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Overview | September 2016

Matching T And D infra to generation capacity critical

T&D infrastructure, which is a vital link in the power ecosystem has been largely ignored. It calls for urgent attention.
For several decades now, the power sector has focused its activity on the augmentation of its generation capacity in order to cope with burgeoning demand. So far, all eggs have been going into the production basket. However, it now seems that a vital link in this ecosystem has been largely ignored: that is, addressing our inadequate power evacuation infrastructure. This is the Achilles´ heel of the Indian power sector.

The lack of this essential infrastructure has opened up a huge chasm between beefed-up generation capacity and the quantum of electricity that can be evacuated and supplied to the last-mile consumer. This inadequacy has also hamstrung us in the realm of balancing the grid by feeding deficient regions like the south from surplus zones like the east.

Distribution is the final link in the chain of electric power, connecting the transmission system to the consumers, and we have ignored it at our own peril. Historically, power distribution has been a monopoly of government-owned utilities, and is actually in the realm of 29 state governments, with the private sector playing only a limited part. The abysmal financial health of the state electricity distribution companies (discoms), which are perennially plagued by subsidised tariffs, is a major roadblock towards improving our evacuation efficiency.

It is estimated that these discoms are racking up annual losses to the tune of about Rs.60,000 crore.

These losses also adversely impact public sector banks. The government has rolled out a financial restructuring plan of Rs.2 lakh crore for the beleaguered discoms, called Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), which comes long after a Rs.10,000-crore bailout package in 2002. The time has probably come to ask the question, ´How much succour can we afford to provide our discoms?´

National discom
Given the ground reality that the state discoms hardly have the wherewithal to cater to the country´s need for electricity on their collective strength and financial resources, the idea of a national power distribution company has also been mooted in some quarters. This may not seem such a utopian concept, if we consider that the Centre´s vision of achieving the goal of 24x7 power supply is primarily imperilled by the poor financial health of discoms across the country, with their collective dues now pegged at a whopping Rs.15,700 crore.

There is some meagre silver lining in the fact that some progress has recently been made towards the privatisation of power distribution. Till date, 255 towns have been identified by the Shunglu Committee for the implementation of distribution franchises, and the B.K. Chaturvedi report has introduced the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) as a viable model.

Private DFs
Indeed, the distribution franchisee (DF) model has emerged as a key solution for cash-strapped and loss-making utilities, who can tie up with private players with strong management skills in the distribution business as well as the financial muscle to incur the capex required for infrastructure. It is hoped that this model will result in a reduction of Aggregate Technical and Comenrcial (AT&C) losses, improved collection and higher customer satisfaction.

As a rule of thumb, every megawatt of power generated requires an evacuation capacity of approximately 7 MVA. Consider the currently installed capacity of 275 GW: to efficiently utilise this, we need an equivalent power evacuation infrastructure of at least 1,925,000 MVA. However, this is infrastructure that we simply do not have at this point in time. To plug this gap and translate the vision of round-the-clock, uninterrupted power for all into reality, the current deficiency in distribution infrastructure has to be reduced drastically. In addition, preparations have to be made to accommodate augmented generation capabilities.

Large-scale capital expenditure will be required to create the additional power distribution infrastructure over the next five years, and investment in the transmission sector could touch $80-100 billion, according to some reports. The spinoffs of projects to augment transmission and distribution infrastructure would also be significant. They would propel demand for power conductors, insulators, transmission towers, substation equipment (power transformers, switchgears/panels), IT/OT technologies,and other such equipment.

A more modern and effective approach would be an medium voltage and low voltage (MV & LV) network to stem AT&C losses, involving vehicles like self-healing distribution grid, the addition of distribution transformers, the introduction of smart meters, feeder segregation, moving from overhead to underground networks, and so on.

The current generation of smart meters offers several compelling arguments for upgrading. Not only do they provide for such key features as automated meter reading and remote disconnection and reconnection, they can also notify engineers of failures in the system as well as notify them of the location affected.

Another key technology that deserves elaboration is the smart grid, which uses information and communications technology to gather data about the behaviour of suppliers and consumers to improve the efficiency of production and distribution. The smart grid can also identify and correct supply/demand imbalances instantaneously, and detect faults through the aforementioned self-healing process.

As part of embracing advanced technologies and reaping the benefits they offer, India Power has adopted these technologies to improve customer experience. We are also working on several fronts simultaneously to ensure the technical upgrade of existing distribution networks to ensure safety of consumers and stability of power supply. In its distribution franchise area in the Asansol-Raniganj belt of West Bengal, India Power has maintained and reduced T&D losses to 2.3%. These are the best figures in the industry in India, and are comparable to some of the best utilities of the world. This reduction in losses has been achieved through measures such as the installation of AMR meters, adequate maintenance of lines, and control of theft, while maintaining 250MVA connected load. This has enabled us to not only stay afloat, but to prosper.

The major challenge in laying transmission lines is getting the Right of Way (RoW). India Power has recently completed a transmission line connecting the IPCL grid to the West Bengal state grid. We faced several Right of Way obstacles in this process, but nevertheless ensured that the line was completed in a reasonable timeframe by adopting quick and fair resolutions of RoW challenges.

Author: Shrirang Karandikar, CEO, India Power Corporation Limited

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