“We will enable greater integration of energy efficiency”: Interview with EESL’s Animesh Mishra

Founded in 2009, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) is promoted by the Ministry of Power as a joint venture of four PSUs – NTPC Limited, Power Finance Corporation Limited, REC Limited and Power Grid Corporation of India Limited. EESL enables consumers, industries and governments to effectively manage their energy needs through energy efficient technologies across various sectors such as lighting, buildings, electric mobility, smart metering and agriculture. In a recent interview with Renewable Watch, Animesh Mishra, chief general manager and head (sales and PR), EESL, spoke about the company’s recent business highlights, and its top priorities and key focus areas for the future. He also shared his perspective on the current state of smart metering and electric mobility in the country and the future outlook. Edited excerpts…

What is your perspective on the current state of the power sector?

Power is a crucial component of infrastr­u­c­ture, vital for the economic growth and welfare of a developing nation like India. The development of robust power infrastructure is essential for the sustained growth of the economy. India’s power se­c­tor is one of the most diversified in the world. Renewable energy capacity has in­c­reased from 40 GW in 2014 to 166 GW in 2022. India stands at the fourth position globally with respect to the total installed renewable energy capacity, wind power capacity and solar power capacity. India is the only country among the G20 nations that is on track to achieve the targets under the Paris Agreement. The government has set a target to make India a net zero economy by 2070 and to reduce its carbon intensity by 45 per cent by 2030. Policy changes in line with these commitments have spurred investments by private sector companies as well as state-owned enterprises. Opportunities are co­nstantly em­erging in generation capacity, equipment manufacturing, storage and transportation services, and other allied ar­eas, which has prompted public and private enterprises to act swiftly and decisively in order to capitalise on them.

What are some of the unresolved challenges?

Over the past few years, the encouraging growth of India’s energy generation ca­pacity has been matched, even exceeded, by the demand for electricity. This de­mand is expected to further increase ow­ing to the increasing spending capacity and population. The rise in peak de­mand can also be attributed to factors such as economic growth, intense summers and an increasing daily average tem­perature in India over the past deca­de. To meet this growing demand for pow­er, massive ins­talled energy generation ca­pacity additions will be required. At the same time, in view of environmental considerations and In­dia’s sustainability commitments, it is essential to move away fr­om fossil fuels and towards renewable en­ergy resources. Meanwhile, mounting ag­gregate technical and commercial losses and operational inefficiencies continue to impact the financial health of discoms, most of which are struggling to pay their outstanding dues.

What is your assessment of the progress in the smart metering space? What is the outlook going forward?

India plans to completely digitise the data collection of electricity consumpti­on by 2030, and EESL will play a key role in enabling this transformation with the help of its smart metering solutions. Under the National Smart Metering Pro­g­­ramme, EESL has successfully completed the ins­tallation of over 3.255 million smart meters in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Har­yana, Bihar, Ra­jasthan and Anda­m­an. It further aims to install over 4.7 million smart meters by De­cember 2023. To expand the reach of smart me­tering solutions, the central government has introduced the Revamped Distribu­tion Sector Scheme, which is a reforms-based and results-linked scheme that aims to improve the reliability and quality of po­wer supply through a sustainable and efficient distribution network. As part of the scheme, eligible discoms are provided with financial assistance for up­grading the power distribution infrastructure, installing smart metering systems for the network and prepaid smart metering systems for consumers. Smart meters ha­ve not only helped utilities earn more revenues but also en­ab­led consumers to only pay for the electricity used and monitor their power con­sumption in real time. Other key benefits of smart metering in­clu­de a marked re­duction in the peak po­wer purchase cost, improved ability to conduct power quality analysis in near-real time in terms of power factor, maximum dema­nd, voltage, etc., and a sharp reduction in the carbon footprint, mainly due to the re­du­ced pat­ro­ll­ing for meter re­a­ding, disconnec­tion/reconnection, outage detection, etc. Smart meters can ma­ke the po­wer sector more resilient, transparent, digitised and accountable.

What are the key bottlenecks in the expansion of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure? How can these be addressed?

The EV ecosystem in India has grown considerably in the past five years. How­ever, there are some key challenges that need to be addressed for EVs to reach parity with internal comb­ustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Inade­quate EV charging infrastructure is one of the biggest barriers to EV adoption. In addition, the initial cost of owning an electric car is higher than that of ICE vehicles, mainly due to the cost of the battery. Set­ting up an EV char­ging station entails a high initial cost and it needs to be done at a prime location for ease of accessibility. To address these challenges, CESL, a wh­olly owned subsidiary of EESL, is developing a robust EV charging infrastructure in India. CESL has installed 443 public charging stations till date and plans to set up 810 more EV charging stations across 16 highways and expre­ss­ways covering 10,275 km. Along with such initiatives, concerted efforts sh­ould be made by the government and private sector stakeholders to educate consumers about the benefits of EVs and the assistance they can avail of in purchasing one.

What is your overall outlook for the power sector for the near to medium term?

Sustained economic growth will continue to drive electricity demand, which is ex­pected to grow at a faster rate than in any other country in the coming deca­des. As of October 31, 2022, India was the third-largest producer and consu­mer of electricity worldwide, with an in­stalled po­wer capacity of 408.71 GW. The government has identified the power sector as a key sector to promote sustained industrial growth. India possesses immense renewable energy potential, and the country’s clean energy transition in India is well under way, propelled by recent developments such as the allocation of Rs 195 billion for a PLI scheme to boost the manufacturing of high efficiency solar modules, the issuance of sovereign green bonds, and the conferring of “infrastructure” status to energy storage systems, including grid-scale battery systems. To meet In­dia’s target of 500 GW of renewable energy and add­ress the issue of the annual co­al de­ma­nd-supply mismatch, the Mi­nistry of Power has identified 81 thermal units that will replace coal with renewable energy generation by 2026. All of these initiatives combined will accelerate India’s progress in the clean energy transition.

What have been the business highlights for EESL in the past year? 

Since its inception, EESL has created social, economic and ecological benefits in terms of CO2 emissions reduction, energy savings, employment generation, and monetary savings. EESL was awarded the “Green Brand of the Year” at the pre­stigious Olive Crown Awards 2022, or­ganised under the India chapter of the International Advertising Association, for its “Now or Never” campaign, which contributed significantly to the cause of energy conservation. EESL’s range of energy efficiency solutions has successfully reduced the annual energy con­sum­ption in the country by 57 billion uni­ts, avoided peak demand of 11,200 MW, and redu­c­ed CO2 emissions by 45.5 million tonnes annually, bringing India closer to achieving its NDC goals. As In­dia’s energy ecosystem continues to grow, we will en­able gr­eater integration and adoption of energy efficiency in previously untapp­ed sectors.

What are EESL’s key focus areas for the next one to two years? What are some of the opportunities that the company is pursuing?

EESL is implementing the world’s largest energy efficiency portfolio, on a scale that no ot­her or­ga­nisation has been able to ac­hieve. EESL is driving several potentially game-ch­an­ging initiatives to build an ecosystem conducive to energy efficient technologies. In the coming years, EESL will focus on driving the adoption of efficient cooling technologies like BLDC and energy efficient fans and air conditioners. Through its programmes, EESL aims to create a market transformation model th­rough a collaborative framework by bringing together the policy and business worlds of the ESCO eco­system in sectors such as lighting, buildings, in­dustry, electric mobility, su­p­er-efficient air conditioning, smart metering and agriculture.