City Lights: How Mumbai is one step ahead in power distribution

How Mumbai is one step ahead in power distribution

Even as New York and London were lighting up in the late nineteenth century, the first display of electric light in India was conducted in Calcutta on July 24, 1879, by P.W. Fleury & Company. Approximately 18 years later, on January 7, 1897, Kilburn & Company secured the Calcutta electric lighting licence as agents of the Indian Electric Company, which, a month later, was renamed the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation. Enthused by the success of electricity in Calcutta, power was thereafter introduced in Bombay.

Mumbai, as it is called now, witnessed electric lighting for the first time in 1882 at the iconic Crawford Market. Through the prescience of Tata Group founder Jamsetji N. Tata, it was decided that the island city of Mumbai, which was back then choking on the fumes of the boilers of textile mills, would be provided with pollution-free, clean power. Following this, the company set up one of the first hydroelectric power plants in Maharashtra. The same is operational and contributing to the Mumbai power system. Now, all over the country, several distribution companies have adopted various models to promote privatisation. Even as various states and cities are beginning to realise the need to make electricity distribution more consumer-centric, Mumbai has gone one step forward and offered its consumers the right to choose their supplier by allowing multiple power distribution licensees to operate.

Mumbai’s growing power demand is being driven by the development of large-scale projects such as multiplexes, malls, high-rise residential and infrastructure projects, along with the steady increase in population. Hence, power companies in Mumbai carry the responsibility of providing uninterrupted power. This scenario is a challenge as well as an opportunity for power producers to find ways to augment the energy capacity in Mumbai as well as for distribution licensees to deliver efficient services to all consumers. The businesses are expected to not only contribute increasingly to the infrastructural advancement of the city but also to innovate with technology.

One of the classic examples of innovation in technology is the islanding system. This ensures continuity of power supply to all essential services in the event of any disturbance or a serious breakdown in the Western Regional Power Grid. Islanding refers to a condition in which a source continues to get power at a location even when electricity from the grid is not available due to disturbance in the system, which, in fact, if allowed to remain connected in such situations, could lead to the distribution system itself going down and sulking/sinking along with the interconnected grid. Islanding helps the distribution network itself to get absolutely isolated from the harms-way situation from the adjoining grid interconnections. This is used to simulate an island, with no other system existing besides its own elements of power generation, transmission and distribution, which work in perfect harmony and let the consumer not feel any interruption or change of state.

In Mumbai, in case of any disturbance, the system cuts off the internal network from the external grid  and helps manage its power demand through its own systems. After islanding, load generation balance is achieved and the local system continues to feed essential systems like railways, hospitals and stock exchanges, depending on the available generation capacity. Post the implementation of this technique, there have been 37 major grid disturbances in Mumbai. The city has survived 27 of those successfully and the system has achieved a 100 per cent success rate since 1997. It has operated successfully on all 16 occasions. The scheme has been provided on all tie points to simultaneously island and operate the Mumbai system in isolation. The islanding scheme in Mumbai has been a landmark achievement, which is all the more relevant in today’s context when the new government has proposed schemes like the Smart Cities Mission.

In Mumbai, power companies have made considerable efforts in technology advancement in order to streamline the distribution process and ensure 24×7 power supply to its consumers. An example of this is the installation of a distribution automation system (DAS) for centralised monitoring and remote operation of the distribution network to help identify faults and restore power supply in remote locations. Other examples include the installation of power quality meters and surveillance cameras at all distribution substations to monitor the quality of power supply, that is, voltage fluctuations, voltage variations, power factor, harmonics, etc. The geographic information system (GIS) keeps the network data uploaded and keeps track of new consumers. Work on network expansion across the city is currently on to bring direct services to consumers. Greater focus is also being put on bringing in renewables-based power.

Privatisation of electricity distribution has brought in significant  changes to the sector. It is time the learning and achievements of these experiments are multiplied by adoption in the rest of the country. The criteria for the selection of the best-suited model should be whether it will enable efficiency improvement, loss reduction and the much-needed reliability factor. Ultimately, the question that needs to be answered is whether the sector is customer-centric enough for delivering the maximum value to consumers?