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Greening India's Grid: Working in Renewables

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India’s leaders have promised big things when it comes to future wind and solar energy. A new U.S. study details how that Indian grid would function if they achieve it.

“Greening the Grid: Pathways to Integrate 175 GW of Renewable Energy into India’s Electric Grid” makes the case that not only can the continent reach those goals, but it will have the transmission and generation smoothing capacity to handle it. This includes using new, more efficient coal-fired power but retiring one fifth—or about 46 GW—of the current fleet.

“That’s taking out the plants that already weren’t going to be used much,” said Jaquelin Cochran, the study’s research director from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in an interview with Electric Light & Power. “We took out capacity, but not much actual generation.”

The report does not deal with how India gets there politically or infrastructurally, but simply looks ahead at what 2022 would look like with 100 GW of new solar, 60 GW of wind and other renewable mixes on the vast transmission and distribution  network. The use of zero-cost fuel would likely reduce requirements for coal and gas by 20 and 32 percent, respectively, and emissions would fall by 21 percent of 280 million metric tons.

India’s leaders already are focusing their attention on the regulatory changes that need to be made over the next five years, Cochran noted. They are looking into improved forecasting and incentives, among other challenges.

“The regulatory commission is looking at overall market design (including) rules that will affect trade and transmission rates,” she added.

The study’s core scenario concluded that power system balancing with 100 GW of solar and 60 GW of wind is achievable using the Indian grid’s 15-minute operational timescales and minimal curtailment. Newer coal-fired generation would run low during the days and ramp up sufficiently in the evenings.

The big play in this scenario was in the southern region of India which is home to the best wind and solar capacity nationally, Cochran pointed out. More of that daytime renewable power will need to be exported in real time, much of it to India’s western states.

“Without the growth of renewable energy, the southern region is a ready importer,” the report reads. “But under the 100 GW solar-60 GW wind scenario, the major change to flows occurs between the west and southern regions, causing more bidirectional flows than in the No New RE case.

“Overall, the total energy moving around the country decreases because certain states and regions are more self-sufficient in their generation supply with the addition of RE,” according to the report’s executive summary.

The theoretical findings from the study may not give energy storage firms much cause of celebration, but developers of tools such as inverters and voltage regulation can take heart on what could be happening in India, Cochran noted.

“It also shows that India can maintain its commitmen” to the rest of the world on climate change, she said. “This shows that they are on a pathway that would do that.”

Those working with NREL on the India report included the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Power System Operation Corp. and the United States Agency for International Development.

This latest “Greening the Grid” initiative was also supported by USAID and the government of India’s Ministry of Power.

 

 

 

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