The Right Mix of Energy Storage Technologies Can Have a Huge Impact: Interview

The push for renewables and the need for an adaptive grid is key to the growth of energy storage, said Vikram Iyengar, President, CTO, and co-founder of Yotta

September 10, 2019


As India installs solar and wind energy at a rapid pace, grid congestion is a regular occurrence, power cuts are still prevalent, and curtailment of solar and wind is rampant as utilities struggle to handle intermittent sources of power.

According to data from Mercom India Research, in the first half of 2019, renewable energy sources accounted for nearly 58% of the new installations, with solar representing 41%.

Rooftop solar is growing at a faster pace in India compared to large-scale solar as the industry pushes forward to meet the target of installing 40 GW by 2022.

Growing deployments of rooftop solar PV systems paired with energy storage systems, make the prospect of panel-level solar+storage systems very attractive to consumers. A panel-level energy storage system is one that mounts jointly with the solar panel.

Mercom India recently spoke to Vikram Iyengar, President, CTO, and co-founder of Yotta, the developer of a panel-level energy storage technology, about the market potential for innovative technologies in the rapidly changing energy storage market. The following are highlights of Mr. Iyengar’s comments:

What does the energy storage market look like now, and where is it going? (could be US or global)

Many different energy storage options are being evaluated worldwide to support the ever-expanding demand for reliable renewable energy. On the one hand, there are mechanical systems, like pumped hydro and pressurized caverns, that serve long-duration storage needs. On the other hand, various forms of chemical batteries—Lithium-ion, flow batteries, etc.—are preferred in the ongoing electrification and tapping of distributed renewable resources for shorter duration backup systems. The key ingredients that will help any energy storage technology penetrate the market and gain wide adoption are simplicity, safety, scalability, and reliability.

What are the most influential drivers and anchors of the energy storage market?

The push to grow the nation’s renewable portfolio and the need for an adaptive grid, bringing widespread energy access, is key to the growth of energy storage. Adding distributed renewable micro-grids is much faster than adding any new centralized hydro, nuclear, or coal power plant and in addition, being ‘distributed,’ micro-grids lead to a highly resilient grid. India is gifted with ample solar insolation, and the right mix of storage technologies can make a huge impact on improving its energy sufficiency numbers. The late, visionary C.K. Prahalad once said to me at a conference: “Build the right product and introduce it to those who need it. In India, the forces at the bottom of the pyramid are stronger than any policy.”

How does energy storage technology fit in with emerging energy markets like India?

Over the last two decades, the telecom sector witnessed mobile communications leapfrog wired infrastructure. Similarly, renewables, like solar paired with reliable energy storage, have the potential to bring clean, reliable energy to the masses and aid our transition away from a carbon-heavy, centralized electric infrastructure. Incentives that promote R&D and manufacturing in storage technologies will ensure that India is a dominant, global player in a heavily electrified future.

What are cost and technology challenges that emerging markets like India will face?

As it stands now, reliable energy storage options come at a premium, but the hardware costs are steadily decreasing with rising supply chain efficiencies. Initially, emerging markets like India may see the adoption of large-format storage technologies that are more centralized. However, the technological benefits of microgrids and distributed energy storage technologies should yield larger societal benefits and should be a part of urban and rural planning.

What are some of the battery technologies India should be looking at?

For stationary storage, Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) is an ideal candidate to consider. It has relatively low manufacturing needs; it lacks toxic metals; it is inherently safe and has a longer cycle life than many other battery technologies.

How is Yotta’s system different than lithium-ion or a lead battery system?

Yotta’s SolarLEAF™ is a 1 kWh LFP battery paired with power electronics; it has been built to be easily coupled with solar PV modules. At the heart of this rugged, long-life battery is a thermal regulation technology that keeps the battery within a suitable operating range. Even in extreme high-temperature conditions, the SolarLEAF™ consumes no electricity. The associated power electronics lead to high efficiency, safety, and ease of deployment—similar to that of solar panels. We have built a cost-effective storage technology that we believe will be the most bankable energy solution—it is a small, rugged technology, yet simple to scale with minimal training.

When will Yotta’s energy storage system be available commercially? And what is the first commercial market the company will be targeting?

Yotta plans to complete its pilot deployments and certifications by mid-2020 and is actively looking for channel partners with a shared vision for increased solar adoption. The first target market with the SolarLEAF™ will be micro-grids and community solar projects that serve commercial energy needs, such as peak shaving and backup power. Since the SolarLEAF™ doesn’t occupy additional real estate—and with its ability to operate under harsh weather conditions—it can be widely deployed to power critical loads, even in crowded urban buildings, hospitals, and schools—to name a few ideal candidates.