CEDRI Blog – Dealing with India’s local electricity network from a built environment perspective: Diversity of knowledge and practitioner experiences

Dr Olu Osunmuyiwa

What are the main challenges with respect to structuring energy demand flexibility strategies for residential buildings in India? Which issues currently affect India’s local electricity networks? What changes are expected in the next couple of decades and how do we address these?

These were some of the questions that topped the agenda at the Community-scale Energy Demand Reduction in India (CEDRI) Workshop in Delhi on 4th of March 2020. The event, hosted by Heriot-Watt University and IIT Delhi, was attended by 25 participants from local utilities, government agencies, research institutions and private practitioners in the energy space.

Attendees of the CEDRI Stakeholder workshop (Photo: Kumar Debnath)

The event started with an informative session on the current work being done under CEDRI. Other stakeholders presented their work and shared lessons from their experiences. We heard from EDS Global about their National Energy End-use Monitoring Dashboard (NEEM Dashboard) which monitors residential energy use across different cities in India. Prayas Energy presented some findings from their eMARC program which monitors minutely electricity consumption based on appliance usage. Furthermore, the TERI Institute shared some of their exciting projects on-grid and demand side-management.  

Given the specificity and urgency of electricity demand management in relation to India’s projected economic growth and population expansion, participants were encouraged to identify current challenges to the grid and provide solutions that would address the grid constraints while meeting household’s electricity needs.  Regarding current challenges, there were several issues and topics raised:

  • Deeply entrenched behavioural issues that affect electricity provision at both building and network level.
  • Current dearth in metering infrastructure and its implications for “energy theft”, particularly in informal settlements
  • Ensuring “last-mile” electrification to point of need within the built environment
  • High capital-cost energy-efficient solutions and the general lack of knowledge among consumers on efficiency issues, creating lack of obvious value in those solutions to the consumer
  • Consumers lack awareness regarding what constitutes a “critical load”
  • The need for the roll-out of the Energy Conservation Building Code for existing residential buildings
  • Making residential energy efficiency a dispatchable resource that could be exploited by the network
  • The democratisation of energy system to foster the transition of consumers to prosumers

The workshop was concluded by Dr David Jenkins the lead Principal Investigator on the CEDRI project from Heriot-Watt University. He argued that while addressing the above holds vast potential for India’s electricity sector, there are other pivotal issues to consider and plan for such as the effects of large penetrations of Photovoltaics and Electric Vehicles (including public transport) and how to overcome inertia for new technology from consumers and normalise residential Building Management Systems across India. These are all considerable challenges for the Indian government to navigate, especially as some of the policies required will be difficult to communicate to the general public, hence requiring strong political will. However, if implemented, they are likely to be accompanied by multi-faceted benefits across health, industry, transport and energy sectors; and, crucially, contribute to the challenge of meeting carbon targets of a fast-growing economy.

Note about Author: Dr Olu Osunmuyiwa is a Research Associate in Heriot-Watt’s Urban Energy Research Group, working on the CEDRI project from a social science perspective. Her research is focused on unpacking the behavioural dynamics underlying current and future energy demand in India. A core part of this research involves designing tools that will promote energy sufficiency and societal transformation across India. With a background in social science, energy and environmental policy, Olu’s research interests and outputs lie in the intersection between engineering and social development.

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