Interview: Panasonic India and the Evolution of the Worldwide Energy Storage Sector | Atul Arya, Head of Energy Systems, Panasonic India

As energy transition is on the advance worldwide, many important developments and problems concerning especially energy storage need to be thoroughly discussed. One of the most interesting markets for energy storage is India, as it faces unique challenges and grows exponentially every year. ees International Magazine spoke to Panasonic India’s Head of Energy Systems, Atul Arya, to learn more about the company’s contribution to ever changing markets and environmental impacts of different technologies.

Atul Arya,Head, Energy Systems, Panasonic India_web

Atul Arya, Head of Energy Systems, Panasonic India

ees International: Energy storage is very critical to the evolving energy transition which is to be dominated by clean energy generation from multiple sources that are distributed across the network. Consumers are also evolving to prosumers. How does Panasonic view the paradigm shift and how are they contributing to the exciting new phase in human history? 

The clean energy transition requires a co-evolution of innovation, investment, and deployment strategies for emerging energy storage technologies. A deeply decarbonized energy system research platform needs materials science advances in battery technology to overcome the intermittency challenges of wind and solar electricity. Simultaneously, policies designed to build market growth and innovation in battery storage may complement cost reductions across a suite of clean energy technologies.

Battery storage is the new energy technology today. Lithium-Ion batteries have mitigated the need for diesel generators to a very large extent. It has made it possible to completely remove the diesel generator or minimize the need to an extent where the DGs are only an emergency backup when there is no power for a very long duration. Panasonic has been working in the Energy Storage Solution space in India since 2012-13. On a year-on-year basis, our energy storage business in India has been growing at a rate of 45-50 percent. We are the market leaders in supplying lithium-ion batteries to telecom sector as well as multiple other mission-critical applications.

The management philosophy of Panasonic is based on the belief of its founder Konosuke Matsushita, who said: Since a company runs its business by borrowing people, things, money, land, and so forth from the society, a company is “a public entity of society”.  Following this philosophy and advice from our founder to make a contribution to society, we have been working in the “Energy Storage Solutions” space in India since FY 2013. We have been offering lithium-ion battery-based energy solutions in India for the last three years, to reduce diesel consumption in telecom infrastructure and other segments. We have already accumulated over $100 million in revenue from the telecom vertical alone in the country.

ees International: How is the battery industry, traditionally serving Telecom, Railway and Automobile industry in India evolving?  What are the next big opportunities?

  • In the telecom segment, the demand for batteries is likely to witness a rise in the upcoming years with expanding penetration of renewable energy for telecom towers. The ascent in telecom subscriptions worldwide has led to a surge in the number of installation of telecom towers. For effective functioning, technological advances have made it crucial for telecommunication networks to have a constant supply of energy. With the tower density in urban areas approaching a peak, this sector can be the next big opportunity as the focus has shifted to extending the telecom tower penetration in semi-urban and rural areas.
  • Power supply framework for trains is outlined and created to suit the necessity of AC and non-AC working in the trains. Other traction applications which batteries for the Indian Railways are primarily used for are Locomotive Starting and Signaling and telecommunication. VRLA batteries are being replaced by lead-acid batteries due to maintenance free operations which is an opportunity in this space.
  • By virtue of growing demand from automobile and industrial sectors, the battery market in India is anticipated to reach $8.6 billion by 2022. : An essential market opportunity for the Indian economy is domestic battery manufacturing to supply the transition to electronic vehicles.

ees International: What are the challenges faced by the battery industry and what support does the industry seek from the government?

For the new age of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, assembling such high power batteries is extensively more unpredictable than that of smaller packs.  A successful battery management system (BMS) is vital. It must be designed particularly for the chosen cell chemistry. In any case, picking the best cell and incorporating the BMS efficiently isn’t adequate. Thermal management of the cells (heating/cooling) may also be required, which can introduce further challenges, e.g. the use of liquid coolants.  All these add to the complexity of design of EV batteries. As far as Telecom sector is concerned, with the tower density in urban areas approaching a peak, this sector can be the next big opportunity as the focus has shifted to extending the telecom tower penetration in semi-urban and rural areas. But this might face challenges associated with access to grid and reliable supply. Here the battery industry plays a vital role.

The Indian government has agreed to incentivize the battery manufacturing industry. Raj Kumar Singh, Union Minister of Power (MoP) and New & Renewable Energy (MNRE), has urged battery manufacturers to set up battery manufacturing units in India. The government also believes that India ought to be proactive in this area, and should find the assembling base to support the development of energy storage and electric mobility sector. The current regulatory framework needs many new amendments to help kick start storage projects. As of now ancillary services don’t have battery storage systems included. Similarly tariff policies today will need to evolve in recognizing need for time of the day tariff to manage demand as well as support growth of storage industry

ees International: At the end of the useful life of Li-ion batteries, how will the battery be recycled and reused? What are the environmental impacts associated with the recycling and how can it be addressed?

A simple new reusing process repairs old lithium battery cathodes to mint condition utilizing half the energy of the current procedures. Unlike the present reusing strategies, which separate cathodes into particular components that must be assembled again, the new system releases compounds that are prepared to go into another battery. This method can be applied to lithium cobalt oxide batteries which are used in laptops and smartphones, and also on the complex lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt batteries found in electric cars. It has been shown that recycling batteries is beneficial to the environment. Recycling lithium-ion batteries in particular reduces energy consumption. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and results in 51.3% natural resource savings when compared to landfill.

Though the recycling of lithium-ion batteries reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and results in considerable natural resource savings when compared to landfills, it is unclear which recycling processes have the least impact on the environment. In spite of the fact that lithium-ion batteries help promote many sustainable activities, it’s significant that the batteries themselves are not yet “environmental friendly.”

ees International: Is there any near future possibility of a disruptive technology emerging in the storage space? Where does Hydrogen fuel cells development stand vis a vis Lithium ion batteries?

There are many limitations of lead-acid batteries. They need eight hours of charging whereas the similar capacity of Lithium-Ion can be charged in one-and-a-half hour. Because India does not have that kind of consistent power availability, especially in the rural areas, having batteries that last long is crucial for businesses. Lead-acid batteries are relatively inefficient as 30 percent of the energy is wasted in charging and discharging them. Lithium-Ion batteries are 90 percent plus efficient. The use of Lithium-Ion batteries allows bringing down diesel consumption by around a half. However, there are a few businesses where lead-acid is still considered for use.

Atul Arya,
Head of Energy Systems,
Panasonic India

Image Source: Unsplash | unsplash.com

 

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