ABB signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) to enter a technical cooperation to build microgrids as well as joint R&D in the field of rural electrification, utilization of natural non-fossil resources, battery energy storage and their connection to loads and main grid.

The agreement also includes internship opportunities to post graduate students of IITM for the next three years.

Indian scenario related to microgrids is expected to evolve rapidly in the coming years. With thousands of Indian villages still un-electrified, the decentralized microgrids are a viable solution to power these villages. A low-maintenance microgrid has the potential to eliminate dependence on expensive diesel fuel and the grid. IITM has been doing pioneering work over the last few years developing and demonstrating solar based energy-efficient DC homes. ABB, a global power and automation major has a strong portfolio of products for the renewable energy integration, distribution and automation of interconnected renewable energy sources that form local microgrids.

IITM and ABB will jointly work to design, build and supply equipment for up to two such microgrids in rural areas.Along with ABB equipment, the microgrid will enable homes to be fitted with energy efficient DC devices like LED bulbs, TV, Cell phone charges, Brushless DC motor based fans, specially designed by IITM.The project shall be managed by IITM till the transfer of the installations to the local distribution utility (DISCOM).

"This is a great opportunity to combine our expertise with bright young minds from this renowned institute to devise and deploy solutions tailored for India," said ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer. "Microgrids technology is an important part of our Next Level strategy and well poised to make the Indian government’s vision of power to all a reality by providing access to energy and ensuing economic empowerment to the people." At the end of last year, ABB set up India’s first multi-source urban microgrid in the heart of Delhi to power its flagship event, Automation and Power World.

"IIT is committed to implementing an affordable solution for supplying electric power to Indian homes, whether they are off-grid, or homes with several hours of power cuts. At the same time our solution helps reducing the home’s monthly power bills even when there are no power-cuts, a must for most middle and lower-income homes. Simultaneously IITM is committed to a vision of India moving completely to Electric Vehicles by 2030. Towards this it is ready to commit the best-in class technology. The R&D cooperation with ABB will help them get to these goals faster," said Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT Madras.

As a precursor to this agreement, an interface between industry-academia and regulatory bodies was organized jointly by IITM and ABB last month to discuss the challenges and opportunities posed by microgrids in India. Around 100 participants from utilities, industry and academia had engaged in deliberations.

ABB’s Access to electricity initiative in India has already demonstrated significant impact in the country. Ithas brought solar power to 1,200 households in the Rajasthandesert and to over 100 villages in the world’s largest delta region of Sunderbans. The program has led to increased productivity of weavers and tailors by 50 percent and 40 percent respectively, improved healthcare, education and reduced strife with wildlife in the villagers’ search for firewood.

IITM has used its solar-DC technology to power 4000 off-grid homes in Rajasthan during the last few months. These homes are located at places where vehicles cannot travel and material including solar-panels and batteries are transported on camels or tractors.Today these homes have lights and fans and cell-phone chargers.

ABB will also support research at IITM’s Battery Engineering Center to improve the life and discharge cycles of Lead-Acid to Lithium-Ion batteries for the next five years. Immediate applications range from telecomtower backups to grid ancillaryservices and renewable integration.In addition, the research has the scope of including storage solutions for electric vehicles (EVs), importantinlight of the recent push for EVs to act as virtual power plants to store surplus energy and support the grid in times of deficit. The government outlined this in the recently launched National Mission on Electric Mobility program which targets six million electric vehicles (4mn two-wheelers and 2mn four-wheelers) by 2020.