Interview: Anvesha Thakker

Partner & Industry lead - Clean energy;Energy Transition Co-Lead: Global Decarbonization Hub at KPMG

India is emphasising on developing manufacturing capacities in solar and batteries

February 06, 2024. By News Bureau

India is emphasising on developing manufacturing capacities in solar and batteries; however, it is extremely important to get the implementation right in terms of timely scale up and to be able to produce high-quality equipment at competitive prices, said Anvesha Thakker, Partner & Industry lead - Clean energy, KPMG India and Energy Transition Co-Lead: Global Decarbonization Hub, KPMG in an interaction with Anurima Mondal, Associate Editor, Energetica India.

Que: As the India leader for renewables, what do you see as the key priorities for advancing renewable energy adoption in India?

Ans: A few things to my mind are absolutely critical to address. One is supply chain. Almost 70-80 percent of supply chain for most renewable technologies is concentrated in China and a few other countries. This renders our clean energy ambition extremely vulnerable to any supply chain disruptions as witnessed recently during COVID-19 fallouts which caused delivery issues as well as severe price escalations in cells, modules and other equipment. While India is putting its weight behind developing manufacturing capacities in solar, batteries, etc., it is extremely important to get the implementation right in terms of timely scale up and to be able to produce high-quality equipment at competitive prices. The second extremely important aspect I would like to touch upon is the ability to integrate the vast amount of renewables that would be required to meet our energy needs in a sustainable manner. It would be imperative to accelerate large scale adoption of storage including pumped storage to enable reliable, dispatchable green energy supply to meet various requirements such as peak or round the clock energy.

Also, I do believe that the country needs to extensively invest into innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning since multiple sources of power (increasingly intermittent owing to higher penetration of renewables), storage assets as well as networks need to be optimised and demand and supply needs to be balanced in an increasingly complex power system. For corporates as well, use of such technologies would be an important tool to leverage assets optimally and enhance revenue streams, for e.g., through more informed and agile power markets participation or revenue stacking for storage. I would encourage readers to read KPMG’s global publication ‘Turning the tide on scaling renewables’. This discusses 10 areas that must be addressed to scale up renewables globally and this is equally applicable to India.

Que: Can you share some experiences you've encountered as a woman in the renewable energy field, and how do you see the importance of gender diversity in this sector?

Ans: Gender diversity or for that matter diversity in all its forms is as important in renewables as in any other industry because it brings more perspectives, knowledge, a broader range of skills to the table and also helps increases the talent base and the organizations standing. The renewables sector has encouraged many women to come into the energy sector which has historically had one of the lowest participations from women as compared to other industries. With renewables, has come an environment which is very dynamic and agile, branching into many ancillary areas around energy transition such as storage, electric mobility, green hydrogen, etc. The job families have also expanded from engineering, installation, construction to corporate roles in policy, planning, strategy, supply chain, business development, data analytics, services etc. which are often perceived by women to offer more flexible and inclusive work environment which is also extremely exciting as well as fulfilling thus attracting them to this industry.

Que: Can you share insights into the latest technological advancements and innovations in the renewable energy sector, particularly in the areas of energy storage and electric mobility?

Ans: There are many of these centered around improvement of efficiencies, range, safety or reductions in cost or use of valuable metals. One trend which is still unfolding is the immense scope for leveraging innovations in digital technologies and use of tools such as AI/ ML. This is not only for applications such as real time monitoring, performance optimisation but also for revenue enhancement through ancillary applications such as grid services, for e.g., through vehicle to grid or grid to vehicle services, etc. or even revenue stacking for storage where same capacities can be leveraged to generate multiple value streams. The opportunities are immense, and the country as yet has not begun to scratch the surface on this.

While not a new innovation, I would however like to call out the increasing focus on pumped storage as a storage resource for grid applications in India. Pumped storage projects have many advantages in terms of their ability to meet various grid needs for large scale energy storage, grid balancing and stability. Over forms of storage such as batteries, they offer the benefit of longevity, lower environmental impact also offer to India an opportunity to develop an indigenised supply chain storage. Such projects don’t have to be necessarily built on natural water systems and are increasingly being built in remote areas as closed loop systems away from natural water systems. These have natural or artificial upper and lower reservoirs where water is drawn from nearly water resources and used cyclically, thus reducing several environmental challenges.

Que: You've mentioned the emergence of the green hydrogen economy. What makes green hydrogen particularly promising?

Ans: Three aspects that make the technology particularly promising are its ability to decarbonize demand that cannot be electrified or switched directly to renewable energy especially in heavy emitting sectors. Its versatility enables it use in many applications several of which are ‘drop in’ requiring no or very little technological adjustments. Green hydrogen can be made from renewable resources such as solar, wind, biomass which are abundantly available. This can bring energy security and energy independence to the country by potentially displacing fossil fuel use in end use sectors. It can address our huge oil and gas import bill of nearly USD 120-150 bn a year by reducing our dependence on these fuels.

Que: You mentioned that green hydrogen is costlier than grey hydrogen, can you provide insights into the ongoing technological advancements and initiatives aimed at making green hydrogen more cost-competitive, and the impact of these efforts on the energy land

Ans: There is a tremendous effort underway to address cost issues of green hydrogen and push this towards cost parity with alternative fuels such as natural gas within this decade. On one side is of course technological advancements, for e.g., making electrolyzers cheaper, more efficient, and less dependent on rare earth metals or to produce green hydrogen through other novel technologies. On the other, governments globally and indeed in India are trying to address costs through subsidies, low cost finance and concessions especially those on electricity side for example electricity duties, network charges, etc. since electricity costs contribute almost 60-70 percent to the levelized cost of green hydrogen. It is also extremely important to be able to increase utilisation of the electrolyzers through round the clock green power. Here, innovations such as hybridisation of renewables and integration with pumped storage and other forms of storage are being evaluated extensively by the industry. In my view, the pace of innovation that we are seeing in energy transition and technologies such as green hydrogen is unprecedented. If we are able to get to cost parity quickly for green hydrogen and are able to address barriers to scale up, I do believe that the technology (through sector coupling) can potentially enable widespread renewable energy switch in many fossil fuel end use applications whether this is electricity, transport, heating, cooling or even the feedstock that is used in industries.

Que: Sustainability and decarbonization are becoming increasingly critical in addressing climate change. Can you tell some of the innovative strategies or technologies that you've come across that contribute to these efforts?

Ans: While there are thousands of these examples and I will not be able to do justice here, one thing that has made a strong impression on me is the multi-solving approach developed by Dr. Elizabeth Sawin, founder and director of Multisolving institute. The central idea is to promote solutions that can help solve multiple problems, often across sectors with a single action. For e.g., an innovation I came across by a startup, which also received awards at KPMG’s ENRich 2023 startup search, was production of rechargeable, bio-organic and bio-degradable batteries from crop waste. This not only enables production of batteries in a sustainable manner but potentially also addresses the issue of burning of crop waste while providing an additional source of income to farmers. It is sort of a systems thinking approach for identifying climate solutions which compels us to think whether we are narrowly focusing on emissions only or are we holistically seeing opportunities to create positive impact on other sectors and community.

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