India’s solar storage needs a leg-up

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BusinessLine

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Even as the government grapples with discom dues, here is one issue that needs focus in the new year — battery storage for harvesting solar energy. Unlike conventional energy, renewable energy (such as solar) cannot be generated with precision, since the sun is out only for a few hours in a day. It needs to be stored so it can be used when needed. The economics of battery-tech is compelling. India’s cumulative battery requirements between 2026 and 2030 will be at least 2,410 GWh. Assuming that India will manufacture both cells and packs while importing only cathodes (depending on technology used), the country can cater to nearly 80 per cent of the ₹9.3-13.7 lakh crore market.

While advances such as lithium-ion batteries, which are lighter and more compact than lead acid batteries, are well known, newer tech such as saltwater batteries are being increasingly considered. These batteries don’t contain heavy metals, relying instead on saltwater electrolytes. While the former need to be disposed of with special processes, a saltwater battery can be easily recycled. India needs to figure out what its best option is, and soon. To put this in context, Tesla Motors launched its home battery product, the Tesla Powerwall, back in 2015. But India has not even taken the first step in this direction.

In an effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, India has set a goal of producing 40 per cent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. Additionally, by 2022, the government is aiming to produce 175 GW through renewable sources — 1 GW could power 3,00,000 homes. So far, the government has said the right things. However, the question of how the solar energy will be used without storage remains.

Globally, storage prices are dropping, driven by usage of solar energy in automobiles and consumer electronics. Battery-pack costs are down to less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, according to a McKinsey study. Battery packs open up demand for electric vehicles. As the government envisions a ‘one nation one grid’ system, the question of storage assumes special importance.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor with BusinessLine



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