Three barriers to India’s power sector resilience and how to address them

A new report released by the Rocky Mountain Institute explores the resilience of the Indian power sector to climate change and provides recommendations on how to build a secure and reliable grid.

With global power grids vulnerable to disruptions and damage to harsh weather conditions, the report leverages lessons learned from Puerto Rico’s grid resilience efforts to measure the strength of the Indian power sector and grid preparedness to withstand harsh weather events.

India has been ranked as the seventh most climate-affected country in the world by the Global Climate Risk Index and impacts of climate change are expected to increase over the coming years.

For instance, rising temperatures are expected to result in water scarcity and inefficiency of hydro generation systems whilst extreme wind speeds and rainfall will cause damage to generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure.

Above all, the vulnerability of the Indian grid to power outages is likely to increase, according to the Powering Through: A Climate Resilient Future – Recommendations for the Indian Power Sector report.

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Clay Stranger, managing director, RMI said, “The risks to the grid will no longer be confined to the power sector alone. It is bound to have a cascading effect, ultimately impacting multiple end-use sectors, including critical services, such as healthcare and food storage. It will also impact new clean technology solutions in sectors, such as transportation, which have traditionally had a supply chain shielded from risks to the power grid.”

Climate resilience will be crucial for India’s economic growth and energy transition, according to the report.

Three main barriers to a climate-resilient Indian grid have been identified in the report, and they include:

  • Technological

Although the digital transformation of India’s power sector is currently underway, it is still to immature to play a significant role in grid resilience against climate disasters.

The report states that there is a need for more investments to be made in technologies and grid capabilities such as flexibility (distributed renewable energy, energy storage, demand response), islanding capability (microgrids) and backup energy (energy storage).

More smart meters and intelligent grid devices and sensors will need to be deployed to ensure utilities have access to granular consumer energy usage and climate data for better forecasting and planning. In addition, energy transmission and distribution networks need to be hardened to withstand very high wind speeds and water levels.

  • Financial

The lack of adequate funding has been pointed to as one of the main challenges stakeholders in the Indian power market are facing to better prepare their grid or respond to harsh weather conditions. RMI urges financial institutions including banks and government agencies to familiarise themselves with renewable energy and long-term climate risks.

In so doing, they would be able to develop new and innovative financing models capable of helping to expand the country’s renewable energy portfolio, which is vital in expanding the resilience of the power sector to climate change.

Banks and financial institutions must adopt the practice of screening for climate resilience to incentivise project developers to incorporate it into their plans. In addition, partnerships with international and local finance avenues must be maximised and mechanisms such as bonds and insurance further explored.

  • Policy and governance

At the policy level, this will need iterative and adaptive power sector planning, collaborative work across ministries, departments, and sectors, and improved market design.  At the operations level, this will need upgrading regulations, incorporating situational learnings by adopting a bottom-up approach.

Other key study findings and recommendations from the study include:

  • Existing disaster management framework for the power sector needs to be leveraged, and newer customised plans to reflect the long-term, uncertain, and unpredictable nature of climate risks need to be drawn and implemented.
  • Regulations need to be upgraded around power sector equipment standards, electrificty codes, energy procurement and contactual processes to reflect resilience requirements.
  • With electrification expanding into rural areas, locals will need to be trained to operate, maintain, and repair infrastructure and become self reliant.
  • Increased investments in technology innovation needed

Akshima Ghate, Principal, RMI India, added: “Resilience interventions may cost more but apart from safeguarding the power infrastructure against climate risks, they are bound to help avert routine repair, and maintenance costs, along with offering benefits such as system flexibility and enhanced quality of electricity supply.

“As such, work at the policy and planning level needs to be bolstered by financial institutions whose renewed understanding of clean energy and climate risks can facilitate experimentation and implementation of the right technology and management practices on both supply and demand sides.”

Find out more about the report.