with many new solar power technologies on the horizon, the increase could soon be much greater.
Article | December 23, 2021
With the popularity of solar increasing across the country, the number of solar installers has been multiplying. Unfortunately, many fly-by-night companies with minimal installation experience or larger national firms with little market history are trying to capitalize on the industry’s growth. In addition, the sheer volume of installation partners that consumers have to choose from can result in a great deal of buyer confusion.
More choices, more issues
As the number of solar installers has gone up, so have complaints and issues related to providers and their service. Recently, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry reached terms with Empire Solar Group LLC’s trustees, a national solar installer that went bankrupt earlier this year, leaving 45 homeowners in Minnesota with projects in various levels of incompletion. Unfortunately, they’re not alone, as many other consumers have also fallen into precarious situations after companies using high-pressure sales tactics have been unable to deliver on the work. Michael Allen, CEO of All Energy Solar, says, “He’s angered that companies go out of business and face no fines.” Allen and other established industry leaders have done their best to help out customers caught in the middle of an installer’s bankruptcy issues, but there is only so much they can do.
What protections do consumers have?
In some cases, states have put into place protections for consumers; for example, in Minnesota, consumers stranded with uncompleted projects can get access to the state’s Contractor Recovery Fund, which receives money from licensing fees to help offset these costs. But that is of little comfort for those trying to determine what partner to choose for their project.
The best bet
When picking a solar installation partner, your best bet is to avoid those with high-pressure sales tactics, “too-good-to-be-true” pricing, or ones with little to no installation experience. Don’t simply trust the sales rep, do a little of your own research to see what other customers are saying. Looking for a record of successfully completed projects and businesses with state and national certifications can be another way to confirm credibility.
Article | December 23, 2021
Cleaner energy resources are the dire need of the hour and this is a known fact. While scientists and experts across the planet are striving hard to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, our energy needs have never faced a downfall- thanks to rapid industrialization and urbanization. Although renewable resources like solar, wind, and hydro-electric power are the most popular alternatives, these are seasonal energy sources and the energy production from the same will not be similar all around the year. The fluctuations in production hence cannot always meet the energy demand of the population, and this makes the renewable energy sources not completely reliable.
Solar Production v/s Demand of the same in a year
What and How H2 is produced?
Now, this is where Hydrogen- the first element of the periodic table comes to the spotlight with a solution. Being a gas, hydrogen fuel can very well cater to our energy needs and is produced from techniques including Thermochemical, Solar-Water splitting, electrolytic and biological processes. While the production of this cleaner energy source leaves a carbon footprint of about 830 million tonnes in the form of CO2 annually, the result being a zero-emission fuel is what makes H2’s future bright.
Storage of H2 – the million-dollar question:
Having almost cleared the need and methods of producing hydrogen fuel, we will be looking at an area that is usually not given much thought about and that is the storage of H2. As already mentioned, for time being let us consider hydrogen as an alternative to renewable resources which is utilized when the energy demand increases drastically. While producing the fuel in the nick of time is obviously undoable, sufficient storage of H2 anticipating the demand is the best choice. Like Natural Gas, Hydrogen is also compressed before storing to achieve lower volume and also because liquid hydrogen demands a 64% higher amount of energy for storage than its compressed gaseous counterpart.
Storage tanks v/s Geological landforms:
Compressed Hydrogen can be stored in surface storage vessels (like steel composite concrete vessels and in wind turbine towers) or in geological landforms like (salt caverns, depleted O&G reservoirs, and aquifers). Nevertheless, unlike the underground geological landforms which offer huge storage capacity owing to their sheer scale, the storage tanks which can range in size from a small bottle to a huge tank require high amounts of pressure to store an appreciable amount of H2 in it. Since these storage tanks are usually constructed on the surface, the pressure conditions in these tanks need to be artificially stimulated and thereby mount huge upfront costs when compared to their geological storage counterpart.
H2 storage prices in Geological Landforms v/s Storage Vessels (in $/kg)
The above is a table comparing the prices of Hydrogen storage in Geological landforms and Storage Vessels at different pressure conditions. It is visible from the table that it's about 218 times cheaper to store the same amount of hydrogen in Geological landforms than in storage vessels.
Is geological storage truly a better option?
Like any other storage option geological storage too has its pros and cons. From the erosion of pipelines to the tedious task of injecting the gas and maintaining it at apt pressure conditions, geological storage has its limitations. However, the important prerequisite is the availability of the suitable landform itself.
While most of the Depleted O&G Reservoirs have already met all the requirements for a suitable Underground Hydrogen Storage (UHS) system, the presence of unrecoverable remnant fluids in it makes it both a boon and a bane. This is because the presence of remnant fluids like oil and gas satisfies the cushion gas need for efficient storage of H2 in the reservoir, chances of contamination of H2 by the same is also high. This is the reason why Aquifers too aren’t favorable underground landforms when it comes to hydrogen storage.
Salt Caverns- the best UHS System?
The problem of Hydrogen contamination in Depleted Oil & Gas reservoirs and aquifers leaves us to the next big suitable subsurface landform- salt caverns. Unlike the other two landforms, the problem of contamination can be prevented in these dome-like structures formed due to the upliftment of salt deposits and it is also found that about 98% of its storage efficiency can be used to store Hydrogen here. The reason behind its relatively expensive nature when compared to its other two counterparts is due to the process of salt removing or leaching that must be done before storing to ensure that the contamination of the gas is unheard of at least here.
Suitable Conditions of UHS:
As per Stefan Iglauer, the maximum amount of H2 can be stored at a depth of 1100m beneath the Earth’s surface and the capacity gradually decreases up until 3700 m depth beyond which the wettability of the gas increases as it percolates through the rocks and hence cannot be permanently immobilized. Conclusively it is found that suitable landforms formed at 1km depth can store up to 2.0 Mt of H2. Comparing this 2 MT storage capacity of Salt Caverns with the currently available storage tanks which can store about 800 kg of H2 in it, it is visible that geological landforms have a clear upper hand at least when it comes to storage capacity.
Future of UHS:
With demands for Hydrogen fuel estimated to grow at 5.48 % annually and the need for a suitable storage system of the same at 5.8% annually, the field of Underground Hydrogen Storage systems indeed has a bright scope. Moreover, to meet the large-scale needs of Industries, there is an imminent need to level up the storage capacity of H2 and by exploring suitable geological landforms across the globe, the estimated industrial need of 1200 kT/ year in 2050 can be met.