Powering a transformation in India: Here is how to deliver 24/7 affordable power in every household

August 26, 2017 4:02 AM

India is amongst the fastest growing economies and the 'power sector' is acting as a catalyst to this growth.

The record capacity addition in the last couple of years raised the installed generation capacity to over 315GW, including 50GW from renewables. (Reuters)

India is amongst the fastest growing economies and the ‘power sector’ is acting as a catalyst to this growth. The record capacity addition in the last couple of years raised the installed generation capacity to over 315GW, including 50GW from renewables. The peak demand touched 160GW last year, with daily electricity consumption of 3.5 billion units (BU). Electricity shortage is now history, heralding a new era of adequacy of power in India. Skewed distribution of resources-coal, gas, hydro and renewables-required for power generation and widely dispersed load centres necessitate long haulage of power through high capacity lines. But in the last three years, the augmentation in transmission infrastructure has surpassed 12th Plan targets by great measure. Indian grid has more than 3.7 lakh circuit km of extra high voltage AC transmission lineswith a transformation capacity of  7 lakh MVAand interregional transmission capacity of 75,050MW. There are 125 numbers of 765kVlines,1,475 numbers of 400kV lines and 3,900 numbers of 220kV lines.India has a record 11 HVDC elements and a couple of them are in the making. The philosophy of power system planning has undergone a shift from pursuit of regional self-sufficiency to optimal utilisation of resources on all-India basis. State and regional grids have been ‘stitched’ to form a large,meshed synchronous national grid that operates at a’single frequency’. Besides seamless transfer of power from surplus to deficit regions, interconnected systems enable exploitation of diversity associated with time,weather, crop pattern, industrialisation, population density, economic growth, etc. Large synchronous interconnection helps achieve economies of scale by making it feasible to operate generating units of higher capacity and better efficiency.

The ability to meet higher demand, reduced cost of cycling of thermal power plants, higher degree of reliability, sharing of generation reserves and economic interchanges,i.e.facilitation of electricity market,are other value additions. In 2014, the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation was signed, and cross-border transactions in electricity are taking place between India and Bhutan,Bangladesh and Nepal. As mall beginning has been made with Myanmar,by supplying power through radial interconnection. To scale up global energy trade, policy on cross-border trade in electricity has been formulated by the ministry of power.The central electricity regulator has had a public consultation on draft regulations on cross-border trade in electricity. An orderly access to the Indian electricity market for international entities and vice versa is being established. India was a net importer of power until March 2017,now it has become a net exporter to neighbouring nations. Transmission systems require huge investment and a self-sustaining business model.

The government is extending financial support through PSDF (Power System Development Fund).The policy notified in 2016 provides for 100% FDI under automatic route for transmission projects. Standard bidding documents (SBDs) have been updated for carrying out competitive bidding for procurement of transmission services in all time-frames.Transmission system is considered a common carrier with charges only for entry and exit,factoring distance, direction and quantum,avoiding pancaking of charges. A single-window mechanism for users at interstate level has been put in place.The uncertainty associated with high load growth and risks for merchant power stations have been levellised due to access to a large interstate market.Transmission system acts as one of the biggest insurance for all market players.India is also evolving its own general network access based on the experiments and the lessons learnt, as India moves from a small to a very large power system.

Transmission is key to competition. There have been institutional rearrangements facilitating increasing private sector participation over the last couple of years. To ensure neutrality and avoid conflicts of interest, transmission is barred from trading and generation.Building transmission is now under competition and there are over 40 transmission licensees. The Electricity Act, 2003,mandates a central transmission utility (CTU) to undertake transmission through interstate systems and to discharge all functions of planning and coordination relating to interstate transmission with the stakeholders.The ministry of power has designated Power Grid Corporation as the CTU,who has to ensure development of an efficient, coordinated and economical system of interstate transmission lines and provide non-discriminatory open access to transmission systems subject to availability of adequate margins. A pan-India power market has been established, coupled by design and splitby exception in case of congestion.Spot prices in power exchanges have seen a southward movement.The unbundling of utilities and implementation of open access has increased liquidity in the market and provided options to states to balance their portfolio in a cost-effective manner through bulk electricity market.On a daily basis, a quarter BU are transacted in the electricity market by over 3,000 participants. The average prices have reduced from Rs 12-15 per unit to Rs 2.4 per unit in 2016-17. This may be largely attributed to the strengthening of transmission network, leading to easing of congestion. Thus,transmission has been instrumental in converting the dream of “One Nation, One Grid, One Frequency,One Market”into a reality. The physical life of transmission is half a century and the financial life quarter of a century.

In this long life, any elements would see high and low loadings as well as reversal of flows.The usage of transmission changes with time. In the near term, there is a need for regulation on transmission planning,with the concept of central and state transmission utilities and statutory bodies, insulated from the owner of the wire. Regulations would improve the security of the power system. The institutional framework for an independent and non-discriminatory power system operation has been put in place, as mandated under the ElectricityAct. In January, the Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), the national grid operator, was made operational as an independent government company. It ensures a level playing field for all stakeholders and is facilitating power sector reforms through regular feedback given to the central regulator, authority and CTU on design and operational aspects. India is running the world’s largest renewable energy expansion programme, with a target to increase capacity from 32GWin 2014 to 175GW by 2022. Flexible transmission plays a vital role for largescale integration of renewables and other distributed energy sources. Green energy corridors consisting of high capacity transmission are under construction, crisscrossing renewable-rich states and connecting them with transmission superhighways.To promote renewable energy and energy security, 8% electricity consumption, excluding hydro power, has been targeted to be from solar by March 2022.Ancillary services have been implemented to support grid operation for integration of renewable energy.

New technology, modern construction methods and new operation and maintenance practices are leading to a better transmission infrastructure. Better designs such as multi-circuit towers have been made for higher density power transmission, reducing the need of Right of Way (RoW). Miniaturisation of equipment and substations to reduce the requirement of land and moving underground through gas insulated technology in metros and congested areas is a thrust area. Environmental care and health hazards are kept in mind to ensure safety, and to ensure security of supply,rings of transmission are formed to take care of sudden outages. Transmission and distribution infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather and natural calamities. In the recent past, when low probability, high impact events like Phailin, HudHud cyclones caused damage to local generation and distribution structures, the imbalance in the power pool was quickly absorbed by the other regions and power supply to the affected areas was restored. Transmission is being made smarter through ICT. The National Smart Grid Mission, launched in March 2015, is hand-holding states for speeding up development of smart grid network. Subone-second measurement and monitoring to observe the dynamic behaviour of the power system across a wide area network has been initiated through synchrophasor technology.To plan, build, finance, operate and maintain such a massive system, Big Data tools and capacity building for simulation of scenarios are essential. A transmission system is analogous to arteries in the human body. The service provided by the system is a non-transferable, indivisible’public service’like that provided by roads and railways.They are enablers as well as great levellers. It binds the power system and integrates the country.

Considering the cybernetic nature of the system, it calls for regular review at policy and regulatory levels.Accordingly,mechanisms of monitoring transmission system availability and performance have been put in place. Apps have been launched to enable electricity consumers and government agencies to engage directly with service providers. For example, Grameen Vidyutikaran (GARV) app helps citizens track rural electrification, Vidyut Pravah provides real-time information of electricity price and availability, E-Tarang enables monitoring real-time status of transmission system, E-Trans for better price discovery, and DEEP (Discovery of Efficient Electricity Price) e-Bidding portal is a common e-bidding platform with e-reverse auction facility to facilitate nationwide power procurement. But a lot of work remains at intrastate level.As the availability of reliable power supply improves,behind-the-meter distribution generation flourishes,the focus has to be on strengthening distribution systems, i.e. last-mile wire. With challenges evolving with the integration of renewables into power systems, increase in electrical energy demand, growth in the economy and changes in technology, regulations, market design, administration and management of the power system, greater responsibility lies with the stakeholders to nurture and treasure our”mother grid”. The last three years have seen many records broken and many firsts.There is a road map to achieve the vision of Ujwal Bharat-delivering 24×7 affordable quality power to every household, in an environment-friendlymanner. Electricity makesus what we are today and what we will be tomorrow.

By Jyoti Arora & SK Soonee
Jyoti Arora is joint secretary (transmission), ministry of power; SK Soonee is Ex-CEO & adviser, POSOCO (a government of India enterprise)

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