Power talk

More 'power' to the masses

Access to reliable power should be a fundamental right for every human being. The challenge now lies in translating this into reality

Imagine life without electricity. Tough, right? In our modern, efficient and urbanised life, where we take the running of all our modern household and personal gadgets for granted, electricity is something we believe to be as ubiquitous as the air we breathe.

Yet, there are millions of rural households (over a quarter of India's population, actually) that have for long accepted a life without power. For them, sundown truly means the end of a day. As the darkness brings most activities to a standstill, they wind down to live for the next morning with a quiet sense of acceptance about their fate.

Access to electricity transforms societies and delivers a long-lasting social impact. From literacy to economic upliftment, quality healthcare and a sustained lifestyle, reliable power sets forth a host of opportunities for development.

Fortunately, over the years, this stark reality did witness a change for the better. On 28th April 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally declared every village in India as electrified, terming it a historic day in India's development journey. It has indeed been a tremendous accomplishment, given India's population, geographical spread and landscape diversity. While most villages have been deemed 'electrified', millions of people still don't have access to reliable power.

2 Billion, 2 Degrees: The World by Numbers

Most parts of the globe have access to electricity. But we can't overlook the glaring fact that approximately 2 billion people in the world either lack or have partial access to electricity. And this population is concentrated majorly in the three regions of Africa, the Indian subcontinent and South America. I am of the firm view that this population will get connected to the grid sooner or later. When they get connected and power becomes affordable, we will see a nonlinear growth in the demand for power.

However, if we service this demand from the existing generation portfolio, we will be just burning more fossil fuel; adding more greenhouse gases to the environment. This will push us back in our fight to "limit the rise in global average temperature to well below 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels".

Bringing more renewables into the generation portfolio and connecting them to the grid will help us ensure access to affordable power and arrest the rise in global temperature. Adding renewables as part of the generation mix is progressing at a comfortable pace. However, there is a lack of evacuation infrastructure to connect renewables to the grid. If we take a closer look, we realise that energy generation is no longer a problem, but its transportation is.

What's the solution? Time to think differently

Plan for non-linear growth: Let me explain. At present the basis for demand projection is flawed. It is based on historical rise in demand for power, which has never been anything more than steady. With additional 2 billion people getting access to power in times to come, and many industries switching from fossil fuel to renewables (transportation to start with), the hunger for power globally is going to experience a hockey stick growth. Therefore, power planners need to think out of the box, to create a transmission and distribution infrastructure that can support this exponential growth. This plan should also factor in connecting all the upcoming renewable energy generation sources to the grid sustainably.

Grid-Connected Storage and Intercontinental Grids to addressing intermittency: Even when we will be able to connect the renewables to the grid, the problem of intermittency will need to be solved to make renewables the ubiquitous source of energy. A way to solve this is by adopting grid scale storage. And an alternative solution is interconnecting the grids globally. This will help us leverage renewables to the fullest for all our energy demands, and at the same time ensure minimal damage to the environment and arrest the temperature rise.

Focus on Smart Grid: Although there have been several advancements in the power grid globally, antiquated engineering and outdated transmission lines remain to be the major causes of power outages. Moreover, with recurring cyberattacks and catastrophic weather calamities on the rise, resilience of power grid is the need of the hour. Power flow in the grid is no longer unidirectional. Sources like the renewables, Microgrids, EVs etc., increase the complexity in the grid. Adopting technology is the only way to stabilise the grid and make it smart. Incorporation of technologies like Blockchain, AI, IoT and digital communication is the need of the hour. Also, the adoption of autonomous energy-efficient power plants into the grid are among some of the immediate measures to ensure a resilient power grid.

The clock is ticking and it's high time we focus on the issues of access to reliable power while taking the best measures to arrest climate change. Universal, reliable and affordable electrification is as much a fundamental right as is its access. These together will ensure that no village globally ever suffers the scourge of darkness and become true participants in the global progress.

The writer is Group Chief Executive Officer of Sterlite Power