ABB and India’s IITM partnering on battery storage development for rural electrification

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ABB and IITM agreed to work on developments to help India's rural electrification programme. Twitter: IITM
ABB has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Chennai-based engineering and research organisation, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) to partner on building microgrids and R&D in the battery energy storage area.

The focus will be on rural electrification, renewable energy generation and the applications of battery storage systems.

Indian energy minister Piyush Goyal has been on a mission of late to bring electricity to the millions of Indians without access to power as part of his ongoing rural electrification scheme. He set an aim last year to power the remaining 18,452 villages without electricity within 1,000 days of India's independence day (15 August).

An ABB spokeswoman told Energy Storage News that IITM is setting up a centre for researching and engineering battery energy storage solutions in India, which will be supported by ABB. The centre will be used to improve the life and discharge cycles of lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries over the next five years.

The battery functions will include backing up telecoms towers, renewable integration and grid ancillary services. ABB noted that the research plans have the scope to include storage solutions for electric vehicles (EVs). This would come in the wake of India’s National Mission on Electric Mobility program, which targets six million electric vehicles by 2020. The Mission also encourages using EVs as virtual power plants to store surplus energy and support the grid when there is a deficit.

ABB chief executive Ulrich Spiesshofer said: “This is a great opportunity to combine our expertise with bright young minds from this renowned institute to devise and deploy solutions tailored for India.”

Indian microgrid potential

The ABB and IITM agreement will also focus on the microgrid space in India, which is expected to progress rapidly in the coming years as a result of the energy shortfall in remote villages. Many connected homes also suffer from prolonged power outages. Rahul Walawalkar of the India Energy Storage Alliance blogged for Energy Storage News at the end of last year about the role micro grids could play in developing flood resiliency, for instance. While IITM has been working on solar-based homes, ABB can provide products for renewable energy integration and distribution.

Consequently the two entities plan to develop two microgrids in rural areas, which will enable local homes to be fitted with energy efficient devices including LED bulbs, TVs, mobile phone chargers, and brushless motor-based fans from IITM. Once complete the installations will be transferred to the management of the local distribution company.

Spiesshofer added: “Microgrids technology is an important part of our next level strategy and well poised to make the Indian government’s vision of power to all a reality by providing access to energy and ensuing economic empowerment to the people.”

Before the agreement, IITM and ABB set up a meeting between industry-academia and regulatory bodies last month to discuss the challenges and opportunities posed by microgrids in India.

ABB’s 'Access to Electricity' initiative has already brought solar power to 1,200 households in the Rajasthan desert. Meanwhile, in recent months IITM has powered 4,000 off-grid homes in Rajasthan with solar in areas that cannot be reached by vehicle and which have even see the use of camels to transport batteries and solar panels.

In related news, there is uncertainty over a drive by embattled renewable energy developer SunEdison to develop rural micro or minigrids. The company, which is facing severe financial difficulties, registered its Chennai-based operation last year as a potential Rural Energy Service Provider with India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, as did its partner on the projects, India-based Omnigrid Micropower Company (OMC).

Additionally the Solar Energy Corporation of India recently announced that it would be including energy storage as part of a major solar tender for the first time. it will also tender for an energy storage project to be combined with a solar and wind hybrid project at Rangreek in the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh.

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