Views of Ajay Kumar Bhalla

“We are gearing up our systems to become smart”

The need for a flexible, resilient and intelligent grid is becoming a priority for policymakers. With the future power system being required to deal with new challenges such as a greater influx of renewable energy, growth in electric vehicles (EVs), new forms of generation sources, and a significant addition of new households to the grid, the government is putting in place solutions and strategies for holistic smart grid development. At the recently concluded India Smart Grid Week 2018, organised by the India Smart Grid Forum in New Delhi, Ajay Kumar Bhalla, secretary, Ministry of Power, shared his perspective and vision on smart grid development in India. Excerpts from his address…

Current state of the sector

India’s power system is the third largest power system in the world, and  is complex and challenging. We have close to 335 GW of installed capacity and 275 million customers in our network. Our per capita consumption compared to world standards is very low at around 1,122 kWh. Consumption patterns are also quite varied across different categories. In rural areas, consumption is low, while in the irrigation segment, consumption is high. Consumption in the commercial and industrial categories is varied and distributed.

We have about a million circuit kilometres of grid network and an equivalent transformation capacity. The network comprises grid lines across multiple voltages – 400 kV, 765 kV, high voltage DC lines, and now we are working on a 1,200 kV AC line. All in all, we have a grid that is advanced in some aspects and quite backward in others, where we need to bring in smartness. That is the need of the hour.

Initiatives taken

We have made a lot of effort on this front. We have separated the power system’s operation function from the central transmission utility, which is now managed by a separate company, Power System Operation Corporation Limited. We have load despatch centres, which manage loads at the national, regional and state levels.

Going forward, we aim at providing quality and reliable supply of electricity 24×7. Nearly 40 million households, as per the estimates provided by the state governments, are not yet connected with the electricity grid.

We want to connect all these remaining households by March 2019. This is a challenging task that we are undertaking. So, we have certain areas in our country where electricity is yet to reach, while there are other areas and urban pockets where private players like Tata Power and Reliance Infrastructure are working as distribution companies and bringing in the latest techniques and modern systems.

Our current losses in the system, in terms of aggregate technical and commercial losses, at the national level are, on an average, around 21-22 per cent. However, if we go to different states, we find that the range of the losses is quite high. Private discoms in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are doing really well, with loss figures in single digits.

We started the National Smart Grid Mission way back in 2015 and initiated some pilot projects. The resources required for such projects are very high; hence, we have gone in for pilots and are then looking for some solutions. While some projects are yet to take off and others are still under implementation, at least a beginning has been made.

We have also brought in smart meters in a big way for some of the states. Public sector company Energy Efficiency Services Limited is coordinating with the Ministry of Power on these efforts. To ensure proper power supply and adequate metering, we are considering prepaid meters and smart meters.

New and emerging requirements

What we are looking at is that by 2022, we will have about 525 GW of installed capacity, of which 175 GW will be based on renewables, as compared to about 60 GW of renewables today. Hence, by 2022, renewables should be able to contribute 20 per cent of the total energy. This brings in another chapter in grid management to integrate renewable energy with coal, gas and hydro-based generation, which will be the major contributors of electricity, accounting for the remaining 80 per cent supply.

We are gearing up our systems to become smart. India is also working on a project to build 100 smart cities under the Smart Cities Mission. Another technology that is being introduced in a big way is EVs. By 2030, we are looking to have around 30 per cent of our automobile sector in electric mode. This brings in challenges of its own, for both the grid and the communication systems to the grid. Further, the addition of decentralised generation sources such as rooftop solar and the development of minigrids are bringing another set of challenges for managing the grid.

Smart grid outlook

We are looking at a grid that is dynamic in nature. In our system, when we talk about introducing smartness, we do so by introducing a software or a technology through pilots. However, by the time we implement these pilots, the technology often changes and another better solution or ecosystem comes up.

As policymakers, we look forward to inputs on what the government can do to make the grid smarter and the pace at which we should bring in newer technologies, keeping the size of our country in view as well as the present level of infrastructure development in rural areas vis-a-vis urban areas.

We must also look at the kind of smart grid applications that we should bring in as well as the feasibility of their implementation, with the limited resources we have. These technologies should be sustainable over a period of time, besides being modifiable in subsequent periods when new technologies and software are brought into the market. This will allow the entire power sector to progress in a seamless manner when technology changes take place.

My desire is to have a grid that becomes smart for all stakeholders. It should not be so advanced that people sitting in rural areas and our state load despatch centres are not able to handle it. At the same time, it should not be too backward when compared to what private players have brought in Delhi, Mumbai or Ahmedabad. We could also look at the possibility of using artificial intelligence in making the grid smarter.

I look forward to inputs on our policy direction. Beyond proprietary solutions, we need inputs on what kind of policy structures we should put in place so that the smart grid falls into place and gets expanded in our country. This is important as we are looking at infrastructure development in some parts of the country where we are yet to extend power reach.

On the other hand, in certain areas, we are looking at making the grid very advanced and smart, so as to integrate the changes taking place in the renewable energy sector and other kinds of power systems.

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