Evacuation Lag

Transmission constraints impact project development

One of the biggest hurdles in ensuring timely bidding and commissioning of renewable power capacity is the unavailability of adequate transmission facilities. The problem is that the required transmission capacity is not growing in sync with renewable energy capacity. Thus, due to inadequate or uncommissioned transmission infrastructure, there is a delay in the setting up of planned renewable power capacity. Incomplete transmission projects in some states have led to undersubscription or cancellation of tenders. These delays will ultimately result in a loss to developers and a weakening of their confidence.

Long transmission planning process

In India, most of the renewable power capacity is limited to a few resource-rich states. These states do not have the capability to absorb all the available and planned renewable power in their grids. Thus, inter-state transmission (ISTS) infrastructure is imperative for transporting renewable energy from generation centres to load centres spread across the country. However, the planning process for ISTS projects is quite complicated due to the involvement of a number of agencies. Apart from the central transmission utility (CTU), Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and the Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), a number of state transmission utilities (STUs) and regional power committees are involved in the ISTS planning process. The process starts when a renewable power generator applies for long-term ISTS connectivity to evacuate the generated power. After deliberations with the CEA, CTU, and STUs involved, the proposal goes to the regional standing committee on transmission (SCT), which deliberates on the technical requirements of the transmission elements. From here, the proposal moves to the National Committee on Transmission (NCT) which decides the project allocation mechanism. Finally, the recommendations of NCT are sent to the Empowered Committee on Transmission (ECT) for approval. The entire process takes about seven to eight months, leading to project delays.

Addressing gaps

A joint study committee, comprising officials from the Southern Region Standing Committee on Transmission (SRSCT) and Western Region Standing Committee on Transmission (WRSCT), was formed in April 2018. It recommended fast-tracking Rs 480 billion of transmission projects and ensuring their commissioning by 2021. The recommendations required transmission infrastructure for each renewable-rich state to be based on the upcoming and planned generation in these states. After being approved by CTU and NCT, certain transmission elements proposed in the recommendations were agreed upon for bidding in December 2018. At present, ECT has approved Rs 175 billion of projects and bidding is under progress for nine transmission projects of Rs 90 billion. However, projects of Rs 274 billion are yet to go to NCT and ECT for approvals. Each day of delay in bidding these projects means the postponement of commissioning of the planned renewable power capacity. The nine transmission packages currently under bidding are for projects coming up in Gujarat and Rajasthan only and will be ready for commissioning by 2020. However, many of the concerned renewable energy generation projects in these states needing power evacuation facilities will be ready for commissioning in 2019. After the completion of the entire transmission planning process and securing approvals from NCT, these projects also need to get clearance from all the related regulatory authorities. During this time, CTU lists these projects on its website and invites comments from all stakeholders. All concerned stakeholders need to approve the project before it can be awarded to a developer, and the entire process takes another four to five months. For the nine projects currently under bidding, objections have already been raised in the states of Haryana and Punjab. Unless these objections are mitigated, the transmission projects might not be taken up for implementation. Thus, these nine transmission projects would most likely not be awarded before August 2019, unless regulatory approvals come through from central and state regulators. Therefore, for transmission developers, commissioning these projects even by December 2020 looks difficult.

Outlook

Going forward, the government should explore the coupling of energy storage with transmission instead of generation for greater value addition. Finally, India has the potential to become an inter-regional power trading hub, by leveraging its ISTS network for cross-border transportation of renewable energy. However, at present, there is an urgent need for pre-emptive and coordinated transmission planning so that transmission projects are completed ahead of renewable energy projects. All generation and transmission developers should be consulted while planning transmission projects. This will help avoid the mismatch between generation and transmission projects. n

Based on a presentation by Alok Nigam, Head, Business Development, Sterlite Power Transmission.

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