The electric grid, prosumers’ and climate change risks

The blog post was the runner-up at Masdar Blogging contest, 2017

Electricity generation accounts for nearly 50% of CO2 emissions in the world. Renewable Energy (RE) sources have begun to account for a significant share in the grid mix thereby reducing the emissions Year on Year (YoY). An increasing RE in the electric grid is not a straight solution to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.  RE is intermittent and in order to completely leverage it there is a need for a technological solution that also captures the economic benefits of this low carbon transition.

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The electric grid of today


Image © Author

In most parts of the world the electric grid is predominantly unidirectional with a small percentage of bidirectional flow originating from grid connected rooftop systems. Even with increase in RE in the grid the impact on climate change mitigation will remain insignificant if the end consumer doesn’t interact with the system.

The electric grid of the future

The transition to a low carbon world implies switching to a fuel source that is not only environment friendly but is free thereby reducing the overall operational costs in the long run.  The grid infrastructure wouldn’t transfer the net benefit unless there is a seamless bidirectional communication between the source and the consumer in other words it has to turn into a ‘smart grid’.


Image © Author


Image © DOE

According to EPRI “Smart grid represents, the migration from the current grid with its one-way power flows from central generation to dispersed loads, towards a new grid with two-way power flows., two way and peer to peer customer interactions, distributed generation, distributed intelligence, command and control”


Installing distributed energy systems like solar photovoltaic panels empowers people to shift from being a passive consumer of electricity to a Prosumer who sells power to the utility. The financial incentives like Feed in Tariff (FiT) are quite popular around the world. But the real potential of such systems will be leveraged when technological advancements like smart grids are in place and smart meters are the norm.

Smart Meters

In the evolving connected world every device around us meteris turning smart and its quite natural that the source powering them all is smart too (if not smarter). Germany and Italy have been pioneers in smart meter implementation, the former driven by a buoyant adoption of rooftop solar PV.

Why do we need a smart grid?

RE is intermittent as widely known. In an ideal case we would prefer power production at times when we consume. In real world to meet power demand when RE generation is low there is a need to look for alternatives which in general happens to be turning on the fossil fuel power plants just to ‘keep the lights on’ as the utility would claim.

In order to mitigate the potential damage caused by these scenarios it is critical to ensure the fossil fuel powered plants are not turned on, let alone operate them at a lower efficiency thereby compounding the damage. Battery storage will be a key breakthrough but unless the devices and the grid is in place, the net effect of energy storage will be minimal.

Can prosumers make an impact?

Technology at the RE generator level enables forecasting at a better accuracy on a day ahead level.  The information if shared to the consumers by utilities along with the price incentive will enable them to shift loads to low price periods thereby reducing the net overall demand. Demand Side Management (DSM) is another possibility considering the penetration of smart meters at residential consumer level. Utilities and DSM service providers anticipate that with technological advancements, prosumers will not only be able to sell their excess PV but also be able to automate their battery backup systems to respond to utility signals by discharging energy back to the grid during peak load.

Overall, technological adoption will be key to ensure a successful RE transition. The idea of smart grid and smart meters controlling the devices has been mooted for long but with an increasing RE capacity addition, the technology will be indispensable. The penetration of intelligent appliances in households will leverage the smart grid technology in delivering value thereby providing the prosumers’ (who will be a significant majority) with a tool to know more about their electricity use, reduce demand, cost and carbon emissions.

The blog post was the runner-up at Masdar Blogging contest, 2017


Bengaluru in 2030

This post is a prediction of how my city, Bengaluru will look in 2030. It is a contest entry for the Masdar 2015 engage blogging contest. Hope you enjoy! I would appreciate if you could post a review or rate the post on the contest page here.


Sun,January 27th ,2030

The batteries in my new Mahindra ElectrO had almost dried up after participating in yesterday’s Republic day rally which was organised by the Bengaluru Electric Cars club commemorating the 80th Indian Republic day. Waking up at 4 AM is a routine for me, but it was more important today considering that I had to charge my car batteries. I log on to the BESCOM (Bengaluru Electric Supply Company) app on my phone to check the electric grid status, the source of power and the tariff. The night grid  during this time of the year is powered by wind and the tariffs are below the peak tariff rates (25% lower) and will remain so until 8 AM when the peak loads are expected to kick in. So I immediately plugged my car batteries to the charging port. It feels good to drive an electric car even better to know that the electricity in the batteries are predominantly from renewable energies.

As I was fixing my bicycle for the usual Sunday ride, I got an update from another utility company Bengaluru Water Supply which read “ The water supply to your locality will be cut off at 7 AM due to maintenance work in the supply line”. Such messages remind me of the first time the water board embraced technology in updating consumers the time of water supply to each locality around 2014[1]. As I left home I picked up the garbage to be handed over at the  Processing Unit in my apartment complex. Bengaluru Apartment complexes that have more than 100 residences are mandated to setup waste processing units within their complex and the same model is replicated by the local municipality in every ward. This is a huge success story considering 15 years ago the city was dealing with the ‘garbage menace’.

I got onto the street and couple of minutes into the ride I saw the public street lights going off, its 6 AM. Bengaluru back then was one of the first cities in India to switch to timer based lighting system in public places, the significance now is that all street lights in the city are powered by battery based solar systems. The technological capabilities of Bengaluru were evident when I saw the Water Board cordoning off a part of the road, to fix the leak in the water pipe even when there was no overflow of water on to the street from below. How do they do it? The water board has placed sensors along the water lines of Bengaluru to monitor water flow and communicate any variations. It’s an integral part of a ‘Smart City’[2].

Bengaluru's first electric bus; trial run in 2014

Bengaluru’s first electric bus; trial run in 2014

I then passed the city railway station, 70% of Indian rail network today is electrified and 50% of the electricity is drawn from renewable energy[3]. In the next junction I saw a line of buses moving from their depots, the Bengaluru city bus network now boasts of a 10000 buses out of which 50% run on electricity and the rest on bio fuel[4]. It was only in 2014 an electric bus was on trial runs. Cubbon park has always been the best part of my ride, it has retained its greenery, It now boasts of 100 different gardens. The best space is the Wi-Fi zone where I get to meet fellow cyclists and other enthusiasts. I took a break here and happened to check the news. “India set to achieve its emission cut targets for 2030” says the Prime Minister. India had agreed to cut its emissions by 30% and have 30% of renewable energy in the mix by 2030 during the COP 21 negotiations in Paris 2015. Also in the news was a security breach caused by a delivery-drone during the Republic Day Parade.

Cubbon park!

Cubbon park!

I then continued my ride passing through the cricket stadium which was the first stadium in the country to use the roof space to install solar power[5]. And then finally I move along the metro track on MG road which reminds me of 2011 when the metro first started its operations in the city. It now caters to 50% of the daily commuters in the city with great efficiency and what’s more, its powered by solar[6].

MG Road; Bengaluru Metro

MG Road; Bengaluru Metro

Its nostalgia as I ride on the final stretch before I turn back and head home; Bengaluru was once a garden city, but around 2000s saw rapid development and associated civic issues. But post 2015, it has seen a resilient development like no other city. The public transport systems have become efficient, private vehicle use have dropped and that has reduced the stress on environment. Piped water supply have become efficient and the ground water aquifers have recharged through massive rain water harvesting systems. The most significant development has been the adoption of renewable energy in the mix. Solar rooftops have a penetration of over 50% and the large scale renewable power projects have contributed to  reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The development in the last two decades have been phenomenal yet sustainable and that makes me feel proud. It is in the feeling, I have unknowingly drifted away from the cycling lane and I’m greeted by a series of honks from a rear vehicle which drives me crazy. I stop at the junction and turn back to check on the car driver and find the front seats empty! It is a driver-less car!

The above post is part of Masdar’s 2015 Engage Blogging contest. I would appreciate if you could post a review or rate the post on the contest page here.

References from 2014 that indicate Bengaluru in 2030 might be a reality

[1] Next drop water.

[2] IBM smarter planet ideas for Bangalore water board. Updates here.

[3] Solar power for Indian Railways. Read more here.

[4] Bangalore buses go green. Electric; Bio;

[5] Bangalore stadium to go solar

[6] Bangalore metro train goes solar