Waves of Change

Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar transition from diesel to renewables

The geography of the Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands prevents the setting up of a single power grid. Moreover, unlike other states and UTs, these islands are not connected to the national power grid. The only option for these union territories (UTs), therefore, is to set up stand-alone power systems. While till a few years ago diesel generators (DGs) had catered to the islands’ power demand, rising tourism combined with the operational and environmental costs of diesel made a strong case for renewable energy deployment in these UTs.

To this end, in 2016, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) launched a programme to increase the renewable energy capacity on the islands. It approved the implementation of 40 MW of distributed grid-connected solar PV capacity in Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep, with an estimated central financial assistance of Rs 1.92 billion. Further, in November 2018, the minister of power and new and renewable energy announced that, going forward, the entire power demand of both the UTs would be met through renewable energy sources. In the same month, the MNRE extended the implementation timeline of distributed grid-connected solar power projects in Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep, from 2016-17 to 2018-19 and from 2016-17 to 2019-20 respectively. Also, the capacity of distributed solar energy projects to be developed was revised from 40 MW to 52 MW. However, the progress has not been uniform in the two UTs. While around 90 per cent of the power generation in Andaman & Nicobar is currently based on diesel, in Lakshadweep, it is entirely powered by solar energy. Renewable Watch presents an overview of the power supply situation in these two UTs, and their renewable energy growth plans…

Andaman & Nicobar

Power sector overview

Before Independence, a small steam turbine direct current (DC) generator of 100 kW capacity was installed by the British government on Ross Island. In 1945, after the departure of Japanese troops and British reoccupation of these islands, the power generator was shifted from Ross Island to Atlanta Point in Port Blair. Also, two 50 kW DC DG sets were installed. At that time, only the bungalows and offices of the Britishers were supplied with electricity. After Independence, in 1951, two steam turbine alternating current generators of 550 kW each were commissioned on Chatham Island. The steam boilers operated on wood waste and sawdust from the Chatham Saw Mill. The locally available mangrove wood was also used as fuel.

The shift to renewable energy first took place in 2001 when the 5.25 MW Kalpong hydroelectric power project was set up. The project generates about 14.83 MUs of energy annually. The per unit cost of electricity from this hydropower project is much less than the cost of electricity from DG sets.

Andaman & Nicobar has often faced power crises in the past. In July 2017, a major power crisis was faced by the UT when the 20 MW DG set owned by Suryachakra Power Corporation Limited (SPCL) stopped producing power due to operational issues. Thus, to manage the power loss the Electricity Department had to cut power supply in various locations of South Andaman. By September 2017, the situation had got aggravated in the UT leading to citizen protests. At last, the 20 MW Suryachakra power plant started producing power to reduce power cuts at night. Also, more DG sets were installed to solve the power mess.

This was not the end of the power woes for the people of the UT. A power crisis loomed again in March 2018 when the 15-year contract with SPCL was to expire, leading to a power deficit of over 6.5 MW. Again, DG sets came to the rescue of the Electricity department. The department then signed an agreement with NTPC VidyutVyapar Nigam Limited for setting up two DG power plants of 5 MW and 10 MW at Port Blair. Soon after this, another crisis occurred in Little Andaman when an oil tanker vessel carrying fuel for the DG set could not reach on time because of bad weather. Due to this, residents received just around seven hours of power supply a day.

The overdependence on DG sets had become a concern. Moreover, power generation from diesel was quite expensive at Rs 12-Rs 14 per kWh. According to research, the use of over 250 kilolitres of diesel per day costs the UT about Rs 4.5 billion every year. As diesel was highly subsidised, the central government would end up paying for the exorbitant cost. Therefore, the transition towards renewable energy has become inevitable.

   Recent developments

In June 2020, the Neyveli Lignite Corporation commissioned a 20 MW solar power project with an 8 MWh battery energy storage system (BESS) in South Andaman. The project was developed by Larsen & Toubro Limited. In January 2020, the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) floated a tender for 4 MW of grid-connected floating solar power projects with 2 MW/1 MWh BESSs to be set up at the Kalpong dam in North Andaman. However, the tender has witnessed numerous bid extensions since it was floated. In April 2019, Rajasthan Electronics and Instruments Limited issued another tender to set up 1.7 MW of solar projects with BESSs.

NTPC, which had set up DG sets in the UT, is now planning to set up 25 MW of solar projects. Of this, an 8 MW solar plant with BESS will be set up in Chidiyatapu and a 17 MW solar plant with BESS will be installed in Manglutan in South Andaman.

The setting up of rooftop solar plants is also being encouraged in the UT. In June 2019, the electricity department of Andaman & Nicobar issued an empanelment tender to develop 5 MW of rooftop solar projects with capacities ranging between 1 kW and  50 kW.

Lakshadweep

Like Andaman & Nicobar, the transition to renewables in Lakshadweep was driven by over-dependence on DGs. The UT faced issues with transportation and storage of diesel. However, a bigger concern was to avoid ecological degradation due to pollution and rising sea levels. In a bid to tackle these challenges, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited set up solar projects across the Chetlat, Amini, Agatti, Andrott, Bangaram, Bitra, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy islands.

Recent developments

In July 2020, SunSource Energy won the contract from SECI for developing 1.95 MW of solar plants with 2.15 MWh of BESSs. The projects will be set up on four islands of Lakshadweep: 300 kW at Agatti, 1,400 kW at Kavaratti, 150 kW at Bangaram and 100 kW at Thinnakara. Like Andaman & Nicobar, there is a focus on developing floating solar projects in Lakshadweep too. In February 2019, SECI issued a tender for 20 MW of floating solar projects with 60 MW BESSs to be set up on a turnkey basis across eight islands. In 2017, the Lakshadweep Energy Development Agency (LEDA) invited an expression of interest (EoI) to develop 10 MW of floating solar projects across nine islands. The EoI was floated in a bid to meet the deficit energy demand across the islands. Another interesting development has been the plan to use clean energy to generate clean drinking water. In November 2019, the central government approved six low-temperature thermal desalination plants based on ocean thermal energy conversion technology at the Amini, Androth, Chetlat, Kadamat, Kalpeni and Kiltan islands.

The way forward

In November 2017, Andaman & Nicobar joined the UjwalDiscom Assurance Yojana (UDAY). The UT was to derive a net benefit of Rs 180 million by receiving cheaper funds for capital expenditure, reducing aggregate technical and commercial and transmission losses as well as promoting energy efficiency. In March 2018, Lakshadweep also joined UDAY and was expected to receive an overall net benefit of approximately Rs 80 million. Currently, no data on the performance of discoms in both UTs is available on the UDAY portal. Going forward, data should be shared and added to check large-scale theft of electricity and wastage by domestic and industrial consumers.

In the given scenario, renewable energy can be a good alternative and its potential is currently untapped in these UTs. In 1997, the central government planned to set up a 1 MW wave energy plant at Car Nicobar. However, no development has taken place on this project ever since. Also, offshore wind remains untapped in the region. In the 1990s, over 10 wind masts were installed for studying the potential of wind energy in Andaman & Nicobar. The results had shown that Car Nicobar had the required average wind speed for operating wind mills. However, no wind plants have yet been installed.

Despite opportunities and the need for renewable energy (especially solar energy), issues related to intermittency of generation due to heavy rainfall and cloud cover remain unsolved. In order to address these issues, solar tenders are being linked with BESS, which is quite expensive despite the falling costs. Therefore, the road to complete transition from diesel to renewables (in Andaman & Nicobar) will be quite bumpy and costly. To avoid this, discussions are under way for setting up LNG-based projects to meet the base load power demand and reduce the dependence on diesel.

Going forward, there are plans to set up solar-wind hybrid systems in Andaman & Nicobar. Meanwhile, research carried out for Lakshadweep shows that the minimum cost of energy (CoE) for 1 kW PV array, 1 kW wind turbine, eight batteries, and 1 kW converter will be $0.413 per unit for Andrott island. The CoE will be $0.426 per unit for a 1.2 kW PV array, 1kW wind turbine, eight batteries, and 1 kW converter for the Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy islands. Also, based on the net present cost, it is has been calculated that a standalone solar-wind hybrid system is economically more viable as compared with either stand alone solar or wind system in Lakshadweep. Discussions are also on regarding the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs), running shipping services on clean energy, and starting electric boats. Despite these ambitious plans, no EV charging station has yet been installed in these UTs. It would be interesting to see how increased renewable energy capacity additions pan out in these UTs, given that power demand has been increasing over the years with the rise in tourism and that renewables would greatly help prevent further degradation of the environment in these ecologically sensitive islands.

By Sarthak Takyar

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