Interview with Vishal Kapoor: “The power sector is on an exciting trajectory”

Vishal Kapoor, chief executive officer, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) and Convergence Energy Services Limited (CESL)

As chief executive officer, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) and Convergence Energy Services Limited (CESL), Vishal Ka­poor’s key focus areas are smart metering and energy efficiency. In an interview with Power Line, he spoke about the current state of the power sector, the areas that need attention with regard to energy efficiency, smart metering, and the bottlenecks in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. He also talked about EESL’s key priorities, achievements and future plans. Excerpts…

What is your assessment of the current state of the power sector? 

The power sector in India has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, making impressive strides towards providing the population with reliable, affordable and sustainable energy. We successfully moved from a power-deficit nation to a power-surplus one by adding 175 GW of capacity in the past nine yea­rs. Globally, we are ranked fourth in ins­tall­ed renewable energy capacity, with 43 per cent of our total installed capacity coming from renewables. Under the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, as many as 28.6 million households in both urban and rural areas have received electricity connections. Accor­d­ing to the International Energy Agency, this has been the fastest expansion of acc­ess to electricity in the world. Under the revolutionary Unnat Jyoti by Affor­dable LED for All programme, EESL helped in reducing the prices of LED bulbs by almost 90 per cent between 2014 and 2019. Further, the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) was introduced with the aim of enhancing power distribution efficiency. As a result, distribution losses for discoms have significantly decreased – from 21.5 per cent in financial year 2020-21 to 16.5 per cent in financial year 2021-22.

India’s power sector has not only overcome significant challenges, but has also set a noteworthy example for the rest of the world. Achievements such as universal electrification, the rapid expansion of renewable energy capacity, improvements in the distribution infrastructure and the promotion of energy efficiency are testaments to India’s remarkable journey of progress and resilience.

What are the key areas that need attention with regard to energy efficiency? Are we doing en­ou­gh to double energy efficiency by 2030?

The primary challenge lies in the visibility and awareness of energy efficiency projects. Unlike large-scale renewable energy projects such as wind and solar, these projects often lack the prominence that comes with visible signs of economic progress. This disparity in recognition needs to be rectified throu­gh awareness campaigns and education, highlighting the tangible benefits of energy efficiency for both the environment and the economy. Another significant hurdle is securing investments and financing for energy efficiency projects. The relatively modest budgets associated with these projects may not entice investors who perceive higher risks. To encourage more substantial investments, efforts should be made to reduce perceived risks and en­sure better access to financing op­tio­ns. This includes incentivising private sector in­volvement through innovative financial mechanisms.

Aggregating energy efficiency projects is a strategy that can enhance their appeal. By bundling projects of similar nature and scope, aggregation offers benefits su­ch as increased market demand visibility, reduced costs through scalability and en­hanced attractiveness to inves­tors. This approach also simplifies the process of ch­annelling finance to energy service co­mpanies (ESCOs) and project offtakers.

Technical complexities surrounding the measurement and valuation of energy efficiency projects present another challenge. Standardising measurement me­tho­ds and simplifying these technical aspects can go a long way in promoting wider adoption. Moreover, innovations in technology are crucial for the development of more efficient products and systems, advancing energy efficiency.

Creating a dedicated marketplace for energy-efficient products and services is a promising initiative. Such a marketplace would offer consumers a wide ran­ge of products, including appliances and lighting, while also serving as a platform for ESCOs to showcase their services. This centralised approach can simplify access to comprehensive energy-efficient solutions, encouraging greater adoption.

Addressing these key issues is crucial for achieving the goal of doubling energy efficiency by 2030. It requires a multifaceted approach involving governments, businesses and individuals working toge­ther to realise the environmental and economic benefits of energy efficiency.

What are the key bottlenecks in scaling up EV charging infrastructure? 

In India, charging infrastructure continues to be one of the leading detractors affecting the adoption of EVs. The Indian government’s efforts to expand the EV charging network have yielded favour­ab­le results, with 6,586 public charging stations be­ing operational, as of March 2023. Given the remarkable 40 per cent an­nual growth in EV adoption in India, it is anticipated that around 106 million EVs will be sold annually by 2030. In or­der to maintain the optimal ratio of one charger for every 40 EVs, India must undertake the installation of over 400,000 charging stations each year, resulting in a cumulative count of 1.32 million chargers by the designated year. However, a charging station represents only a single component within the broa­der framework. Nu­merous other eleme­nts must conve­r­ge to establish a resilient infrastructure in India. Supporting the shift towards EVs and renewable energy sources necessi­ta­t­es the establishment of a sustainable in­frastructure. This encompasses the integration of renewable energy, energy storage systems and smart grid technologies to meet the increasing de­mand for charging, and to foster a more environmentally friendly transportation ecosystem.

Further, the viability of EVs for long-distance travel relies heavily on fast-charging solutions. Fast-charging stations, ca­pable of delivering high voltage charging, significantly reduce charging time, alleviating range anxiety for EV owners. Th­erefore, the strategic placement of fast-charging stations along highways, major travel routes and rest areas is essential to support long-distance travel and impro­ve the overall convenience.

The lack of a common app for locating chargers; the variety of payment options (such as QR codes and radio frequency identification); issues such as vandalism and theft of parts at public charging stations; and the unavailability of land for charge point operators are other challenges hindering the scaling up of EV charging infrastructure.

“Creating a dedicated marketplace for energy efficient products and services is a promising initiative.”

What is your outlook for smart metering in the country? What are your plans for the seg­me­nt? 

Smart meters are crucial components of the modern power sector, playing a critical role in addressing challenges posed by the evolving energy landscape and the goal of providing uninterrupted 24×7 po­wer supply to every citizen. In line with this objective, we, in collaboration with our joint venture partner IntelliSmart, have achieved a significant milestone by deploying 3.6 million smart meters ac­ro­ss Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands under the Smart Meter National Programme. Going forward, we aim to ma­intain a portfolio of over 7 million me­ters, and are actively engaging with other states to expand our reach.

The digitalisation of the power grid off­ers a multitude of benefits for all stakeholders in the energy ecosystem. Globa­lly, power utilities are increasingly em­bracing digital technologies as a central element of their business strategies.

As we know, smart meters eliminate ma­nual errors in meter reading, thereby en­suring billing efficiency along with accurate and time-bound capturing and processing of information. Ensuring the accurate measurement of end consumption is of paramount importance. This pr­ecision is crucial for effectively managing service delivery in alignment with custo­mer expectations, and for en­suring that the energy we provide is promptly compensated through timely payments. Like­wise, in the context of sub­sidy provisioning, it is essential to demonstrate the acc­urate delivery of en­ergy and the collecti­on of due subsidi­es from the government.

Smart meters will not only facilitate the integration of clean renewable energy in­to the grid, but will also stimulate in­no­va­tion in business models, create fre­sh re­ve­nue streams and bring utility pro­vi­ders closer to their customers by better un­de­rstanding of their needs and preferences.

What have been the key achievements of EESL in the past one year? 

This year has been good for EESL. I want to underscore some of our highlights, such as the launch of our new strategy, which focuses on enabling India’s net-zero transition through energy efficiency initiatives in sectors such as lighting, cooling, heating, utility energy management, demand flexibility and electric mobility. The launch of our renewed str­a­tegy was announced at the 14th Clean Energy Ministerial in Goa.

During the event, we also signed MoUs worth Rs 7 billion with organisations such as Andhra Pradesh State Energy Ef­fi­ciency Development Corporation Li­mi­ted, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Deve­lopment Council, Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan San­stha (Akshardham) and CSC E-Governance Services India Limited. These partnerships are a testimony to EESL’s dedication to exploring innovative solutions to ensure energy access, clean cooking, decarbonisation and energy efficiency.

CESL, a subsidiary of EESL, is honoured to support the Government of India’s PM-eBus Sewa scheme, which aims to augment urban bus operations with a central assistance of Rs 200 billion for the deployment of 10,000 electric buses. The scheme underscores our nation’s commitment to fostering sustainable transport solutions for achieving decarbonisation ambitions. CESL has been at the forefront of efforts to deploy electric buses in India. We have been nominated as the implementing partner for the am­bitious National Electric Bus Prog­ra­mme, which aims to deploy 50,000 new e-buses across the nation by 2027. Be­sides this, EESL has enabled significant efficiency improvements in an array of sectors, be it buildings, transportation, industry or energy generation. Our energy efficiency initiatives have reduced the annual energy consumption by 57 BUs, helping the country avoid a peak de­mand of 11,200 MW. These progra­m­mes have reduced CO2 emissions by 45.5 million tonnes annually.

What are EESL’s future plans and key focus areas? What are some of the new initiatives that you are working on? 

As previously mentioned, our primary focus areas revolve around facilitating India’s transition to a net-zero future th­rough innovative energy efficiency solutions. To achieve this, we are developing a pioneering one-stop marketpla­ce that will offer a comprehensive range of energy efficiency solutions, pro­ducts and government schemes implemented by EESL. This marketplace will have standardised agreements for both products and services, which, in turn, will he­lp in scaling up the energy efficiency mar­ket. This approach is designed to ca­talyse the energy efficiency market and will be fully integrated with cutting-edge information technology. It will expedite appro­va­ls for mega-scale projects, ensu­ring swift implementation.

Additionally, we have ambitious plans to deploy 10 million energy-efficient fans, including three-star- and five-star-rated models, throughout India. Conventional fans equipped with single-phase induction motors typically consume 70-80 W while delivering airflow at rates of 210-220 m3 per minute. In contrast, the introduction of brushless direct current fans represents a significant breakthrough, consuming a mere 35 W while achieving air delivery in the range of 220-230 m3 per minute. This innovation has the potential to slash electricity consumption by an impressive 50 per cent. Super-efficient air conditioning, electric cooking and energy-efficient motors are also major thrust areas for EESL.

To further enhance accessibility and affordability, we will harness the power of demand aggregation and bulk procurement for these energy-efficient fans. This strategic approach will not only result in price reductions but also ensu­re that these fans are readily available to a wider audience, making energy effici­en­cy more accessible to the masses.

What are your top priorities for EESL? 

In the past, EESL has carried out large-scale energy-efficient interventions on the demand side. Alongside these, we plan to scale up the uptake of energy-efficient appliances across the country. We aim to be the go-to solution provider for anything that is termed energy efficient.

What is your outlook for the power sector and the role of EESL in it? 

The outlook for the power sector in India is one of transformation and ad­a­p­tation, driven by the ever-increasing electricity de­mand, the imperative of en­­vironmental sustainability and the need for robust in­frastructure and cy­bersecurity measures.

India’s electricity demand has reached record highs, driven by economic grow­th, climatic factors and an expanding po­pulation. This surge in demand un­der­scores the importance of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable resour­ces for energy generation. India has set ambitious targets to achieve at least 50 per cent of its installed capacity from non-fossil sources by 2030. Energy storage systems will play a pivotal role in this transition, ensuring stable power supply during peak demand periods.

There is also a growing need for robust IT and cybersecurity frameworks. The­se frameworks are essential not only for mi­tigating cyberthreats but also for enhancing the overall performance and efficiency of power distribution and ma­nage­me­nt. The Ministry of Power and the Central Electricity Authority have taken proactive steps by issuing cybersecurity guidelines to bolster the sector’s resilience against security th­rea­ts, im­p­ro­ve vulnerability ma­­nage­me­nt and safeguard critical in­for­mation infrastructure.

Balancing the grid and ensuring its stability will be critical aspects of India’s po­w­er sector evolution. The integration of la­r­ge-scale renewable energy sources su­ch as wind and solar will be pivotal in ac­hieving this balance. Initiatives such as the Unified Real-Time Dynamic State Me­a­­surement Project by Power Grid Cor­poration of India Limited are instrumental in enhancing grid reliability, reducing blackouts and enabling efficient power supply management. Furth­er­mo­re, digitalisation and network im­pro­ve­me­nts, as exemplified by the RDSS initiative, are driving the power sector towards gr­eater robustness, reliability and resilie­n­­ce.

The power sector in India is on an exciting trajectory. These developments are essential not only for meeting the na­tio­n’s energy needs and contributing to global sustainability goals, but also for en­suring reliable and efficient power supply for all. At EESL, we are committed to playing a significant role in shaping this future, driving innovation and promoting energy efficiency throughout the power sector landscape.