Strolling through the Renewable Energy India Expo (link) in Delhi last week, India’s big solar leap is on full display. Since I last attended about four years ago, the size of the fair has grown by a factor of 5 – at least. It has the buzzing and deal-making vibe of a grand bazaar.

Most of the talk and most of the exhibitions revolved around auction results and component prices. While this is, of course, the reality of the industry, we at TFE wanted to add a perspective on the future and hosted a session on “Embracing the Digitalization of Energy through Data and Technology”.

Our esteemed speakers explained how new technologies are already changing business models in the energy market and offer avenues for upsides and higher profit margins. Here is a brief recap:

Earth observation and satellite technology: Remote sensing expert Ms. Elke Kraetzschmar (link) from IABG showed how satellite imagery and data analysis can help developers improve site identification and pick the best sites for distributed renewable energy infrastructure. Factors analysed include terrain and resource data, building information, environmental hazards as well as factors which can hint at electricity demand from the local population such as economic or agricultural activity.

This work is part of an ongoing collaboration with TFE Consulting funded by the European Space Agency.

More information can be found in our survey (link)

Satellite data can help find and assess sites cheaper, faster and better

Machine learning and big data: Next up, Dr. Sukanya Randhawa (link), AI researcher at IBM explained how to significantly improve weather and cloud forecasting. This is based on IBM’s Pairs platform and machine learning algorithms, which mix different forecasting models to improve local generation predictions for wind and solar plants. They reduce the forecasting interval from 15 minutes to <1 minute and increase accuracy. This will be crucial for integrating a higher share of wind and solar in the grid.

We want to make locational cloud forecasting work

Smart grids and artificial intelligence: Mr. Shiv Kaushik (link) from Climate Connect shared his vision of how traditional energy distribution companies can become data companies or digital utilities in the future. They will collect more metering data and balance increasingly dynamic load and generation patterns in real-time, requiring quick decision making. This is an increasingly complex task which Climate Connect aims to support with AI tools. It also requires new management: the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and his growing digital team. They manage and integrate automated decision making tools.

Utilities will need entire teams of digital experts

Integrated digital value chains: Mr. Akilur Rahman (link) provided insights from his vantage point as CTO of ABB India, one of the heavy hitters in power electronics. He outlined how collecting and analysing real-time data from sensors across a portfolio of sites allows companies to monitor and optimize their assets globally. For people wondering how that benefits the company’s bottom line, he showed how this monitoring process, applied to ABB’s electric motors has reduced downtime, extended the lifetime and increased energy efficiency by double-digit percentages.

The energy world is now connected – that opens up entirely new business opportunities

Blockchain: There has been much talk about blockchain enabled peer-to-peer energy trading. While this is an attractive scheme to empower consumers, Mr. Rishabh Jain (link), an analyst and blockchain expert, argued that a lack of energy metering hardware on the household level as well as policies banning peer-to-peer trading are delaying blockchain-based solutions. We should instead look at markets where the necessary metering hardware is already in place and transactions are plenty, such as the energy trading market. Its volume will increase substantially and blockchain could be a key technology to independently verify transactions on a real-time basis. But first, it is crucial that data be gathered from pilot projects to prove the viability of any blockchain powered trading scheme. Off-grid systems are best suited to provide this preliminary data, since most mini-grids come with smart-meters and regulatory hurdles are much lower.

For blockchain, look at markets that have an existing data gathering infrastructure

Overall, the session showed that there is a set of maturing digital technologies poised to make their impact in the energy world. For now, their adoption in India will depend on the immediate cost benefits they offer to the industry.

We would like to thank the speakers again for offering their insights and look forward to the future developments in the Indian solar market.