India leapfrogging to the edge of grid technologies

As per the WEF report, the three trends of electrification, digitalization and decentralization will define the technology innovations

Updated: Aug 14, 2017 11:46:02 AM UTC

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175 GW of renewable energy, the national electric mobility mission, digital India, access to 24x7 reliable electricity, green energy corridors – India has arrived on the edge and that is the place to be! A lot of the energy and the fourth industrial revolution is happening at the edge of the electricity grid.

As per the WEF report, the three trends of electrification, digitalization and decentralization will define the technology innovations. The first is about going electric from cars to homes, and moving away from fossil fuel dependence with distributed renewable generation sources. The second deals with digitalization technologies which range from smart meters to predictive analytics, smart appliances, sensors, and remote monitoring which are rapidly being embraced in the system. Decentralization is a trend which puts customers at the heart of the technology – the age of the prosumers of electricity redefining the edge of the grid and how one interacts with it. While current government programs are catalysts to such transformation, India is no stranger to leapfrogging as the history from mobiles to LEDs demonstrate. The following are the reasons why India can leapfrog to the edge of the grid technologies to sustain the momentum of growth simultaneously decoupling carbon emissions:-

Energy efficiency, the game changer Greater than 20 GW of industrial electric motors in India are not energy efficient by conservative estimates. India uses 10% to 30% more energy to produce one unit of anything across sectors as compared to the global best in class. Technologies for energy efficiency, adoption of which is much quicker and cheaper at about 2 cents per kWhr with faster returns within two years are much more convenient than adding new generation capacity. The IEA estimates that every dollar spent on energy efficiency avoids more than $2 in supply investments. In 2016-17, India’s energy efficiency program led by the now famous LED scheme, as per media reports, has ensured there is 10 GW less load on the grid during peak hours. A new 10 GW thermal power project today comes with a price tag of Rs 70,000 crore.

Fast emerging EV charging eco-system
India’s passenger vehicles market is expected to more than quadruple to 13.4 million units by 2026. Reducing pollution and oil imports to tune of USD 150 billion are major drivers for electric vehicles market to thrive. The government’s policy for envisaging an electric-vehicle future by 2030 is further catalyzing the sector. It is all a matter of time, volume and finding out the right business models in conjunction with all stakeholders. Various specialists from auto manufacturers, charging and energy storage specialists, town-planners will all be working together to realize the potential of an electric future. However a focus on developing adequate public charging infrastructure rather vehicles and flexible charging of EVs with differential pricing of electricity would be important success factors.

Reducing our dependency on oil imports – going electric!
India is the third largest oil consumer and importer in the world. Going electric, though capital intensive in some cases has huge cost benefits in the long term and helps wean away dependence from fossil fuels, especially in areas like transportation – railways. The Indian government has embarked on an electrification mission for railways and it is looking at a target of 4000km in 2017-18. With only 45% of the tracks electrified, it is likely to reap huge benefits in reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, increase the efficiency and help shift the load of freight from the roads to railways. The global exponential growth in electric vehicles has belied many projections and likely to be viable without subsidies in the next 3 to 4 years. The cost of batteries has declined from about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2010 to below $300 in 2015 likely to catch on in India

Providing access to electricity, enriching lives
While the government program of 24x7 power for all is being pursued aggressively, distributed generation technology like microgrid can complement this effort especially in remote regions as well as heavy loads areas to provide resilient and cost effective power. Microgrid technology could be used to contribute to the grid and capacity planning if targeted where land is an issue, connectivity to the grid is difficult or presence of a strategic installation which cannot afford a failure. The planning needs to make economic sense with greater clarity on revenue modelling and hence sustenance. Adoption/innovation of such technologies by railways or aviation or would go a long way.  Like a lot of other governments, the focus should be on a payment by result scheme rather than subsidies.

Leveraging digitalization with innovation capital of start-ups
India has been a global leader in software development and has the third largest start-up base with companies already working on path breaking ideas in energy management, digital twin, smart metering, blockchain technology, microgrids and electric mobility. Wind turbines are coming for the price of iPhone and credit card sized sensors are enabling equipment to go digital with predictive maintenance.  With the first flush of start-up cycle settling down to focus on maturity and sustenance, the software expertise and the innovations need to be nurtured to further milestones in edge of the grid technologies. We could leapfrog to become the development hub for edge of the grid technologies. Already various models on battery technologies and buses with leased batteries are being contemplated while block-chain technology is being used to collect and integrate data chains on midday meals. This would be aided by enablers like a young grid and the youngest working population.

A few key elements which will ensure success of this transition and the sustenance is the acumen to develop alternative as well as complementary business models, capacity building of institutions and organizations in the scope and workings of edge of the grid technology and finally the economic modelling or innovation in financing of projects.

- By Akilur Rehman, Chief Technology Officer, ABB India

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