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Interaction | April 2016

India´s transmission grid is smart, but discoms don´t math up

Rathin Basu, Managing Director, Alstom India T&D Limited

Are you exploring any options in the smart grid segment?
We are extremely strong in smart grid. It is something which is not understood, and therefore, you may have 100 definitions of smart grid. India´s transmission grid is the smartest in the world. This is the single largest synchronised grid of the world of 290,000 MW. It runs on the one load dispatch centre at Katwaria Sarai was built by us. Such a large synchronised grid is not present in China or USA. India´s transmission grid is smart. However, it is just the opposite in case of discoms and that is a pity. I do not want to say that we have all the core technologies in distribution, but lack in effective management. But yes, distribution has been neglected. If distribution gets the same technology that we have put in transmission then it is not a herculean task, we have it all here, we have localised; the only thing that is missing is management. If that is taken care of then our T&D would be smart too, which would go a long way in the realisation of the smart cities vision. We can never make a city smart when we don´t have 24/7 electricity. Calling a city smart while half the city is blacked out won´t help in any way.

On black outs, to what extent the repeat of 2012 kind of black outs can be avoided?
Two things happened. Yes. it is the worst black out in the world. But there are pros and cons. The con is that it is the worst black out and happened for a very funny reason which I do not want to mention right now. Good thing was that thanks to the smart transmission grid technology, the network came back to life in less than 8 hours. California took 72 hours!. So, not everything is bad. As long as the grid is not mismanaged, because some state chief minister says you cannot cut my power supply even if I overdraw, everything should be fine. Overdraws are literally impossible. No state can overdraw just by making some calls; so we have those disciplines now. In addition, the grid frequency band has been narrowed. One cannot theoretically say that it will not happen again, but the condition is much better now.

What is the outcome of Acquiring of Alstom by GE in terms of products and services?
We have a complete portfolio of products of the former Alstom and since the GE Group acquired the energy business last summer, which includes former group, power and renewable, we have also included GE´s energy connection businesses, all its major product technologies and solutions to be able to formally say that we have arrived with our full bouquet of products.

What are the latest advancements in technology. We do know that technological advancements are happening , but what is next? What are the technologies that will benefit India?
In India, we have 290,000 MW, or 290 GW of capacity. But if you see the actual utility from the low dispatch centre is between 140,000 and 145,000 MW, which is just 50 per cent usage of the installed base. One of the reasons is that the electricity power flow between different regions of India are not fluid, there are different constraints today. It is measured by power grid by a terminology called´Inter-regional Power Transfer Capability´. Today, we have around 46,000 MW, which is too small if you see the ratio, while in reality it is operating at 25,000 MW. It is like highway. Like highways, we need a lot of high power corridors which will carry power from one region to another in a big way. For example, connectivity with south India was not there till the end of 2013. Even today the theoretical connection is around 4,000 MW, while the need is 15,000 MW, which means we will need another 2-3 years before South comes to that. Similar is the case with connectivity between north, east and west India. We have a separate power corridor for every region, which has to be eliminated. The current national target is around 64-68,000 MW by 2017, when we complete the 12th plan.

That way, what will be the rope of HVDC and 1200 kV transformers?
A lot of HVDCs are in the pipeline. The plan is to take this to 128,000 MW by 2022 and by then we can expect the national power capacity to be around 400 GW. Until 2022 bulk power transfer from one region to another will be primarily dependent on the 765 kV transformer backbone which has been just built. There will be lot of sub-stations of that voltage, further strengthening the backbone and HVDC corridors for power. These are the two things from 2016 you will see a lot of in the next 6 years. The 1200 kV transformer was done more on an experimental basis. But you cannot implement that in applications because it is such a huge highway; you cannot have that corridor without proper power flow. Typically, 1200-kV line should be able to transport 10,000-12,000 MW. The equivalent for 765 kV is 4,000 MW and HVDC is 6,000 MW. We need that kind of power to transmit on 1200 kV. Today you don´t see that kind of power generation, generation has slowed down. It is coming up in renewables, but renewables have different challenges. 1200kV would be commercially viable when the grid will be of 400,000-500,000 MW. Till then, we have to be on 765 kV and HVDC, and air-insulated switchgear (AIS). to more and gas-insulated switchgear (GIS), because of more land pricing, and HVDC mainly for bulk and the righter way to be narrower.

T&D industry is suffering because of discom losses... Is there any actual change in mindset in the whole sector after m´UDAY´ or does it still have to change further? It has to change, because you cannot afford losing Rs 80,000 -90,000 crore on discoms every year.

On this count, why this privatisation of circles either through distribution franchising licensing is not happening? Do you think there is not enough political will?
I would say that distribution franchise is not the only solution to make discoms profitable because we have19 or 20 discoms that are doing well, and they do not have any franchise. So basically, I agree there needs to be a strong political willpower to make sure that our discoms do not lose money, and that they can provide electricity 24/7. It will empower quality and it will collect money for electricity. So, if a section of the society has to be served under a subsidy, the government has to fund it, not the discoms. All you need to provide is good quality electricity at a reasonable price.

- BS Srinivasalu Reddy

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