Reji Kumar Pillai, President, India Smart Grid Forum
How far India is successful in implementing 14 smart grid pilot projects and what are the lessons learnt from them?
The 14 smart grid pilot projects were allotted in 2012. However, none of the 14 projects could be completed till date. Sadly, four of these projects have been cancelled. As of now, the expectation is that only two or three projects may be completed successfully in 2017. For those who are part of implementing these projects and the monitoring bodies in India, there are many lessons to learn from the pilot projects. It will enable them to do the course correction for the future rollout of large projects. It is necessary to build a conducive ecosystem for a systemic change to transform the business processes of utilities.
Is the Indian grid ready for low voltage renewable energy integration?
There is a greater concentration from the utilities side on technologies that can enable flexibility in power systems that are required for integrating the increasing share of renewable energy - flexibility both in supply and demand. The rapid growth seen in the distributed generation and energy storage may disrupt the utility business models. The country's is aim is to add 175 GW from renewables to the grid by 2022. Of which 40 GW will be from solar PV (solar generation from 20 million rooftops will be connected to low voltage distribution grids). But this process is an engineering challenge which requires high preparedness and flawless planning. As of now, our power distribution companies (discoms) do not have network models that can handle this. Neither do we see any action being taken by the discoms in this regard. If the utilities are able to handle this integration successfully, then our expectation is that the 40 GW target will be exceeded by 2022.
What according to you are the major bottlenecks?
To pin point the major challenges - the procurement framework and the discoms. Unlike buying machinery, smart grid implementation requires higher technical knowledge and expertise as these are complex technologies integrated with two-way communication systems. These type of equipment cannot be procured on the lowest bidder route. In the current scenario, discoms in the country lack the capabilities for assessing and choosing the right technologies. Nor they have the bandwidth to operate and maintain these technologies. Discoms need to move out of the outdated general conditions of contract (GCC) prepared in the 1950s when predominantly the hydro capacity was created. Those GCCs have several draconian clauses with no limitation on liabilities and utter disregard for intellectual property rights. Globally, the utilities choose a technological partner and enter into a long term technological agreement. These technology partners would support the entire process of integration, management and maintenance.
The second major issue is training and capacity building in discoms. There is very little budget provisioned for the same. The total budget of the R-APDRP scheme was Rs 52,000 crore of which only Rs 250 crore was allocated for training and capacity building. I feel a minimum of 5 per cent of the project cost should be provisioned for training and capacity building, while implementing new technologies. It is also important to ensure that these trained teams on a particular system should be there for long periods despite their promotions.
What is your take on Indian Smart Grid market?
The Indian smart grid market is big that global players have started weighing their possibilities. Countries like Canada, European Commission, Sweden and the USA have expressed their interest in funding technology demonstration projects in India. Japan, USA and Sweden already have presence in India as a funder or as a partner in renewable energy. China is successful in installing smart meters for majority of their customers. Now, the biggest smart metering market is India. It is estimated that the country would require 250 million smart meters in next ten years.
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