Why India must think and invest in storage tech now for future energy security

Solar power bids in India in the latest round of auction fell to a historic low of sub-Rs 3 per unit to end at Rs 2.44 per unit. If the solar prices continue to fall like this or stay at these levels, we need storage to come to play even more urgently now than later.

Most experts had factored the solar prices to reach these levels by 2018-19 or so and storage also had some more time to become relevant in India. But, if the solar prices have crashed to these levels so soon, it is high time we started looking at the storage business more closely and make sure we do not end up in a similar situation as in solar panels – where China has become dominant and our industry’s capacity can hardly live up to it.

When we talk of electricity storage, there are various technologies which are in vogue. Pumped Storage is most dominant as of now – close to 97 per cent of installed storage capacity in the world. There are other storage technologies such as Compress Air Electricity Storage (CAES), Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES), Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), Hydrogen Storage, Thermal Electricity Storage Techniques, Super Capacitors and, of course, Batteries.

Each of these technologies has different performance characteristics on two key criteria for the storage applications: discharging time at their rated power and energy capacity.

On this comparison, we have huge variations from single second discharging (super capacitors) going up to 1 year (SNG) and energy capacities varying from 1kWh (super capacitors) going to 100 TWh (SNG). The most ideal of these storage technologies for our renewable energy (solar integration) requirement is the space of batteries which have a discharging rate of up to 1 day and capacities going up to 10 MWh.

In terms of the evolution of these products, most of them are still in the nascent stage. Pumped Hydro and Lead Acid batteries being in the maturity stage and Lithium Ion Batteries fast moving from the 'Development' stage and getting into the 'Commercialisation’ stage. Lithium Ion Batteries are the most commonly suited for solar applications going forward.

When it comes to Lithium Ion Batteries, China has taken a huge lead over others. Most of us would have heard of Tesla–Panasonic’s Gigafactory with a capacity of 50 GWh of Lithium Ion batteries by 2020. But has anyone heard of CATL of China? Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd is already manufacturing 7.6 GWh of Lithium Ion batteries and is well on its way to get to 50 GWh by 2020. This is largely driven by China’s huge investment in renewable energy and is also now being actively driven by its focus on electric vehicles. Both RE and Electric Vehicle in China and also Li-Ion batteries are driven by huge subsidies to make the technology commercial and reach global scales where it can dominate the world. On the SCM part, China has already tied up crucial materials required for Li-Ion in terms of cobalt and lithium mines.

In India, we have started a few pilot programmes in RE with storage and some basic labs are being set up for Li-Ion batteries (CECRI) while a policy on EV has just come out. We, as a nation, are in the same time horizon now as we were in Solar Panels five years back when compared to China – our inaction then has led to a situation where we do not have any answers for the scale and availability of solar panels from China. So, if we do not take proactive steps in storage (materials and technology JV, Make in India) now, we may soon see a Chinese dominant storage business too.

Source: Economic Times