Interlaboratory Consortium Broadens Technical Support Opportunities for South Asia

Nov. 15, 2021

After many years of partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) national laboratories on various energy sector studies and programs, the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID's) mission in India realized an opportunity to coalesce these initiatives into an interlaboratory consortium that could offer a broader, more coordinated approach to energy sector support for the entire South Asia region.

With that goal, the South Asia Group for Energy (SAGE) officially launched in 2020 and comprises USAID and three national laboratories: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

"SAGE is a mechanism to bring everyone together, jointly identify themes and focus areas, and extend the reach of support we receive from the labs," said Monali Hazra, the USAID/India program manager for SAGE. "It also creates a consolidated identity for stakeholders across South Asia to recognize," Hazra added.

SAGE is one of several USAID programs at NREL that advance the priorities of the broader Asia Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy (Asia EDGE) initiative in South Asia. It is also considered a key program under the U.S.-India Strategic Energy Partnership.

Direct Collaboration Empowers Energy Sector Workforce

One of SAGE's primary functions is working directly with the technical institutions of India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the National Institute of Biomass Energy (NIBE) and National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE), as well as other public institutes in South Asia, to provide advanced technical knowledge on clean energy.

“This institutional arrangement will result in U.S. and Indian institutions sharing important technical information, including on innovative technologies, to their mutual benefit. It will also contribute toward strengthening the broader partnership and friendship between both countries," said MNRE Secretary Indu Shekhar Chaturvedi at SAGE's launch event last year.

Since the launch, NREL and NIWE collaborated to refine NIWE's capabilities in forecasting for renewable energy and improve the flexibility of utility-scale solar and wind plants through data analysis and prediction methods.

"The goal of this work is to remove barriers to the scale-up of renewable energy technology by decreasing the uncertainty of variable renewable generation through more accurate forecasting," said David Palchak, one of SAGE's laboratory leads. "Partnering with NIWE forms a critical link that puts this information into the hands of the organizations that need it, such as state grid operators and planners around the country."

Meanwhile, PNNL and NIBE worked together on ways to make bioenergy production sustainable under different policy scenarios. This included evaluating the impact on air pollution of changes in agricultural waste burning, estimating water use and savings potentials from improved irrigation practices, and assessing changes in food prices based on crop yields and competition between biomass and food crops.

Both LBNL and PNNL also worked with NIBE to assess the techno-economic potential of biomass and hybrid biomass-renewable energy systems for India’s evolving grid. Further, LBNL extended this support by collaborating with NIBE to analyze the capabilities and limitations of the biomass cookstoves testing laboratory at NIBE, make step-by-step suggestions for keeping the instruments and hardware components that can be reused, obtain new instruments, and reconfigure or rebuild parts of hardware with active advice from LBNL scientists. This project is on track to upgrade NIBE’s testing facility for biomass cookstoves emissions and performance and achieve the “gold standard” for testing facilities.

Hazra highlighted how critical the peer-to-peer learning through these joint research projects is to SAGE's mission.

"The value for the stakeholders increases multifold when they have an opportunity to work, day in and day out, with the labs and learn from that experience," Hazra said.

A Vision for Reliable, Resilient, and Sustainable Power Systems

SAGE has also assembled a broad range of South Asian stakeholders to define the research mechanisms, modeling opportunities, and data necessary for understanding the impact of changing economic and environmental conditions on the resiliency and reliability of South Asia’s power sector. Results of this work will be outlined in three closely linked reports summarizing stakeholder's concerns and applying state-of-the-art perspectives to the challenges that lie ahead. The first of these reports was released in October 2021: Charting a Path for Research and Development of Reliability and Resilience in South Asia’s Power Sector . On the policy end, SAGE is publishing analysis on the most feasible, least-cost pathways to decarbonizing the grid as well as the industry and transport sectors.

A figure with three boxes in green, yellow, and red, outlining SAGE’s core research topics.
SAGE's core topics define the research, development, and implementation pathways to maintain and strengthen power sector resilience, reliability, and sustainability.

While there will be many critical technical reports, studies, and roadmaps produced through SAGE that will influence how South Asian countries plan their clean energy transition, Hazra imagines SAGE's long-term impact will run much deeper.

"We want to catalyze a culture of innovation and, in five or 10 years, see more institutions with the in-house capabilities to undertake the research and modeling efforts needed to answer these big questions on their own," she said.

Learn more about SAGE by visiting USAID's SAGE web page.