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Technology to the rescue

EM News Bureau ,  Monday, October 13, 2014, 15:20 Hrs  [IST]

Transmission & distribution has traditionally been the most neglected segment of the power value chain. Power distribution, in particular, has been singly responsible for the financial morass that government power utilities are today in. Matters are improving, but painfully slowly. Much needed change will begin to take place only if the public-private partnership culture is vehemently pursued. So far, efforts to rope in private capital and managerial skills have tasted little success. What hinders the pursuit of stemming commercial losses is the absence of relentless political will to expose government-controlled power distribution circles to private enterprise.

While making the power T&D sector a commercially viable activity is a long road ahead, it is encouraging to note that there is a conscious effort to upgrade the T&D sector from a technical perspective. Cables and conductors, the focus of this edition, is an area that has been witnessing active interest from foreign technology suppliers. Nearly half a dozen foreign companies are actively present in India, through strategic tie-ups with Indian companies, or in isolation, to introduce new technology to make power conductors more efficient. In urban cities, securing right of way is nearly impossible rendering the prospect of erecting more overhead lines infeasible.

Replacing conductors in existing lines has resulted in increase in capacity without impinging on additional geographic footprint. In a highly crowded city like Mumbai, where “land saved is land earned”, such technology can perhaps be the only saviour. Meanwhile, the extra high voltage (EHV) cables segment (of rating 220kV or above) that was widely believed to be the next technological step forward in the power distribution space has quite belied expectations. A few global giants have failed to make a footprint in India. Though quite a few domestic companies have developed capabilities to produce cables even up to 500kV, production has not taken off due to lack of demand. Though they involve higher capital costs, the advantages offered by EHV cables are too significant to be ignored. As most power distribution utilities are loss-making government utilities, they tend to attach more importance to capital costs, unfortunately overlooking the low lifecycle costs. The fortunes of the EHV cable industry are therefore ultimately dependent on India’s success rate in privatizing power distribution.

It is hoped that the newly-elected government takes up reforms in the power distribution sector earnestly. This can bring overall cost-efficiency to all stakeholders in the power value chain, resulting in not merely “power for all” but “affordable and quality power for all.”

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