Interview with S.D. Dubey

“India will not be called an energy-deficit country in the coming years”

S.D. Dubey, chairperson of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), accords high priority to wiping out the demand-supply gap in the country and ensuring grid stability in the wake of renewable energy integration. With the government undertaking a host of initiatives to address the challenges, he expects the sector to take big strides in the future. Excerpts from a recent interview with Power Line…

What have been the key highlights of the sector in the past one year?

The year 2015-16 recorded the highest ever generation capacity addition of 23,977 MW, as well as an energy shortage of only 2.1 per cent and a peak shortage of 3.2 per cent, the lowest recorded so far. However, this shortage is not a shortage in the true sense. There is adequate power available in the grid, but the utilities are either unable to purchase it due to their poor financial health or they are unable to meet the demand due to sub-transmission/distribution constraints. In addition, the government has sanctioned a scheme for the revival of the gas-based capacity for 2015-16 and 2016-17. It envisages the supply of imported spot regasified liquified natural gas (R-LNG) to stranded gas-based plants and to those receiving domestic gas, selected through a reverse e-bidding process. Some of the other highlights include the development of standards for smart meters, the launch of the National Smart Grid Mission, the roll-out of domestic and street LED schemes, and progress in the preparation of state-specific 24×7 Power for All documents.

What are the CEA’s top priorities for the next two years?

For 2016-17, a key priority is to wipe out the demand-supply gap and maintain it in the forthcoming years. The Load Generation Balance Report for 2016-17, issued by the CEA in May 2016, has indicated a surplus power of 1.1 per cent in terms of energy and 2.6 per cent in terms of peak for the first time.

Another priority for the CEA is to undertake distribution reforms, as it is from this segment that all revenue flows into the sector. There is also a focus on the introduction of information technology into the sector, mostly in the distribution segment, for instance, the introduction of smart grids. This is expected to reduce the aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses and hence lower the discoms’ financial losses. Another effort in this direction is the large-scale introduction of smart meters. The amendments to the Tariff Policy, 2006 envisage the installation of smart meters by December 31, 2017 for all consumers with a monthly consumption of over 500 units and by December 31, 2019 for all consumers with a monthly consumption of above 200 units. The standards for smart meters have already been notified by the Bureau of Indian Standards. The CEA is also working on the new National Electricity Plan, which would cover the review of the Twelfth Plan period (2012-17), a detailed plan for 2017-22 and a perspective plan for 2022-27.

How is the programme for the replacement of old and inefficient thermal power stations progressing?

On the initiative of the Ministry of Power, the CEA is exploring the possibility of replacing thermal power units that are 25 years or more old and are not operating efficiently with supercritical units or retiring the old units, depending upon the availability of necessary inputs like land, water and fuel. As on March 31, 2016, state and central thermal power plants (TPPs) with a total capacity of about 34,000 MW were found to be more than 25 years old. In  preliminary consultations with power utilities, TPPs of about 5,000 MW capacity across the state and central sectors have been identified for replacement with supercritical units aggregating 10,000 MW of capacity (about 8,000 MW of it in the state sector).

What is the CEA’s assessment of future transmission system requirements? How can grid stability be ensured given the growing renewable energy penetration?

The majority of the inter-state transmission system (ISTS) is owned and operated by Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid). However, now a number of ISTS projects are also owned by private companies and several other projects are under construction. A number of inter-state and intra-state transmission strengthening schemes (including a few schemes for the integration of renewable energy) are at various stages of implementation. The total transmission requirement by the end of the Thirteenth Plan (2017-22) is being estimated. However, it is broadly estimated that about 90,000 ckt. km of transmission lines and 200 GVA of transformation capacity would be added by 2021-22.

Maintaining grid stability is a challenging task for the integration of renewable energy sources owing to their intermittent nature. For this, certain mitigating measures need to be taken, such as setting up storage, pondage and pumped storage hydroelectric plants, and open-cycle gas-based power plants, and using new forms of energy storage like MW-scale batteries, compressed air energy storage and flywheel storage technology. Further, coal-based plants with advanced technologies that allow quick ramp up or down of generation for meeting fluctuating load are also required. Hydro generation could also be used to provide flexibility to the system by immediately responding to fluctuations in electricity demand. Further, regulatory measures are required for ensuring grid stability. The ancilliary services market should be promoted through a regulatory framework and an appropriate pricing mechanism developed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission to send suitable signals to generating units to participate in grid balancing during peak load. The CEA is also working on different facets of integrating renewable energy into the grid. For instance, it is enabling transmission capacity for renewable power and balancing power, encouraging balancing generation, making the power markets more real time, and ensuring mandatory forecasting.

Could you share some insights on the recent study undertaken by the CEA to reduce breakdowns in transmission towers?

Over the years, the standards for the design of transmission line towers have undergone changes. While the tower design standard was earlier based on three wind zones (IS 802:1977), the tower design standard now is as per six wind zones (IS 802:1995). Transmission towers designed as per the old standard are in operation in various parts of the country and are owned by different transmission utilities/licensees. These towers cannot be replaced in one go and thus steps are being taken to strengthen them.

During the past five years, failure of more than 500 towers across 100 transmission lines (132 kV to 765 kV) was reported to the CEA. Besides, many such failures remain unreported. Most of the towers that failed were of the suspension/tangent type. The major causes of tower failure are high wind velocity during storms, cyclones, whirlwinds and gales; theft/ sabotage of tower components making the tower structurally weak; lack of proper soil investigation; and deficiencies in the tower foundation design.

Some of the steps being taken to tackle this issue include checking the old towers and strengthening them as per the latest standards; providing protection to the tower foundation and rechecking its design; increased/intensified patrolling of lines in theft-prone areas; installing anemometers in regions of frequent tower failure, particularly in cyclone/ high-wind pressure areas; considering the use of composite insulators in pollution-prone areas to avoid flash over across insulator discs; deploying an emergency restoration system for the early restoration of supply.

What are the power demand projections for the next few years? What are the likely changes in the methodology for computing demand in the 19th EPS?

The last Electric Power Survey (EPS) report was the 18th EPS Committee’s report, which was released in December 2011. The 19th EPS Committee was constituted in June 2015 and its report is likely to be released by September 2016. The preliminary analysis has revealed that its forecast would be lower than that of the 18th EPS. The 19th EPS is also expected to carry out electricity demand forecasts for each discom, in addition to that for states/union territories, different regions and the country, using the partial end-use method. Further, the upcoming EPS is expected to have a demand forecast for each state/union territory calculated using the econometric method, which takes into account various economic parameters.

What is your outlook for the power sector for the next two years?

The power sector scenario is expected to witness several changes in the next two to three years. The energy deficit is showing a declining trend and as such, India will not be called an energy-deficit country in the coming years. Complete electrification of villages will take place and 24×7 electricity will become a reality for the majority of the Indian population. I see the power sector developing at a very fast pace with power access to all households and villages along with a reduction in emissions with the penetration of renewable energy and an increase in the efficiency of end-user lighting and appliances. Further, the use of renewable energy may result in a considerable saving of coal and a decrease in the associated emissions. Coal demand is not likely to grow as anticipated earlier and the dependence on conventional sources of energy will decrease. Around 5,326 MW of hydropower capacity is expected to be commissioned in the next two to three years, which will help stabilise the grid.

Demand side management has gained importance as a consequence of the energy conservation efforts initiated by the government and will become one of the key factors for determining energy demand. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency and Energy Efficiency Services Limited are at the forefront of launching energy conservation measures at the national level. Meanwhile, in distribution, several positive changes are being witnessed, including the launch of the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana, Integrated Power Development Scheme, National Electricity Fund, National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) and Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. Smart meters will be introduced as a major component of the NSGM and consequently AT&C losses will decline as well.  Distribution reforms may start yielding positive results in terms of better infrastructure and better energy-accounting practices.


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