Interview with S. Gopal

“The relevance of smart metering goes beyond this crisis”

S. Gopal
S. Gopal

Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has transformed India’s energy efficiency market with the LED revolution. It is currently working in a number of areas, including helping discoms manage operations through the pandemic with the adoption of smart meters. In an interview with Power Line, S. Gopal, managing director, EESL, spoke about the key initiatives being taken by the company, the expected impact, future plans and outlook for the sector. Excerpts…

How would you rate the power industry’s response to the pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic has spread globally, leaving significant disturbance in its wake. Prior to the outbreak, it was expected that the global real GDP growth would be 2.6 per cent in 2020. However, with Covid-19 leading to the shutting down of various businesses, the global economy is now expected to suffer from a 0.4 per cent fall in the real GDP, with a significant impact across sectors. The power industry is among the sectors affected. The Government of India and the state governments took various measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 in India and some of the measures continue even now. In such challenging times, a comprehensive energy data analysis may reduce uncertainty and ensure optimal decisions to minimise the economic loss. The power industry has shown alacrity and flexibility in its response to the pandemic. The quick and agile response displayed by the industry during the “9 Baje 9 Minute” initiative taken by the nation is  testament to that. Furthermore, the distribution sector has been able to largely mitigate the severe economic fallout during the course of the pandemic. This has been due to the rise in the penetration of smart metering, which has enabled discoms to remotely monitor and collect meter readings.

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

EESL has continued on its upward growth trajectory. There have been numerous new initiatives, aimed at solving specific gap areas in the country. EESL, in partnership with USAID’s MAITREE programme, developed and launched the “Healthy and Energy Efficient Buildings” initiative, for enhancing indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and energy efficiency in the air conditioning system by installing bespoke retrofits at workplaces. Our LED programmes – UJALA and Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP) – continued transforming the market and consumer behaviour. So far, EESL has distributed over 366.4 million LED bulbs across all 36 states and union territories (UTs), resulting in estimated energy savings of 47.59 BUs per year, along with over 7.2 million LED tube lights and 2.3 million energy efficient fans. Under the SLNP, EESL has installed over 11.2 million LED street lights in 29 Indian states and UTs, which has resulted in estimated energy savings of 75.75 BUs per year. We installed and operationalised over 500,000 smart meters across Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh under our Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP). EESL has also launched its super-efficient AC programme in six Indian cities. We aim to deploy about 200,000 super-efficient ACs over the next year. Taking forward the vision of the National Electric Mobility Programme, we have commissioned 488 captive chargers in several states and set up 97 public charging stations (PCSs). We have also recently unveiled a first-of-its-kind charging plaza in New Delhi, which can charge 14 e-cars at the same time. Under the Gram Panchayat Street Lighting Programme, we have replaced around 2.5 million conventional lights with LEDs in Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. Meanwhile, states like Telangana and Uttarakhand are set to implement the rural street lighting programme.

What are the tenders in the pipeline under the SMNP?

Currently, under the SMNP, a tender for procuring 2.35 million smart meters across India and another tender for procuring 188,000 smart meters for Rajasthan are already in the pipeline.

I believe our manufacturing industry is well equipped to handle the demand and meet the targets of the SMNP.

What are the challenges in the e-mobility segment?

E-mobility has gained momentum in India over the past one year, and this has been primarily due to the recent guidelines on charging infrastructure. The inclusion of combined charging systems (CCSs) and CHArge de MOve (CHAdeMO) in charging infrastructure standards is encouraging automakers to offer higher range EVs. Further, the acceleration provided by FAME II will go a long way in removing barriers like range anxiety and build confidence for EV consumers. Further, the Government of India is working towards the large-scale commercialisation of indigenous battery technologies to achieve economies of scale for lithium battery manufacturing in India. The proposed National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage will encourage the setting up of large-scale, export-competitive integrated batteries and cell manufacturing giga plants in India through the Phased Manufacturing Programme. It will also enable a reduction in the cost of battery storage. EESL is working towards the same goal and is strengthening the charging infrastructure across the country. Till date, we have commissioned 488 captive chargers (308 AC and 180 DC) in several states and UTs, and set up 97 PCSs in NDMC Delhi, SDMC Delhi, CMRL Chennai, Maha Metro Nagpur, Noida Authority and NKDA Kolkata. The objective is to set up at least 10,000 charging stations over the next two to three years across India.

What are your top priorities plans for EESL?

We will be focusing on the following four programmes for the coming years:

  • SMNP: EESL has been awarded a contract for the procurement of 10 million smart meters and system integrators and has floated another tender for 5 million smart meters. We are providing smart meters to utilities on a rental basis to replace the conventional meters. Till date, over 1.43 million meters have been installed.
  • Trigeneration: EESL offers an integrated turnkey solution, providing end-to-end service and maintenance. It also guarantees performance with service level agreements (SLAs). At present, the Mahindra and Mahindra trigeneration project of 800 kWe is under development. EESL has also signed an SLA with a data centre in Navi Mumbai for setting up a 2 MW trigeneration plant, with 450 TR vapour absorption machines (along with a fully standby system).
  • Decentralised solar power projects: We are working towards providing reliable solar power supply to agricultural pump sets by setting up solar minigrids. EESL will finance, design, install, own, and operate solar PV pumping in farms. MSEDCL has signed a PPA with EESL for a capacity of around 200 MW, under which small solar power plants, ranging from 0.5 MW to 2 MW, will be developed in vacant or excess land on the substation premises. Under this partnership, small solar power plants of 106 MWp cumulative capacity have been commissioned so far.
  • EV charging infrastructure: In line with India’s vision to go electric, our objective is to set up at least 10,000 charging stations. Apart from these key programmes, EESL will be looking at two other schemes parallely. Under the Building Energy Efficiency Programme, EESL has completed building energy efficiency projects in 10,411 buildings, including railway stations and airports.

The National Motor Replacement Programme (NMRP) is EESL’s first-of-its-kind programme for the industrial sector. The market assessment reveals that about 15 million motors can be replaced with more efficient variants. EESL has launched NMRP II to encourage the use of premium efficient motors instead of old inefficient motors.

What are the plans for modular solar-LED pump set packages for discoms?

EESL, in association with discoms, has started a joint initiative for solarising agricultural feeders by installing decentralised solar power plants on government land or vacant land on the premises of discom substations. The objective of the scheme is to enable access to a reliable source of energy to farmers in the daytime for the purpose of irrigation. We have a PPA with MSEDCL. There are over 30 million agricultural pumps in the country with an average capacity of 5 kW. With 200 GW of decentralised solar projects, we can move the conventional sources of electricity away from agricultural land.

What are some of the untapped opportunities in the energy efficiency market?

EESL is driven by the objective of enabling more – more innovation, more transformation and more transparency – for the rapid adoption of transformative energy efficiency solutions.

The EESL-acquired Edina UK Limited, through EESL’s UK subsidiary, EnergyPro Assets Limited, has introduced its globally proven trigeneration service in India. In India, this technology has demonstrated significant market potential. The market for trigeneration technology has been estimated at 20,000 MW in India, with the bulk of the demand expected to be driven primarily by commercial real estate, airports, industries and service establishments. The acquisition is also enabling us to harness the potential of the UK’s £6 billion (Rs 537.82 billion) energy efficiency market.

What is the future outlook for the power sector?

The power sector in India is undergoing a transformation, with access to electricity being provided to all households. This is being further augmented with the infusion of renewable energy. As India’s renewable capacity increases, the need for a robust ancillary service ecosystem will become more pronounced than ever. To support the renewable target of 175 GW, we will witness a lot of progress in developing commensurate ancillary services such as energy storage systems. One of the key technologies that have showcased their utility during the pandemic is smart metering. It enabled discoms to operate remotely without a hitch. However, the relevance of smart metering goes beyond this crisis and would remain the focal point of the metamorphosis of the power sector in the coming years. The recent announcement by the finance minister regarding the installation of smart meters across the country will help us further accelerate the adoption of smart meters.

EESL is rolling out the smart meter initiative using its tried-and-tested models of bulk procurement, demand aggregation, and monetisation of savings, and running awareness campaigns to showcase the benefits of smart meters.

(Note: At the time of this interview, Mr S. Gopal is serving as managing director of EESL. However, Mr Rajat Sud is scheduled to take over as managing director in October 2020.)

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