Views of JVVNL’s R.G. Gupta

“We are heading towards a healthier grid”

Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited (JVVNL), the largest of Rajasthan’s three discoms, has taken a number of initiatives to modernise its distribution grid. R.G. Gupta, managing director, JVVNL, talks about the key drivers of grid modernisation and the recent initiatives taken by JVVNL to this end. Excerpts…

A well-managed grid should be able to transmit power to the farthest consumer without any constraint. Even now, after having one, nationally synchronised grid, there is a disconnection in the western and the northern region, and there is a need for better grid connectivity. We are heading towards a healthier grid, and will probably be able to achieve it over the next two to three years, given the ongoing efforts towards grid modernisation. As part of grid modernisation, it is important to focus on grid management as well, the absence of which can result in a poor supply situation.

The two key focus areas for a well-managed grid are frequency and voltage. If the frequency limits are within the limit prescribed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission and the voltage levels are within the range, it is a sign of a well-managed grid.

Another important aspect is regulating the players in the grid. Given the vast number of consumers that need to be supplied electricity and the increasing influx of energy into the grid, a plethora of complexities arise in terms of operating the grid. In such a scenario, the role of information technology and real-time information becomes pivotal in forecasting demand and thereby managing the grid efficiently. Grid management also involves economising operations, that is, the power should flow through the most affordable and reliable route. Big data technology and the use of information and communication technologies make the grid more efficient and enhance consumer confidence by making operations more transparent.

The ambitious renewable energy target of 175 GW of capacity by 2022 is creating its own challenges in grid management. With a significant amount of variable power, a number of thermal power plants have had to be backed down, which has resulted in lower plant load factors (PLFs) and efficiency. This situation will only exacerbate as the sector moves closer to achieving the renewable energy target. To address these issues, the technicalities and economics of the power sector have to be understood.

The discoms are now buying more expensive renewable power in place of cheaper coal-based power in order to comply with the “must-run status” for solar projects and meet the renewable purchase obligation target. Despite the decline in solar tariffs over time, discoms are purchasing power from renewable sources at Rs 4 per unit, whereas the average variable cost of thermal energy is Rs 1.50 per unit. This additional cost imposes a burden on discom finances. Meanwhile, with the decline in PLFs leading to frequent start-ups and shutdowns, the cost of procuring power from conventional sources has also increased. Due to the frequent backing down of plants, there has been an increase in the harmonics caused in the system, the cost of which is again passed on to the discoms.

Even as they grapple with the financial stress, the discoms have to focus on reducing losses. While interventions are being made to this end, the main bottleneck is continuing the loss reduction. JVVNL has been able to reduce losses substantially during the past six months through IT-based initiatives. The discom has appointed feeders-in-charge for individual 11 kV feeders, which has resulted in better feeder management. In addition, the discom has made efforts to improve its billing system through on-the-spot billing and revenue management system. These interventions have allowed the discom to capture readings using GPS, generate on-the-spot bills, and improve collection efficiency and overall sales. JVVNL’s energy sales have increased from Rs 1.56 billion in August 2016 to Rs 1.9 billion in August 2017. It is also undertaking measures such as inventory management to facilitate ease-of-doing business.

With all these measures, we are on the right trajectory of loss reduction and are likely to witness increased operational efficiency in the coming years.

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