Interview: Dr Rahul Walawalkar

Dr Rahul Walawalkar,
President at India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA)

“India Likely to Attract Over $3Bn Investments in next 3 Yrs for Advanced Li-Ion Batteries”

India is expected to attract investment in two-to-four Giga factories for advanced Li-ion batteries, attracting over $3 billion in investments in the next 3 years. The battery pack manufacturers in India are currently assembling high capacity packs with the goal to target electric vehicles and stationary storage market. Assembling of Li-ion battery packs is a dynamic industry in India and is growing at a healthy pace, says Dr Rahul Walawalkar, President, India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA), in an exclusive interaction with Manu Tayal, Associate Editor, Energetica India.

“In your view, which energy storage technologies will lead the future of clean energy? Why?”

India has a huge market for conventional technologies like lead acid and is also exporting lead to other SAARC & MENA countries. More than 800+ small and medium companies are manufacturing lead acid batteries (VRLA and GEL) in India. But with high competition in battery price and raw materials, most of the companies are eying for advance technologies. With high life cycle, high efficiency and stiff price reduction, Li-Ion is giving a tough competition to current lead acid technologies. So, there is an improvement in technology happening across the globe. Bipolar technology and carbon foam content are increasingly adopted by Lead acid manufacturers in China, UK, USA, and other markets.

“How do you see the significance of World Energy Storage Day (WESD) amid Covid-19 scenario? And Why 22nd September?”

The onset of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) began in China, and quickly spread to South Korea. Together they comprise much of the world’s Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery manufacturing. China is dominant in the battery supply chain, as it accounts to three-quarters of battery manufacturing capacity. The COVID-19 impact then expanded to Europe and North America, which together comprise a bulk of non-Chinese demand for those batteries. This progression created a series of disruptions in the supply chain for Li-ion batteries, which affected Indian electric vehicle and stationary energy storage market. Apart from Li-Ion batteries, due to continuous lockdown by Govt. of India, the Lead acid battery manufacturing industry was also affected by supply and demand gap. It affected all verticals of business from energy storage for renewable integration, applications in residential back up, C&I back up, telecom, data centre, and others. While most market participants expected some delays, the extent of disruption may not be fully revealed for several months.
The sun – the largest source of natural energy – has held much importance through the ages and people have gathered throughout time to worship the sun during the days of solstice and equinox with special rituals. The Autumnal equinox occurs on 22nd September and the day and night are of approximately equal duration i.e. the day is balanced. Energy storage has played a huge role in grid balancing, power supply demand management and frequency regulation and to acknowledge the balancing effects of Energy Storage, 22nd September was chosen as an apt date for the World Energy Storage Day.

“How do you see the road ahead for India towards building a self-reliant economy for energy storage? Can India become a manufacturing hub for storage and compete globally with cheaper Chinese products unlike the case for solar?”

India has recently gained stature as one of the fastest-growing markets for advanced energy storage technology supporting the exponential growth expected in its electric vehicle market over the next 5 years. India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) has estimated the India Stationary Energy Storage market potential to be around 230 GWh during the period 2020-2027. Of which grid scale applications contribution is expected to be 15% and rest by behind-the-meter applications. In grid scale sector, renewable energy integration takes up majority of this share, split between solar and wind projects. India is expected to attract investment in two-to-four Giga factories for advanced Li-ion batteries, attracting over $3 billion in investments in the next 3 years. The battery pack manufacturers in India are currently assembling high capacity packs with the goal to target electric vehicles and stationary storage market. Assembling of Li-ion battery packs is a dynamic industry in India and is growing at a healthy pace. At IESA, we, however, believe that it is high time for the Indian industry to take up R&D and advanced cell manufacturing so that we reduce our dependence on other countries. The recent pandemic related to COVID19 has highlighted the importance of domestic manufacturing considering the risk of global supply chain disruptions. Energy storage and EVs have importance for national energy security and we should learn from the recent events and accelerate our efforts for building domestic capabilities.

“In order to provide boost for energy storage in the country, what will be your key suggestions to the policy makers?”

Various Indian companies have already entered the cell to Pack assembling. But there is a huge opportunity in India for Li-Ion cell manufacturing. There are some discussions happening in the industry on raw materials availability. Last year, India also signed a MoU with Bolivia for the development and industrial use of lithium to faster the R&D and exploration of raw materials. Apart from Li-Ion technology India should look into other technologies like flow batteries, sodium-based batteries, Zinc-Air, Aluminium Air and other emerging technologies.
We hope that with NITI Aayog’s National Mission for Advanced Chemistry Cell Manufacturing for advanced Energy Storage technologies and as well as National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage and Phased Manufacturing Program there are prosperous ecosystem for energy storage industry.

“Without cheaper better energy storage technologies, how do you see the future of electric vehicles in India? Will EVs become an attractive option for the mass adoption? What will be your suggestions on making storage cheaper?”

The cost of storage over time has fallen 85 per cent, what started off at more than a 1,000 $/kWh in 2010, is today in the range of 150-170 $/kWh. What made this exponential decrease in price happen is the rapid technological improvement that happened for storage. Not only lithium ion but also other technologies like redox flow, fuel cells, compressed air, pumped hydro, all saw marked improvement in efficiency, cycle life and price when compared to the beginning of the decade.
One area where battery deployment got a major push is vehicle electrification. India has been susceptible to dynamics of petrol/ diesel prices and pollution has been a rising concern across many cities in India. Thus, Electric vehicles come as a nice alternative which is both cleaner and more economic on the longer run. In India, the first movers came in forms of 2 and 3 wheelers, which anyways make up the maximum of the automotive market. E-buses, though less in number, as on date have been seen increasingly in number on Indian roads. The price differential between an ICE and EV has been slowly narrowing down and with policy incentives and regulatory pushes, India is seen as a market with high potentials for EVs. Under its National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), the government is targeting to achieve 6-7 million sales of electric and hybrid vehicles in India by 2020. This was backed up with many State Governments coming up with their own EV policies and charging tariffs. The Government also relaxed the GST rates for batteries and provided incentives for purchase of EVs and on loan taken to buy an electric vehicle. The point to appreciate here is though there are complains of the transition and steps being taken often being delayed and non-confirmative, the transition has come a long way, who would have imagined that this change will happen in so fast a time span. When we look at the automobile industry today, we see so many ICE manufacturers now coming up with EV models which show clearly that EV is the next big thing.

Interview 14/10/2020 by Hemant Arora
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