Net Zero Future: Need for a consumer-centric energy transition

Need for a consumer-centric energy transition

Anil Rawal, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, IntelliSmart

Bhasmasura, a great devotee, pleased Lord Shiva through penan­ce and Shiva granted him the boon that on whomsoever’s head he would place his hand would immediately turn to ashes. Bhasmasura used the boon in­discriminately and caused wide spread destruction. Mischievously, he one day decided to place his hand on Lord Shiva, who ran to Vishnu for help. Vishnu managed to place Bhasmasura’s hand on his own head by trapping him in dance moves, thus causing his destruction.  These stories carry subtle but vital messages for generations. The journey of the human race is closely analogous to Bhasmasura’s and we are trying to destroy the very so­ur­ce of our creation, mother nature. Th­e­­re is a possibility of us being trapped in an imminent and irreversible catastr­ophic situation of global climate chan­ge within this century, causing wide-scale destruction of liveable resources. The Pa­­ris Agreement committed to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5  °Cel­­sius within this century; if serious and concerted actions are not taken, this could cross 3 °Celsius. It is critical because every fraction of a deg­ree of warming will result in many more lives lost and livelihoods damaged.

COP26 and achieving net zero emissions th­rou­gh energy transition

A follow-up meeting of heads of states in Glasgow is a milestone event towards humanity’s efforts to avert the ominous changes. The participating co­untries agreed to reach net zero emissi­ons by different calendar milestones. In­dia also agreed to meet the target by 2070. For a country to achieve net zero emissions, it needs to evaluate the compone­n­ts that are adding these gases and balance these out with the components that would suck these gases out of the air.

Achieving net zero in India would re­q­uire a fast-paced transition to renewables, a significantly reduced dependence on fossil fuels and a move to electric vehicles (EVs) much more swiftly. The estimates show that the country wo­uld need to transition to an energy mix where 50 per cent of the energy needs are met from non-fossil fuel sources. This means that against the estimated capacity of 1,130 GW by 2030, the country will need to ha­ve a solar energy installed capacity of 280 GW and a wind energy installed capacity of 140 GW. The rest of the energy needs will come from nuclear.

Such a high reliance on non-fossil sour­ces, increased penetration of green energy in the grid and mass adoption of EVs would present a significant threat to disbalance the grid, introducing significant variability in energy flows, which co­uld be bidirectional now with consumers tu­rning “prosumers” as they produce and pump po­wer into the grid from their so­lar rooftop so­ur­ces. Th­is energy transition throws up challenges of me­e­ting so­cial, climate and economic objectives while maintaining the reliability, scalability, se­cu­rity and stability of the grid.

Building grid flexibility is a key challenge

Meeting these targets would need building high flexibility in the grid while maintaining low costs of the energy uni­ts de­li­vered to consumers. Flexibility in the grid could be obtained at various le­v­els and each level would have a different cost and impact on the grid. First could be generation-side flexibility, which is linked with the capability of a power system to modify electricity production or consumption in response to variability of renewables, ensuring system security. This could be achieved through varying the generation through other sources, namely, gas-based plants, hydro plants or introducing varying generation in thermal plants. While there are limitations of gas availability and li­mited hydro contribution, there are also technical limits to varying thermal plant generation. This flexibility, therefore, has possibilities of limited contribution to the grid in our case. The other possibility co­u­ld be through storage sources, say, battery storage or pumped hydro. This is a very effective solution but has limited play on account of the cost of the ba­tteries and the gestation period of pumped hydro.

Granular demand-side management through consumer-centric ToU

The country has already done some work in this area by the separation of ag­ricultural feeders, which helps operators shift agricultural demand from high- to low-demand zones. Further, a limited ap­­­plication of time of use (ToU) has been done in the country in industrial se­g­me­nts in some states; however, mass-scale roll-out of ToU is still to be seen. The ToU could engage con­sumers and prosumers effectively and constructively through digitalisation and smart grid applications. The engagement of consumers co­uld be based on dynamic price signalling or adjusting loads by op­erators, calling for the variable energy so­urces at load peak hours of the grid. This could make consumers the largest asset for managing flexibility in the grid.

The roll-out of mass-scale advanced me­­tring infrastructure (AMI) in the co­un­try is offering the opportunity to ma­n­a­ge the demand side in a far more gra­nular manner and effectively in the key consumption zones of residential, commercial and industrial consumers. In­ternatio­na­lly, widespread digitalisation and the use of residential smart me­ters have been the source of flexibility for boosting mass-scale decarbonisation. In India, along with mass-scale AMI, the data emerging from smart me­tering needs be tightly mapped to the de­­mand-side management tools of SCADA, DT-level metering and energy audit as well big data analytics to derive ac­tionable insights for demand-side ma­nagement and grid flexibility.

The Paris Agreement and COP26 are cri­tical events towards saving humanity from the imminent catastrophic events visible within this century. Such large climate changes within a span of 100 years are extremely fast and the period would appear like a blink of the eye in the life history of the planet. This generation has a duty to pass on the planet to the next generation in a more healthy shape than what we inherited. That wo­uld require extremely swift actions and concerted efforts on the social, political, economic, ecological and technological levels by engaging the widest possible stakeholders in managing and averting these ominous events.