Power Roundtable – New technologies, new economies, need for disruptive thinking

Power roundtable – new technologies, new economies, need for disruptive thinking

The Global Business Summit (GBS), is a flagship initiative of the Times Group that envisions to bring together visionaries, thought leaders, heads of state, policy makers, academicians and corporate heads cohesively driving a singular agenda for Scripting Economic Change, by connecting the building blocks of Economics for India and the Globe. The fourth edition of the Global Business Summit was held on 23rd & 24th Feb 2018. The theme for the 2018 edition was ‘New Economy, New Rules’. The 2018 edition of GBS unfolded the myriad contours of the world economy and defined the factors that will lead the Indian economy to newer heights by way of carefully crafted plenary session and multiple parallel sessions & round table discussions that form part of the GBS experience.

The power roundtable discussion took place in one of the parallel sessions at Global Business Summit. The panellists  for this session were, Dr Arun Verma, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Power, GOI, Dr Kannan Tinnium, Former Technology Leader, GE Research, Dr Rishi Bhatnagar, President Aeris Communications, Chairman, IoT Panel India, Mustafa Wajid, CEO, Meher Group and Aditya Sood, CEO, IMP Power.

The panel talking points for the panel were as follows:

  1. The general overview of technologies for tomorrow, drawing up of a well-defined roadmap for setting up target and demand forecast of what needs to be achieved.
  2. The need to ensure accountability that whatever we are set out to achieve is followed through.
  3. The need to work on well-defined policies which are not changed overnight and are exporter friendly.
  4. Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Analysis, Storage Systems, Merger of Electricals and Electronics – technologies of tomorrow and how this can be India’s big Turnaround for the Electricity Sector & Economy.
  5. Electricity the Lifeline of today’s Economy & the need to take forward the leap in a planned and systematic manner.

The talk was introduced by Baroness Sandip Verma, Chairman of European External Affair Committee and the former Minister of Energy and Climate of the UK. Given her various roles and exposure across the board, the Baroness stated that it would be wise for countries to start investing in a range of energy sources, to prevent supplies from running short, rather than restricting themselves for whatever reasons. She progressed to provide statistics, explaining how the UK is in urgent need of looking at opportunities in the renewable energy sector, as currently 80% of their energy is obtained from traditional sources like fossil fuels and nuclear sources. She explained that the evolution of non-conventional sources has been able to happen in the UK because strong, regulatory policies have been enforced by the Government, allowing new technology to be able to perform on the same platform as traditional sectors, without being outpriced.

Later in her talk, Baroness Verma mentions the Energy Act of 2012/2013, which she talked through the House of Lords. The Act is a legislative framework designed to encourage low, affordable carbon energy generation and ensure security of supply. It was passed to make certain that UK will remain able to generate energy to meet an ever-increasing demand, and attract a £110 billion investment, required to replace the current generating capacity and upgrade the grid by 2020. The UK is looking at investing heavily in new technologies to remove diesel cars of the road, and replace them with electrical vehicles, benefitting the limited energy supply and environment, thereby allowing people to live in a cleaner technological world.

Baroness Verma spoke about the Green Investment Bank which was given the role of supporting new technologies within the ‘clean’ sector and get funding, disclosing that gaining access to finance for new technologies is usually the biggest issue faced. The Green Investment Bank was established in 2012, in hope to accelerate the UK’s transition to a more eco-friendly economy, as the country had obligations under international agreements and national law to switch to a ‘greener’ approach. The government identified market failures affecting the flow of investment into the sector, and decided that an intervention was needed to address these failures and increase investment. She further spoke about the Paris Agreement, saying if countries across the globe who signed the agreement are serious about meeting commitments made, then they need to make sure that finance is available at a reasonable cost without which the technological advancements would stop. The Paris agreement has efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to help developing countries to also do so. It is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), planned to commence in the year 2020.

Another aspect which Baroness Verma touched upon was the ‘Smart Metering Programme.’ These are energy consumption trackers for consumers, providing near real time information on consumption, helping them manage energy use and reduce emissions. They communicate directly with energy suppliers and play an important part in Britain’s transition to a low-carbon economy and help meet some of the long-term challenges faced in ensuring a secure and sustainable energy supply. She explained how during the implementation of this program, they not just looked at ‘What is the cost to the customer?’ but also addressed the empowerment consumers receive by having these devices in their own homes, allowing them to reap the benefits directly. Going on to emphasise that when countries collaborate, there is a greater identification of the real need for greater usage/production of energy and being able to buy energy, and that it needs to be ensured that the cost does not become the major barrier for those who need the energy supply the most.

She expressed that UK is determined to have the their air pollution issues addressed, and over recent months has noticed that India is facing similar problems, which are predominantly from fossil fuels being used at an alarming rate. She bought to light that the population of both countries is growing which means that even more energy will eventually be required therefore it is urgent to find modes of being able to produce it sustainably. She also discussed the Climate Change Act (2008) in the UK, which mandates the reduction of fossil fuel usage and the switch to more renewable forms. The renewable energy sector is UK has grown to a stage where solar energy is not subsidised at all in the UK, and in recent months the energy produced from renewable sources is on par with energy produced by means of fossil fuels. To her, this demonstrates that with leadership from the government, you can achieve what is required for the need s of not only your own country, but what is also considered a global issue; cutting carbon emissions.

Baroness Verma moved on to speak about the importance of the population’s skillset, and that the skills required now are very different to a decade ago. She explained how skills have to be aligned with digitalization, new technology and artificial intelligence, and that it is vital to be able to transfer todays skills into skills required in the future.

To summarise her speech, she highlighted that if we look into the future, disruptive technologies are there within the energy sector to help lift the GDP’s of economies, and even though it is an unpredictable sector, maintaining constant updates is key. She encouraged people in leadership roles to see the sector as one that has the greatest growth in job creation.

The next speaker was Mr Vijay Karia, Chairman and Managing Director of Ravin Group of Companies. He first expressed his happiness when he mentioned that the Finance Minister has spoken about creating a council of State and Central ministers for the power sector, an idea that he feels can further renewable development. He moved on to explain that he prefers the term collaborative federalism, as opposed to competitive federalism, stating that he feels that competition can lead to one undercutting another, which isn’t very progressive. He added that collaboration in the power sector can lead to huge technological advances, but the main problem that India faces is there are many different states, each with different specifications, with different technologies and ideologies. He believes having a council will seriously and positively impact the sector. He mentions his discussions with the Secretory of the ministry of external affairs, and how talked about also possibly setting up a technology council.

On the lines of Baroness Verma’s thinking, he also suggested that there has been a lot of disruption from the industry perspective, especially on the technology side, for example artificial intelligence, energy storing systems, E-transportation etc. and to support this, there have been multiple sources of finance which have been made available. In the next 5-7 years he believes that India will be leading the world in terms of technology and energy generation. He also emphasised on the importance in the creation of infrastructure and coupling this with technology, which he has faith will bring the country as a whole, to one level of consumption of electricity which today is the lowest in the world.

The first panellist talks about the future development that will happen in the renewable energy sector, stating that the target is 1 lakh MW from both the renewable and conventional energy was set in the 12th five year plan. He talked about the Electricity Act 2003, enacted to transform the country’s power sector. The Act covers laws relating to the generation, transmission, distribution, trading and use of electricity, helping promote competition and the protection of customer interests and supply of electricity to all areas. This ensures transparent policies regarding subsidies and rationalisation of electricity tariffs. He progressed to address his belief that in order for the efficiency of old thermal plants to increase, technology needs to be considered. He further suggested that intra-state transfer is a matter of concern and technology should be used effectively there. He goes on to say that overall energy efficiency in India has been increased, e.g. through street lights and LED distribution. Energy trading is a concept that he believes will continue to benefit India, by exporting energy to other countries such as Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and recently Myanmar.

He further spoke about India’s first 1200 kV HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) Transformer, manufactured by BHEL, has been commissioned at the 1200 kV National Test Station at Bina (MP) on January 27,1 200 kV System is the highest rated transmission voltage in the world and very few organisations in the world have this technology. BHEL is the first Indian organisation to have developed the technology with in-house efforts. With the commissioning of the 1200 kV Transmission system, India joins the elite group of countries like Russia, Japan and China who have commissioned such High Voltage Transmission systems

The second panellist claimed that solar tariffs have come down to Rs. 2.44/unit thanks to disruptive thinking, and in 4 years GOI plan is to add 100 GW of solar and wind energy. In addition, the storage in the solar sector has come down, and the investment in storage cost has decreased considerably. He added that a transition is taking place from conventional to renewable energy and that the capacity of renewable energy is increasing, and renewable energy share in the total energy basket will only increase in time. He mentions that there is huge offshore capacity in renewable energy, and India has capacity of 135 GW of solar and wind power generation just in the state of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Earlier the costs were very high and there were less investors, but now that is also improving for India. He finished by covering the advantages of roof top solar over conventional ones, including its low gestation period, which is very high in hydro energy but comparatively less in thermal.

The 3rd panellist gives us an example of capacity of solar power. Rajasthan desert of about 125sqkms can generate as much electricity as the country currently consumes, therefore Potential is very high. He stated that solar technology and storage, has the potential of hundreds of billions of dollars. Funds are flowing from all direction such as masala bonds from domestic and foreign markets, banks. The 4th panellist touched on the topic of distribution, and that last mile connectivity needed for electricity to reach all. He emphasised how today a consumer can generate and supply their own energy, making them ‘prosumers.’ Technology has brought huge changes into this field. Data, history and management can all be done through the phone these days. Before these technological advancements, there were large electrical grids, where staff used to stay and supervise. This is no longer the case, as grids are now technology driven. Addressing the new skillsets that will be required, the speaker states that earlier only electrical engineers were required, however now electrical, IT and communication all need to be combined as these are all of vital importance these days. Another panellist paid more attention to the technological side of the matter, and goes on to explain that in renewable energy, the maximum generation is received from an installation, which allows flexibility. He also suggests how collaborating solar and wind energy may be useful, so that solar can work at day and wind can work at night. He proceeds to share his thoughts about preventing blackouts, and how it is a major challenge. He suggests installing Wide Area Measurement systems in sub stations, to give a wide area and a different measurement style compared to the conventional one rate, which it captures, helping to minimise blackouts.

Lastly, the 5th panellist ended the discussion with the key issue of customer demand, regarding the self-feeding network, artificial Intelligence and demand predictions. He believes that revenue generation can occur in ‘Smart Metering’ where there are a lot of devices all connected to one platform. He says the system is mobile and can be shipped to the most interior of places providing connectivity options to customers. Going further into future trends in new technology, he discussed increasing operational efficiency in solar, for example by attaching censors in panels to pin point the panel that is not working efficiently. This is instrumental in reducing the cost of solar from Rs.17/unit to Rs.2.4/unit. These technological advances will give India an upper-hand and help create jobs, in turn growing the economy and reducing income inequality.

The underlying thoughts across the speakers and panellists were focussed on the use of technology for more efficient production and distribution coupled with availability of funding for the incubation of such technology. It has been widely understood that the rate at which technology is evolving is more rapid than ever leading to an ever expanding horizon for its use. Other underlying topics of interest which cropped up during the discussion and which are of significant relevance include effective policy measures, making available capital at a reasonable rate and the need for reduction in fossil fuel usage. The panel highlighted the need to look at renewable energy as an alternative to all polluting fuel sources and highlighted the growth which has been seen in the use of solar energy over the last decade. Essentially, all members of the panel believe that it is possible to achieve the goal of widespread power availability coupled with efficient use and reduced pollution in the years that come, provided we support the relevant technology and thought process today. The panel’s views point very clearly at the requirement of a sustained change in mind-set which is required as we view technology and energy in today’s day and age and a focus towards cleaner energy solutions urgently.

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