Gravitricity goes to India – Read Douglas’s travel journal

India needs energy storage, but do they understand the gravity of the situation?

The Indian energy storage market is set to scale up in the next decade with the country aiming to integrate an additional 400 GW of renewable energy generation capacity by 2030 on top of 100 GW currently installed. There is no doubt that energy storage will be required if it is to be a successful integration.

Earlier this year Gravitricity Project Engineer Douglas Hitchcock travelled to India to conduct an Innovate UK supported feasibility alongside local partners Panitek.

Here Douglas picks up the story…

The visa had arrived and I was going. A first work trip abroad in over two years and it was going to be to India. A trip had been on the cards since the start of the project in January but, with the surge in UK COVID cases over the Christmas period due to the then new omicron variant, I don’t think anyone was feeling particularly confident that I would be going anywhere – even to the office.

That there was a project with travel was made possible by Gravitricity’s part funded feasibility study on India’s energy storage market. The aim was to gauge what that energy storage market is going to look like in the future and whether we should jump in now, further down the line or not at all. The funding was from Innovate UK while our partners, Panitek, were the team on the ground with the knowledge, experience and contacts bringing together the market analysis. Panitek specialise in bringing cleantech companies to the Indian market from Europe and were here to do exactly that with Gravitricity. I joined the team in Mumbai for a series of meetings over a two-week period ending in Delhi.

View back into Mumbai from the causeway

India was 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of the UK when I arrived which was less of an issue than the 0200 transfer in Doha and my lack of sleeping skills when on the move. Having arrived and made it into a taxi hopefully heading in the right direction I was immediately thrust into the mayhem that is the Mumbai traffic. Exacerbated by the fact that 24 hours pervious I’d been in a remote area on the west coast of Scotland, which probably had a higher population of seals than people, the contrast was stark.

Crossing the massive causeway from the airport to the hotel I could see across the bay to the wall of haze shrouded high-rise buildings and skyscrapers that rose up from the slums seemingly right at their base. I soon realised that contrasts would be something that I would start to see a lot of in India. I made it to the hotel, got a few hours sleep and got my bearings around the hotel before preparing for the first meeting in the morning.

JSW were the first meeting we would have. One of India’s big conglomerates that seem to do it all. Their office was an impressive building with each floor hosting a different section of the business, a nice visual reminder of how many sectors they are involved in. This was followed by Newen Systems which took place in a Starbucks which although not my first choice, even for coffee, did have good air conditioning.

My route courtesy of Google Maps

Mumbai was described to me as the New York of India, a city that never sleeps and has been building up rather than out due to similar island based constrains. It was true that even compared to the other very busy areas I visited – Mumbai felt like it was in a rush. Everyone in a hurry with the narrow streets between the massive buildings seemingly funnelling it all together. On top of this, every spare bit of pavement was filled with a potted plant which meant that walking on the road was normal while also allowing the whole city a slightly wild garden quality with beautiful flowering pants and general greenery in a massive selection of plant pots.

This was continued in Pune, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi with a great deal of effort clearly going into the watering of these plants. The later cities had in addition to this the brilliant Banyan tree, the national tree of India. The cutting down or moving of these trees is forbidden and so they are abundant and not always in the most convenient location. Sometimes left to grow up straight out of the road as a natural bollard or filling the whole pavement so that you have no choice but to walk on the road. The end result is that many streets have a leafy, airy feel even with the knowledge that the air quality may not line up with that image.

We left Mumbai and took a car to Pune. This was quite an exciting journey as we climbed away from the coast weaving in and out of the colourfully pained trucks as they struggled up the hills. In Pune we had two in person meetings the first with CES who do a lot of work bringing together the energy storage market data for India. The second was with NTPC who are one of India’s leading power producers and clearly an interesting stakeholder to talk to regarding where they see the storage market going and how that might happen.

EV Taxi in Delhi

From Pune I flew up to Jaipur, squeezing in a quick trip to the Taj Mahal on route to Delhi. Nothing short of amazing, especially with your engineering hat on.

Arriving in Delhi it was obvious that it was quite a different city from others I had visited. While massive and boasting many of the recognised big names on their proportionally large shiny buildings it wasn’t packed together quite like Mumbai. The first item of the week was a British High Commission event for Offshore Wind that also happened to have a lot of energy storage interested attendees.

TATA Power was next, the massive conglomerate famous for their steel plants are also involved in both thermal and renewable power generation and as such have an inherent interest in energy storage solutions. This was followed by a visit to SunSource Energy, a PV and storage project developer with insights on the current market and where it’s heading. ReNew Power were my second last in person meeting who are India’s largest independent power producer.

The final visit was to Amplus, another large independent power producer with their finger on the pulse as to where the energy storage market will develop and what it’s likely to look like.

What we were learning from all of these conversations with those at the decision-making level was that there were indeed going to be huge opportunities in the Indian market. The energy storage market is set to scale up in the next decade with India aiming to integrate an additional 400 GW of renewable energy generation capacity by 2030 on top of the 100 GW currently installed. There was no doubt that energy storage would be required if it is to be a successful integration.

The question of how much storage starts to become a little irrelevant when looking at the scale of the problem with “a lot” being a sufficient answer in most circumstances. The facts were that several of the renewable energy independent power producers expressed an interest in bidding for the upcoming 3GWh NTPC tender and also in providing storage solutions for their own captive consumption or their commercial and industrial consumers.

With the clear requirement for energy storage solutions just around the corner several of the companies that we spoke to indicated interest in a Gravitricity pilot plant in India. Several stakeholders that we spoke to were willing to share data on solar and battery costs and case studies of solar and load profiles, with the aim to determine the viability in the Indian market. From a technical perspective almost all stakeholders were aware of gravity based energy storage and are actively considering alternatives to battery energy storage for long term energy storage projects and interested to know more about the technical details of MWh range projects.

Regarding the regulatory landscape of energy storage in India, it is noted that inclusion of ESS in the national energy policy will benefit generating companies, distribution companies, grid operators, and other players in the electricity value chain. Several steps have been taken by the Indian government, for example, inclusion of energy storage under infrastructure and issuing the CERC (Ancillary Services) 2022 regulations that include energy storage to participate in the ancillary service markets, are in the right direction. Clarity is still needed on formalising and bringing in regulations for issues like double-charging, subsidies, targets and mandates and ownership models but moving in the right direction.

A Thale example, there were many.

It would almost be rude to not to mention the food when talking about a trip to India. Another bright and colourful part of the country. It is no secret but still you can’t help but be amazed when you first sit down to a meal and look at the range of dishes that you are about to sample. Pleasingly the flavours are even more varied than the colours and of course there is the chilli. Although I never had my head blown off there was rarely an opportunity missed to put chilli in things. Even some drinks were hot, which was fine while you were thinking about it on the first couple of mouthfuls, but could really catch you off guard when you’d been lulled back into the false cooling-fruit-juice sense of security.

Thale became a go to order for me which essentially gets you an assortment of curries, rice and a sweet all served in little pots packed onto a tray with a bread in the middle. Veg or non-veg are your options which saves having to choose just one curry from the massive list – it would be a shame to only try one.

Masala Chai

Masala chai became my go to drink when offered but it was interesting not just because it was delicious but also sometimes the way it was served. I first found this when stopping at a roadside canteen where it was served in what I would describe as a miniature plant pot.

Thankfully there was no hole in the bottom but it was indeed a small clay pot that upon finishing your tea was crushed down with all the others from the day and turned into the cups for the next day. Not a new thing apparently but definitely a different take on recycling.