Energy transition: Transmitting a revolution

India’s ambitious energy transition will rely heavily on renewable energy. I.S. Jha, Chairman and Managing Director of Power Grid Corporation of India, explains how the state transmission utility firm plans to address the challenges posed by integrating 175 gigawatts of renewables into the grid.


by Swati Prasad

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The power sector plays a vital role in the economic growth and development of any economy. India – which is today the fastest growing major economy in the world – is coping with several challenges plaguing this sector. For instance, nearly 300 million people here do not have access to electricity, the per capital consumption was a measly 1,010 kilowatt-hours in 2014–15, which is only a third of the global average (3,026 kilowatt-hours), and transmission and distribution losses are high, currently estimated at 19.66 percent.

In order to emerge as an economic powerhouse, India needs to bring about an energy transition. The first step towards this transition is India’s “24×7 Power for All” program that aims to provide power to all households, industries, businesses and public needs, as well as adequate power to agricultural farm holdings by 2019.

“Power for all needs to be affordable. And affordability comes from transmission,” says I.S. Jha, Chairman and Managing Director of Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, a state-owned electric utilities company that transmits about 50 percent of the total power generated in India on its transmission network. The network consists of roughly 138,857 circuit kilometers of extra high voltage (EHV) transmission lines spread across India. Therefore, the energy transition in India will depend on how the country manages its grid-related challenges.

Banking on renewables

To meet the rising energy demands, as well as fulfill their climate pledge and the needs of a growing population, the government has set a target of generating 175 gigawatts of renewable energy (RE) by 2022, comprised of 100 gigawatts from solar power, 60 gigawatts from wind, 10 gigawatts from biomass and 5 gigawatts from small hydropower.
A heavy reliance on renewable energy will certainly improve India’s energy security, save fossil fuels and help meet its climate change goals.

Power Grid is integrating all renewable energy power plants. “If it is one mass, the grid will be more stable,” Jha says. This is being achieved by the National Green Corridor program, a project envisaged by Power Grid, which is intended to enable the flow of renewables into the National Grid Network. There are two such green corridors. Once complete, the green energy corridors will not just integrate the grid across India, but also make the country’s transmission system dynamic and capable of handling variations in demand and supply.

Supporting India’s push for renewables are the lower solar and wind tariffs discovered recently. Solar power tariffs have been plunging in the recent months, to reach a new low of US$ 0.038 (Rs 2.44) per kilowatt-hour during an auction in May 2017 for a 500-megawatt project in Rajasthan. And in February, in an auction conducted by the Solar Energy Corporation of India for 1,000 megawatts of wind capacity, wind power tariffs dropped to a record low of US $ 0.054 (Rs 3.46) per kilowatt-hour.

" Power for all needs to be affordable. And affordability comes from transmission. "
I.S. Jha, Chairman and Managing Director of Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd
Integrating renewables into the grid

Despite all the advantages of renewable energy, integrating renewables into the grid comes with its own set of challenges. “If we have a 100 gigawatts solar power generation capacity,” Jha explains, “and 50 percent of India goes dark, we lose 50 percent of generation capacity, thereby putting the grid under tremendous pressure.

Fluctuations in the amount of generated solar or wind energy can also make the grid unstable. “In such a scenario,” says Jha, “a technology like STATCOM (Static Synchronous Compensator) works as a shock absorber.” It acts as an interface between the grid and the renewable energy source, either absorbing or generating reactive power to control the power flow and improve stability on power grids.

Along with fluctuation, transmission can also pose a challenge. “When one source goes off and another one comes in,” says Jha, “there is a transient jerk. Under such a situation, maintaining a reserve, such as a battery, will help.”

Both STATCOM and Static VAR Compensators (or SVC) are part of the Flexible AC transmission system device family (FACTS) that improve a network’s controllability and power transfer capability. In India, Siemens Energy has won three SVC and four STATCOM projects.

But these initiatives need to be supported by good forecasting. Ergo, Power Grid is installing Renewable Energy Management Systems all across the country.

Over the last five years, Power Grid has rolled out projects worth more than US $ 15.5 billion (Rs 1,000 billion). “These investments have added flexibility to the grid,” says Jha.

“Even today, our grid is of a very high quality,” adds Jha. And the big positive for India, he feels, is its monitoring system. “The prime minister is personally monitoring each project,” he adds. With the right initiatives and monitoring of projects, the day is not far when his optimism becomes reality.

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July 19, 2017

Swati Prasad is a business journalist based in Delhi


Picture credits: Arush Mayank