Fulbright US-India Series: Rahul Walawalkar | President of India Energy Storage Alliance

Dr. Rahul Walawakar is currently the Executive Director and the President of the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA), which is a premier alliance that focuses on the advancement of energy storage and e-mobility technologies in India. In this conversation, we will explore the initiatives the Indian government has undertaken to advance energy storage capacity in India, as well as the potential for energy storage solutions in the near and long term.

Topics covered in this podcast:
  • Mr. Walawalkar's journey into renewable energy and energy storage and the reason behind launching the India Energy Storage Alliance
  • How did Mr. Walawalkar decide to focus on energy storage, which was a very marginal concept for India and the world back in 2004
  • How has the Indian energy storage market developed over the past decade?
  • What is the current state of energy storage projects in India
  • Will India implement large scale energy storage projects in the next few years?
  • What would Dr. Walawakar say to potential US financing entities interested in the energy storage market of India?


00:06 Karan Takhar
Hello everyone, this is Karan Takhar, and welcome to the Zenergy podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix. For this Fullbright podcast series, I sought to investigate the enabling factors and potential of India's global leadership in renewable energy, with the focus on solar. This Fulbright series is broken down into Four Seasons. This season, we look at the next set of key technologies and regulations integral for unlocking India's continued renewable energy success at the system level. It includes conversations with leading regulators and thought leaders across energy management storage, transmission, and distribution. In this episode, I will be speaking with Rahul Walawalker who's the executive director and president of the India Energy Storage Alliance. Dr. Wallawalker founded the Alliance in 2012, which is a Premier Alliance that focuses on the advancement of energy storage. And E mobility technologies in India, in our conversation, we discuss initiatives the Government of India has undertaken to advance energy storage solutions, as well as what the future of energy storage looks like in India. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Doctor Walawaler. Thank you, Mr. Walawalker, so much for joining us and I really appreciate this opportunity. And so for those of us listening, can you please tell us a little bit about your own journey in terms of like how you started to get involved in renewable energy, in energy storage, and then how, What ended up making you decide to launch the India Energy Storage Alliance?

02:27 Rahul Walawalker
Sure. So it's really nice to talk to you and to do everyone's background. I'm doctor Rahul Walawalker. I'm an electrical engineer by training. So I've been always interested in energy I started my career in it with Tata Infotech, where I joined as a white OK programmer, but because of my interest in energy ended up finding a way to get Tata Infotech involved in energy, I started in our energy management program at the company and then, later on, ended up developing software called Equal Human India's first energy-efficient lighting design software. And after developing that, I ended up also running a small group called IGEMS Idea Generation Evaluation and maintained System where I started focusing on innovation and looking at institutionalizing innovation. But this was around 2000, 2001. But that time I started feeling that I wanted to get deeper knowledge about the energy sector so went to the US, and did my master's in energy management. And then continued working in the US 1st one year on the Energy management side and then joined customized energy solutions in 2004 to start demand restaurant practice for the company. We're basically integrating energy management into electricity markets. I was lucky that I said the institute approached us for looking into energy storage in electricity markets. So that's how actually I started getting exposed to energy storage. It was a chance interaction with Mr. Lead Energy management program for Electric Power Research Institute, but since then I ended up doing my Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University focusing on the economics of energy storage and demand response technologies in the electricity market and once I finish my Ph.D., I created a promoting technology practice at customized energy solutions to help companies who are developing next-generation solutions to understand how these technologies would fit into electricity markets, water the market rules or regulations they need to be aware of while designing and developing products and services related to energy storage and other emerging technologies, including microgrid, CS, and Smart grid, and since then it has been a continuous journey. In 2010, I decided to move back to India, but before doing that I had also I was selected to be on board of directors of the US Energy Storage Association. When I came to India, I realized that there was nothing existed similar to the USA in India and the awareness about energy storage and some of the related developments were at a very primitive level amongst policymakers in India, they were thinking about energy storage only in form of Pompidou and lead acid batteries and we are not at all thinking about how energy storage can be a game changer for the grid and based on all the work which we had done in the US. I was convinced that India can actually meet Prague by using concepts like energy storage and microgrids in terms of the grid expansion because otherwise there was a lot of focus just on building more generations But I felt that India had a unique opportunity where unlike following developed countries in terms of overbuilding the grid and then trying to figure out how to optimize it. India could actually build a more optimized grid using distributed energy resources, renewable energy storage, and demand response technology. So that's where in 2012, we created India Energy Storage Alliance to try to bring awareness about these technologies and their applications in India.

05:43 Karan Takhar
I see. Interesting, and to just get a picture of the timeline. So when did you finish your Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon?

05:53 Rahul Walawalker
Yeah, so I was at CMU between 2004 to 2008, so I did my Ph.D. It was supported by customized energy solutions, so I was lucky that one of the few I think Ph.D. is where you can end up building your career based on research during Ph.D so. 

06:07 Karan Takhar
Yeah, that's interesting, I feel like, I feel like during that time energy storage was like a very marginal concept like in 2004 where people discussing energy storage or how like how did you decide to really focus and understand that would be the next big important technology, or did you not even think that you just thought it was interesting and then you decided to, OK, let me learn about this more, and then slowly it just started to become more mainstream.

06:38 Rahul Walawalker
Yeah. So I would say I was lucky enough to maybe get exposed to this technology just at the right time and also the energy storage association and particularly some of the founding members of PSA like Jim Pramod Kulkarni and others, played a very key role in shaping up my interest in this area, although in 2004 when I started I was just getting. We started in this and most of these people had been working on energy storage for more than a decade at that time, some of them even more than two decades.

07:07Karan Takhar
I See.

07:08 Rahul Walawalker
But they are created as the USA, as a very nice culture where they were able to, they saw actually that I was bringing in a new perspective related to specially electricity markets and how storage can actually be scaled up. And they try to encourage that and that's how it started getting developed. And I was fortunate that the work which I was able to do at customized energy solutions as well as at Carnegie Mellon University, that actually ended up influencing some of the policy changes which were instrumental in opening up US energy markets. So, for example, one of the key markers for US electricity market has been perk order 755 where the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opened up ancillary service markets to energy storage and created pay for performance mechanism, which could incentivize better payments for better-performing technologies. It was not done just for energy storage technology, but by making the technology-neutral policy they were able to open up a complete market. My Ph.D work was one of the cases referred Wilfork was drafting these regulations now, in fact, I was also we were invited to, as one of the experts, to speak at the technical components before these rules were finalized Similarly, some of the work I did on modeling demand response technologies was also instrumental in creating market tools for economic demand response, where not just energy storage, but even other energy management technologies behind the meter on the customer commercials started hitting opportunities to get integrated with electricity markets. So from that point of view, I think I was fortunate that my timing was right, and also with the kind of friends and colleagues I had, I was able to learn from them and try to add a new perspective, which ended up becoming a key game changer in the industry.

09:00 Karan Takhar
I see. Wow, that's amazing. And so since the time you started the India Energy Storage Alliance to today and how is the, how would you say India has come along in turn kind of like developing stationary storage? I know there was a recent project 10 MW project by Tata in Delhi and apparently, that looked like it went successful. So how have you, how do you think that the market is developed over these past few years and where do you see it going?

09:32 Rahul Walawalker
Sure. So, again the way I see it's a glass half full. There are lot of positive things which have happened in last 7-8 years with not just contribution of India Energy Storage alliance but number of other our key stakeholders, including now close to 100 ISA member companies and other interested participants, but still, we could have done much better in India. Unfortunately, in India, the way the policy framework works, we have a number of bureaucrats who end up taking key decisions, but they don't. I have a career path in the energy sector, so most of the ministries have these very bright bureaucrats who end up coming in for a 1 year, 2 year, or 3 years change and they have to learn about the industry and try to take some of the influential decisions which could be game changers. And we had few people like Doctor Satri, who was a seminary secretary back in 20, fourteen, and 13,14, where he was one such visionary. And he started on the path of creating energy Storage Standing committee at Emory because he had seen back in 2013 that for India to scale up renewable energy we are going to need large-scale energy storage. Unfortunately, after he got transferred, we had two or three bureaucrats who could not spend enough time given all the challenges which were happening, including ramping up solar from 2200 GW another. So then I don't blame them. I think we had enough other challenges and opportunities in hand, but if we had more people like Doctor Satish. Each India could have actually leapfrog some of these other countries, like for example the Tesla project 100 MW project in Australia that could have very well been built in India in 2017-18. There were a number of pilot projects which were announced by MINARI between 2015 to 2019. Now, unfortunately, most of those projects have not got commissioned, so that is the biggest regret I have Similarly in terms of the ancillary services since 2014 Central City Regulatory Commission has been looking at starting ancillary services and opening it up to energy storage and other non-generation technologies. And this was supposed to have started from June 2017 again, unfortunately, with some of the changes happening at CRC as well as some other issues that they have not yet implemented it there are very strong lobbies with conventional technologies and it happens everywhere in the world. So India is not unique. We want to hold on to their terms. So there is a very strong moral lobby. To just restrict all these services just to thermal storage or there are advocacy groups who feel that energy storage is going to make renewable energy more costly, so they want to just park on the all the costs to just grid and consumers and not get stuck attached to renewables. So unfortunately some of these are short-sighted for activities the way we have been want to educate these frequencies that it's not about the issue of making renewables more costly, but it is actually making renewables dispatchable and more integrated in the grid the way we see it is without energy storage playing a key role, there is no way India can actually get to 175 giga of renewable integration later side the 300 or 400 GB target now announced by memory, so we have been taking lot of positive steps there there there are number of regulatory and policy corrections which CRC and C has done where technically the issues. Getting solved. So now actually we are now poised for rapid expansion of these. But in hindsight we could have been much, much ahead of this path had we had a couple of policymakers who could have taken little bit progressive view and taken ownership of this rather than just delaying decisions every time any questions.

13:19 Karan Takhar
Yeah, I understand and so, with regards to actual projects being implemented, is India currently implementing larger stationary projects?

13:30 Rahul Walawalker
So the 10 MW project which is done by AES at Tata Power Substation is the first example of large-scale project. There have been a number of projects between 400-meter kilowatt to maybe 5 megawatts, which have been done for the technology demonstration projects, there are almost a dozen such projects which have been done by different queues or utilities, including Power Grid Corporation in last 4-5 years. But large-scale element is still pending. Solar Energy Corporation is taking lead in this they are announcing series of hybrid tenders. The post tender with 200 megabits. Storage has already been selected with Green Co and Renew, which is a member winning the bid, so this is the start.

14:07 Karan Takhar
It's all good.

14:14 Rahul Walawalker
I think lot more needs to happen. On the other end side, we are seeing a very strong interest from about advanced energy storage in commercial industrial customer segments. So already telecom sector has shown away and India has deployed more than 3 GW of advanced energy storage technique these in telecom towers. So that's something which sometimes people following these policies and regulations from outside miss out. They just think oh, India had just done a 10 MW single project and it's not a big market, but particularly given the challenges on the distribution side and on the customer side, there are large deployment has already happened, and in fact, the potential for behind-the-meter storage in India is still untapped India each year spends more than five $6 billion on just putting in lead acid batteries as a backup. And with most of these advanced techniques, now customers who can integrate renewables or customers who can do to demand side management, optimize their contract demand, do some peak shaving and they can actually start seeing a lot of opportunities, particularly for any customers who is still consuming more than 500 hours of diesel generators each year. So there are actually a lot of opportunities on the behind-the-meter scene. The only impediment there was a lot of financing mechanism and ISC were working very closely with various lending institutions including World Bank, where ISC is part of the World Bank's Energy Storage Partnership. We are also part of the climate Impact fund. Their seven multinational impact investment banks are looking into energy storage as one of the next key area, so with these type of initiatives, we think in next six months the financing piece will get addressed, and once that happens. So you are going to see floodgates open for large-scale deployment of energy storage behind the meter. And if Saiki gets these projects right, then we will also see simultaneously these large hundreds of MW or even giga at our scale storage projects coming up as India scales from around 75 GB of renewables to 170 GW renewables in next 2-3 years.

16:23 Karan Takhar
So you're very hopeful that India will be a great market for energy storage over the next few years and even over the next many years.

16:31 Rahul Walawalker
Yeah. So I don't have any doubt about India being the large market again number of people doubted us when we created ISA and felt that India was too small market to create such effort. But now, in fact, there is no argument, at least I haven't met anyone in last two years who doubts India potential at the market now actually, in fact, in 2017 with the discussion with the Leadership Council, we have actually upgraded our vision there rather than just focusing ISA to create awareness about these technologies we are now set up a vision of making India global up for R&D, manufacturing, and adoption of advanced energy storage and immobility technologies. So that's area where we think right now there is a question mark because India in last 2-3 decades has had a number of times where India has adopted various technology transitions and have become amongst like top three global markets. But India has not been able to build any sustainable manufacturing around that. At best, India had just done assembling of some of these technologies like laptops or cell phones, or solar panels where the code value addition is coming from China or other countries. Now we think that in case of advanced energy storage technology. The around the world, this transition had just started maybe three or four years back, so although we are maybe a couple of years late. But there is still a good time for India to catch up. And especially now, some of the developed countries like US and Europe are also trying to start building local manufacturing, especially considering some of the learnings from the COVID-19 where we are realizing that just relying on any one country for procuring key component, which could be essential for both your grade as well as your mobility industry, is going to be a challenge. So that's where I feel that with the kind of effort which now media will be taking under the advanced chemistry cell manufacturing mission that could be game changer for India and in fact since 2016-17 we have been advocating for this along with that, we are also working very closely with Department of Science and Technology for developing R&D road map where we are not just manufacturing currently available commercial technologies. But we also build a strong ecosystem for industry-academic collaboration where we can actually be instrumental in the next-generation energy storage technologies which get commercialized because we have documented more than 50 scientists and researchers of Indian origin which over the years have left India and have gone to US or Europe or Singapore and built a successful career in this area. We think that now times are right where the next generation entrepreneur or researchers, as well as maybe some of the establishment approvals and researchers who want to return back to India or contribute to this area India, can collaborate with the Indian industry and try to make a business in India. So as ISA we are working very closely in that area. We have been partnering with some of the other associations like I'd electrical, Electronic Manufacturers Association to help companies in diversifying because it is not about just setting up a cell manufacturing plant ultimately. For building industry, you lot of components, and subcomponents which needs to be manufactured. So we are taking a holistic view on both advanced energy storage and mobility as a ecosystem and working with the industry players so that we can have a strong manufacturing capability in India for this.

20:06 Karan Takhar
So with regards to the policy landscape in India, it's. So how is this developing in terms of like, are now the bureaucrats really moving on it and things like this, or is the policy framework being developed currently or?

20:22 Rahul Walawalker
Yeah. So the policy is always again policy in most of the cases are never, at Samsung rate. There are markets and other technologies are changing, so policy also has to keep on evolving yet. So that is going to be happening in related to energy storage and mobility as well, but it is adding in right direction in India electricity sector is a dual jurisdiction. So now we are also focusing at a state level because even if in US you have seen that, it's not that energy storage adoption is happening uniformly all over US. There are states like California or New York are taking lead in adoption of these technologies. So we also identified 6 Indian states and as I say, we have now a strong policy working group with participation from more than and 25 industry experts. So we are focusing on taking now this dialogue to the States and there is a great window of opportunity because since in next 2-3 years we are expecting more than three to $5 billion of investment happening on manufacturing states who take actually lead in creating right policy frameworks could actually end up attracting more investment and jobs in those states. So we think next 12 to 18 months we will be focusing more on the state because, at central government level, I think we have spent lot and lot of time and I think most of the policymakers are aware of what they need to do now. There may be some other compulsions where they are not able to act. So we'll keep on supporting them wherever they need help, but we will be also focusing our efforts at state levels for next 12 to 18 months.

21:57 Karan Takhar
Great, And my very last question. So as you know, I'm going to be showcasing this interview and to entities in the US most likely like banks or energy financing entities. So if you were to say one thing to organizations in the US who are interested in maybe coming in and helping develop the energy storage market in India, what would you say to them?

22:23 Rahul Walawalker
Sure. Well, I think from that point of view again now we are the customers, energy solutions are a company headquartered in US and.

22:30 Karan Takhar
yeah, true.

22:30 Rahul Walawalker
Most of the things which are done in India is based on the experience in US and taking learnings from US and customizing it for the Indian environment, so we are actually super excited about the US-India collaboration opportunities. There is a very strong government tie-up and alignment which is supporting this. But also on the private sector, US and India has a excellent relationship that there are lot of opportunities which are there. I know that there have been some concerns because of some of the issues. Rules with PPA cancellation or renegotiation, which has created some doubts about India the stable policy environment, but those issues have been addressed and are getting tackled by central government. So if you can be a little bit patient, I think the kind of opportunities which will be available in India are almost unmatched Sarkozy made our emerging technology practice globally, so I have been looking into more than 30-35 countries, so I would definitely say India as a market is amongst top three in the world and again depending on your interests and capabilities, particularly if there are financing entities. I think right now one of the biggest gaps in India is innovation and the financing side and some of the business models. So companies who are good at it, actually, they can enter into India. There are other India Energy storage alliance. We can help them find the partners' projects and others other missing pieces where they may need help and actually help them meet Prague in getting a good market share in India.

24:09 Karan Takhar
Great. Thank you so much for your time. Mr. Walwalker, thank you so much. Really appreciate this. I hope you enjoyed that episode and do check out the show notes For more information on my guest. See you next time.
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