Views of Dr A.K. Verma

“The key goal is to achieve 24x7 power supply for all”

The power distribution segment is witnessing a number of changes. These are aimed at improving the financial viability of the segment, upgrading the physical infrastructure, reducing aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, providing connectivity to villages and rolling out smart meters. At Power Line’s  Power Distribution in India conference held in November 2016, Dr A.K. Verma, joint secretary, Ministry of Power, spoke at length on the various developments in this segment, the government’s plans and policies, and its vision for the sector. Excerpts…

India has sufficient availability of power as of today. While the installed capacity stands at around 306 GW, demand at any given point of time is not more than 152-153 GW. As per observers, the fallout of this situation is that the investments that have been made in the sector are not being utilised properly. Many, however, believe this is just a passing phase in the sector’s evolution.

We are also doing well in the transmission segment. We have more than 2.5 million ckt. km of transmission network, with world-class technologies being used. We have moved up to voltages as high as 1,200 kV. Congestion in the southern grid has eased and it is expected that by 2018 we will have an addition of about 18,000 MW in that region. Hence, I do not envisage any challenges in the creation of a national grid, which will be seamlessly meshed, allowing power to flow from any point.

We have a large and complex distribution segment. There are currently 275 million consumers in the country, while almost 500 million households still do not have a power connection. This represents a huge universe of consumers for a variety of utilities to manage. These utilities are diverse in performance, with some doing well and able to provide 24×7 power. The AT&C losses of the utilities also vary, from a high of around 60 per cent to as low as 6 per cent.

One of the key goals being pursued in the distribution segment today is to connect all villages with electricity. As of April 1, 2015, there were 18,452 reported villages that were yet to receive electricity. In August 2015, the prime minister announced that these villages needed to be electrified within a time frame of 1,000 days. This is an ambitious goal, given that these villages are located in remote and geographically tough terrain, with a thin density of consumers. However, we have made good progress. Today, more than 10,900 of these villages have been electrified.

Another key goal for the government is to achieve 24×7 power for all. Electricity, being a concurrent subject, requires the collaboration of the states, and for this initiative, we are working together with the state governments. The 24×7 Power for All roadmap document has been created for this purpose and has been signed by most states and union territories, except Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, and is currently under implementation. The document covers all aspects of power including generation, transmission, household connectivity, village electrification, renewables, energy efficiency and demand-side management. It serves as an important tool for planning and monitoring all aspects of power to ensure last-mile connectivity. Hence, when we talk about power distribution in the country, it is not just about how many villages or households have been electrified, but we also need to look at the goal of 24×7 power availability to all.

Unfortunately, the database of unconnected village households available to policymakers and implementers in our country is not as strong as it should have been. The starting point was the data collected under Census 2011. Further, at the beginning of the Twelfth Plan period, we asked states to give us estimates of unelectrified villages and households under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), which was ongoing at the time. Even though all villages were not fully surveyed on foot, estimates were presented to us through sample surveying techniques. A similar exercise was undertaken with the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). Collating all the data from various sources, we would be putting it in the public domain very soon, with the launch of the GARV-II dashboard. This will also allow us to get more accurate data from the public on the households that are not connected.

However, there are certain villages that have still not been able to achieve connectivity with the grid, despite all our attempts. Therefore, off-grid solutions are also being planned for such villages. We have liberalised the earlier guidelines for stand-alone systems for distributed generation. For all villages where there are less than 15 houses and the cost of electrification per village is more than Rs 100,000, off-grid stand-alone solutions are being deployed.

Ensuring 24×7 power is even more challenging, given the poor financial health of the discoms. Many times, supplying more power by a discom has more disincentives because the more power is supplied, the more the losses are. We are trying to remove such disincentives in the system through the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY). It is a cashless scheme – there is no fund transfer from the central government to the state governments or the discoms. However, we are helping them in reducing their interest burden and cost of power, and making them more operationally sustainable, thus ensuring we have healthy discoms in the country.

While it is being widely regarded as the third financial restructuring plan, there are a lot of things that have been differently done this time. Under UDAY, there have been many changes. Operational sustainability is an important aspect now. Also, earlier there was no incentive for states to undertake such a restructuring exercise. Now, when the state takes over the debt of discoms, it is allowed to keep such debt outside the state’s fiscal deficit limits. Therefore, the borrowing capacity of the state for other developmental activities is not restricted. Hence, there is an innovative financing mechanism under UDAY this time, along with extremely close technology-aided monitoring and hand-holding of states.

This is also true for our programmes like DDUGJY, which is different from the RGGVY in many aspects. Households have never been the focus of the RGGVY, nor have stand-alone distributed generation systems. Under the RGGVY, we were going to hamlets that had certain population criteria. We have done away with these criteria under the DDUGJY.

For urban areas too, under the earlier Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP), towns were selected based on the population criterion (with a population of not less than 30,000) and their AT&C loss levels. These restrictions have been abolished under the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS). Further, apart from new aspects like system development or metering, we are also covering almost 4,100 towns as per Census 2011. Of these, 1,409 towns have been covered under the R-APDRP. Hence, the remaining 2,600 towns are now going to be made IT enabled to ensure proper energy auditing. Hence, urban power supply in the future is going to be completely IT enabled. Similarly, we are trying to get all rural and urban feeders online and connected to a national power portal, which will be kept in the public domain, so that people can know whether the feeder is supplying 24×7 power or not. We also have an app, “Vidyut Pravah”, which gives online information on power deficits in states, power requirements, the power availability as well as the price of power in different grids.

Another important initiative is the deployment of smart meters. During the power ministers’ conference held in June 2016, all states agreed to adopt smart meters. We have worked on several aspects in detail, including technical and commercial specifications and communication. The Central Electricity Authority website now has the complete strategy and roll-out plan for smart meters. We are also mulling over helping states by coming up with innovative financing measures so that they can go in for larger-scale smart metering deployment.

Hence, all kinds of approaches are being attempted to achieve the single goal of 24×7 power supply in such a way that we are able to engage consumers as well.

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