Can India’s Tata Make Cheap, Distributed Energy?
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
BOSTON–For the most part, the world’s energy system is highly centralized. Tata Power of India is exploring whether smaller-scale distributed energy can work in a country where hundreds of millions of people don’t have access to electricity.
Earlier this month, I met with Avinash Patkar, the chief sustainability officer of Tata Power, which is the power division of India-based Tata, an industrial giant with businesses in steel, software, autos, chemicals, and telecommunications.
As electricity service is extended to more people in India, Tata Power is projecting rapid growth from about 3,000 megawatts of capacity now to 25,000 megawatts later this decade. As part of a long-term sustainability plan, Tata Power intends to beef up its use of clean, renewable power, notably hydropower, where it already has some projects under development, Patkar said.
But the company is putting smaller bets on other clean-energy technologies for distributed power generation, something U.S.-based utilities would not likely pursue. It has invested in an Australian enhanced geothermal company, a concentrating solar power company, and is bullish on the use of thin-film solar cells. In many cases, it’s a question of finding a business model that works with the distributed energy technology.