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Power T&D in India: Opportunities & Challenges

Swapan Kumar Datta ,  Saturday, January 21, 2012, 17:07 Hrs  [IST]

Swapan Kumar DattaElectricity is an essential requirement for all facets of our life and also it is the main one of the key divers for rapid economic growth and poverty elevation of the nation. Keeping this factor in mind and also the shortfall in generation addition plan in the earlier five year plans, it was targeted to add 78,700 mw of power generation capacity for the XI Plan with cumulative capacity touching 2.2 lakh mw. As against this, the cumulative achievement was 1,81,558 mw as on August 30, 2011.

Even with the best effort further addition may be around 15,000-20,000 mw by the end of the XI Plan period. Even then, there will be a shortfall of about 25,000-30000 mw. Even if the entire 78,700 mw were to be achieved, it was planned that 1,03,000 mw of further generation capacity would be added in the XII Plan period. The indicative fund requirement or transmission system development and related scheme is expected to be Rs2,40,000 crore, including Rs1,40,000 crore in the Central sector and Rs1,00,000 crore in the private sector. The investment requirement for the power distribution sector would be to the tune of Rs3,71,000 crore.

So from the above it is very clear there is a huge investment potential in the development of transmission and distribution infrastructure upgrade.

Opening of transmission sector for private entities and competitive bidding process it was expected that there will be infusion of new technology and also competitive pricing. Accordingly everyone who had stakes in the power sector lined up enough capacities further to go on and strike the opportunity. The regulator and government policies are in place favourably for generating competitive bidding and these opportunities did come as expected. But what begin with a little undercut in tender soon became a massive erosion of prices of equipment and execution.

The downslide has not yet been arrested and the price-war continues because of grabbing business and one-upmanship. The bottom lines of all companies are likely to be hit.

Due to the above scenario it is not expected that coming power T&D infrastructure will be technologically more advanced due to private participation. As advanced technology in the form of different structures including is costly, so is the technically advanced methodology of erection. Besides the qualification requirement allows any EPC contractor with any type of project experience like road, real estate, railways, irrigation, etc, having financial capacity can participate in the competitive bidding process.

Transmission linesMostly the tenders so far floated have been captured by agencies that have no adequate exposure on building up of transmission sector. Agencies that had adequate technical background could not compete with those bidders due to their competitive pricing. The bidders who are exposed to the technological area of the transmission line could have contributed more. The base-pricing worked out for the various transmission line by the CERC is much higher and those prices were also calculated on the conventional design and erection practice prevailing in the present Indian context. So we do not expect that if the QR requirement and price war is not changed, there will be any technological advancement in the upcoming T&D infrastructure even after opening the same to the private entities through competitive bidding. Besides in absence of specifically-defined detailed specification, strict supervision by third party, bidder may try to construct line with specification which will match their project costing and may comprise reliability and security of the transmission line in the long run.

T&D losses including unaccounted energy are about 30 per cent there is need to reduce these losses through efficient management and the best O&M practices in the T&D system. Only this will ensure that more energy is made available to ultimate consumers at reduced cost.

However, if the situation continues as in the present, the proposed investment in the power T&D sector in the XI Plan period will vanish into unknown space. This loss will be in addition to earlier incurring losses. If the losses are not controlled on war-footing, private investor will loose their interest in this sector and the financial health of utilities will go on deteriorating.

The T&D losses 30 to 40 percent will act as a major deterrent to the private as well as global investments in the sector. So far none of the global power major has shown any interest in India's T&D sector. The 17th EPC published by CEA has targeted to bring down the T&D loss to 22 per cent in the year 2011-12 which much higher than the developing nation life chain (e.g. in Thailand, it is 10-12 per cent.)

So to mitigate the problem we have to identify the cause. Principally the losses can be categorized as: 
    • Overloading of existing lines and substations
    • Too many stage of transformation
    • Absence of upgradation of old lines and equipment
    • Improper load management
    • Low HT : LT ratio
    • Poor repair and maintenance of equipment
    • Non installation of sufficient capacitors
    • Low metering/billing/collection efficiency
    • Theft & pilferage and tapering of meters
    • Low accountability of employees
    • Absence of energy accounting & auditing
    • Bypassing the meters
    • Changing CT Ratio and reducing the recording
    • Improper testing and calibration of meters


To reduce the T&D loss following initiatives are needed:
  • Energy audit at all 11kV feeders
  • Full metering of all consumers
  • Un-bundling all SEBs
  • Commercial viability to be achieved through
  • Profit center
  • Franchises
  • Privatisation
  • Identify the weakest areas in the distribution system and improve
  • Reduction in line length & relocation of distribution transformer
  • Providing lower capacity distribution transformer for small group of customer
  • Avoid grouping of transformer
  • Use distribution transformer which are having lower no load losses such as amorphous core transformer
  • By changing equipment, introducing shunt capacitor and timely implementing proper preventive maintenance will bring down the loss
  • Over loading line & sub-station is to be avoided
  • Adequate investment in T&D system should be brought immediately

Transmission linesMany of the actions suggested are being adopted by some utilities but to solve the problem every utility should at least initiate action for technical as well as commercial solution. The Central Government has come forward with help in the form of various schemes like APDRP, RGGVY to improve the system technically and also waive / securities all the past dues to central sector. It is high time for the utilities to utilize the opportunities for reducing losses in T&D sector. Otherwise, the power sector's problem will continue.

Untitled Document
Growth of power transmission sector in India

In 1951, when new power generation plants were set up, they were designed to supply loads to their immediate vicinity. Post-1951, with a view to improving reliability and economics, these individual transmission systems were interconnected leading to the formation of state grids.

In the 1960s, a decision was taken to create a regional grid as the basic unit for power planning. For this purpose, the country's power system was divided into five regions-eastern, northeastern, southern, western and northern. In the 1980s, a stage came when it was felt that regional grids were not sufficient. It was mooted to have a National Grid that would essentially enable transfer of power from power-surplus regions to deficient ones. It would also enable optimal balance of coal and hydropower resources in overall national interest. Besides, the National Grid was seen to be a means to improve the economy, reliability and quality of power supply.

With aim to build a National Grid, Power Grid Corporation of India, designated as the Central Transmission Utility (CTU), was established. Today, except the southern region, the entire country's power system is working in synchronous mode and by the end of XI Plan, the interregional power transfer capacity is expected to be 38,000- 40,000 mw. The ultimate aim is to run the entire country in a single synchronous mode. The national level planning of 100 GW of capacity addition was found to be equivalent to 113 GW on regional basis.

power distribution

The development of transmission and distribution system as turnkey solution comprises of activities like setting up of long-distance high power carrying line (bulk transmission lines) which are mainly in categories of EHV/UHV; and T&D lines of the HV/LV variety.

There are several critical issues in the development of system studies. Firstly, there is mismatch between the load centre and geographical distribution of exploitable energy resources. Coal resources are mainly in Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, etc. and hydro potential is in the north, east and northeast regions. The critical question is how to create a single reliable power network for a country as big as India. Other issues are: is the transmission system adequately designed with reference of reliability and quality; what is the inter-relationship between generation and transmission reliability; what is the acceptable level of consumer service reliability; and how does on correlate generation and transmission of bulk power transmission to reliability in distribution.

The answer to these critical issues is to first develop a plan for both for long term and short term expansion programme. To resolve the plan we should resort to long term expansion planning; medium-term expansion planning; short-term planning; and adoption of most suitable technical options.

Now we have dealt the planning problem of transmission system. Distribution problem and losses have clearly brought and in earlier question. Transmission loses are well within the internationally acceptable limit.

(Swapan Kumar Datta is CEO, EMC Academy Ltd and Advisor, EMC Ltd. Datta has over 37 years of experience in the power sector having held senior positions in public sector entities like NTPC and Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd. He also has rich experience in training engineers in the power sector.)
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