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India’s floods highlight need for improved grid resiliency through energy storage and microgrids

Floods caused severe disruption in Chennai this year. Image: wikimeida user: Destination8infinity.

Over two weeks at the beginning of December, the whole of India as well as concerned people from around the world, witnessed how unseasonal rains brought Chennai to a standstill. Although there are a number of reasons that may have contributed to the situation, it is clear that such situations need not cause issues that are facing citizens in Chennai and other flood hit areas. Unfortunately this is not the first time we are witnessing people suffering from natural or manmade calamities and despite all the promises that will be made in the aftermath of this disaster, this won't be the last. Just last year in September, we witnessed a similar situation in Jammu and Kashmir, where people were left stranded for week with no access to electricity, water and communication. Even Mumbai was brought to a standstill earlier this year in mid-June due to heavy downpours in a single day.

This situation can happen anywhere, as it was demonstrated couple of years back in New York with the Hurricane Sandy. Even in the USA, with all the modern facilities and latest grid technologies being deployed, most of New York City and nearby cities in New Jersey were left without electricity and communication for over 10 days in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

What is different is that after the NY disaster, US utilities have significantly altered the way they plan for such disasters and have worked on making the grid more resilient. Now is the time that the Indian government, states as well as utilities and telecommunication companies adopt similar measures for improving disaster preparedness in India. We need to change the way we plan for backup power and critical infrastructure operations for the routine power cuts. So far the easiest way for planners has been to make a provision for a diesel generator as backup power and claim that there is 24/7 backup power available. But all these natural disasters have demonstrated that during such crises, these generators could get flooded or the diesel supply cut and as a result critical infrastructure such as hospitals and telecommunication facilities come to a complete standstill.

India’s floods highlight need for improved grid resiliency through energy storage and microgrids

"Microgrid planning principles" shouold be a cornerstone of energy policy for India's major cities, Rahul Walwalkar argues. Image: Imergy.

Luckily, technological advancements have now made it possible to deploy distributed renewable resources such as rooftop solar, small-scale wind and energy storage that can at least provide for mission critical backup to keep the telecommunication lines, hospitals and other important facilities operating. In fact right now, hundreds of social entrepreneurs are deploying such solutions all over India trying to meet the needs of 300 million+ Indians who are still not connected to the electricity grid.

It is high time that similar technologies and microgrid planning principles should be used for all our major cities. If we can design and implement these solutions in a smart way, then the costs of such solutions would be much smaller than the cost and pain of suffering caused by such disasters. The central government released over 1940 Crore (US$293.7 million) for relief and rescue operations in Chennai in just 10 days earlier this month. We need to now allocate appropriate funding accordingly for similar situations in future.

According to various Industry estimates, Indian consumers already have over 70GW of diesel gensets installed and annual sales of lead acid batteries for stationary applications including backup power and UPS is totaling almost US$2 billion. But without grid power most consumers will run out of power within a couple of hours. With the deployment of renewable microgrids and advanced storage technologies, this situation can change quickly. Various new technologies such as lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries now make it possible to recharge batteries within 15-30 minutes, so that with partial grid connectivity or with distributed renewables, one can ensure electricity supplies can meet at least the critical needs of the facilities.

We need to collectively decide how long we want to wait for the next disaster to strike and again go through the same outcomes, or we can adapt and be prepared for the next disaster. The India Energy Storage Alliance has been working for the past three years to create awareness about advances in technologies and business models for both energy storage and micro grids in India. IESA hosted its third international Energy Storage India 2015 conference and expo dedicated to energy storage and microgrids in New Delhi at the beginning of December. During this event, we held a workshop on identifying challenges for scaling microgrids in India and we have now announced the creation of the IESA – Microgrid- Off grid Forum (I-MOF). You can get more updates on this initiative by writing to contact@indiaesa.info. Till then, let’s try to help victims of the current disaster by donating to Isha Foundation's Tamil Nadu Flood Relief Fund.

Luckily, technological advancements have now made it possible to deploy distributed renewable resources such as rooftop solar, small-scale wind and energy storage that can at least provide for mission critical backup to keep the telecommunication lines, hospitals and other important facilities operating."

Tags: solar-plus-storage, renewables integration, grid stabilising, microgrid, india, chennai