Stimulating UK-India exchange on power grids and electric vehicles - George Day

Comment by George Day, Senior Policy Adviser – Markets, Policy, and Regulation, at Energy Systems Catapult. 

The pace of economic change in India is breathtaking. The world’s most populous country is now also its fastest growing large economy.

Our “Innovating for Transport and Energy Systems” (ITES) partnership, under the India-UK Net Zero virtual centre aims to help innovators in both UK and India to collaborate and share knowledge. It’s about promoting innovation and driving the net zero transition in this vast and fast developing market.

Last week we launched the ITES Knowledge Series of webinars, with our first webinar on how India’s power network companies (or ‘DISCOMs’) can enable rapid adoption of electric vehicles. Sally Taylor, Minister Counsellor from the British High Commission, opened the session highlighting how ITES initiative is bringing together research and innovation from the two countries.

India is already a superpower in cricket – but it also wants to be one in the global EV market. Rapid EV adoption in India will help achieve that, while also cutting emissions and improving air quality.

But India’s power grid already has big problems on its plate.  Progress in building renewables is fast, but many Indian DISCOMs have shockingly high power losses and chronic problems around financial sustainability. What needs to happen so that they can deliver the modern power networks to cope with rapid demand growth from EVs (potentially becoming the biggest peak load by 2030)?

As one 2018 study from Brookings India put it, “we are talking massive overhaul of distribution infrastructure to accommodate EVs, in an era where most electricity distribution companies are barely able to cover operational costs.”

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How can India's DISCOMS enable rapid EV adoption?

I set the context for the webinar by sharing some of the UK experience in designing the policy and regulatory framework for EV infrastructure development. The UK has taken a mainly market-led approach, with public intervention focused on areas which are difficult for the market to serve. There is also a heavy emphasis on developing smart charging and fitting EV charging into the wider development of electricity markets to unlock flexibility.

Professor Ashish Verma and his team from the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru then gave an excellent overview of the innovative new tools they have developed (through a previous Innovating for Clean Air project) to analyze EV charging demand patterns. The IISc Transport Systems Group have designed routines to optimize the planning and location of new charging points while taking account of network capacity.

Finally Anupum Vadehra from the Power Trading Corporation then talked through a fascinating case study of the impact of different EV charging demand market segments on the power grid in Delhi. Anupum emphasized the need for DISCOMs to develop new capabilities in load management and smart grids to cope with growing demands as EV uptake increases.

It was great to kick off this series of webinars and get a discussion going. Interaction sparks creativity and helps us all to join the dots and understand the bigger picture. There are clearly major differences between the UK and Indian energy challenges and their markets for EVs. But nonetheless there are many common themes too and a strong case for knowledge sharing around new innovations, business models and technologies in this space.

For me, with a bias towards thinking about policy design and regulation, I was also fascinated by the parallels in the electricity market design and infrastructure regulation challenges between these two markets. Ultimately, shaping markets through well designed policy and regulation will help both India and the UK build strong and competitive EV sectors, that are attractive to drivers and can deliver deep cuts in transport emissions.

Improving the performance of DISCOMS will be key in underpinning the ability to rapidly decarbonize transport in India. This involves developing innovative approaches to planning and connecting EV charging infrastructure, as well as innovations in technology, planning, regulation, tariff design and contracting arrangements.

A big agenda for future collaboration, I’m sure you will agree.

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