Interview with Sunil Wadhwa

“The future of the T&D market in India is promising”

GE T&D India Limited is one of the key equipment manufacturers, having contributed significantly to the modernisation of the power sector in the country. It played a major role in the development of power transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure in the country. With six manufacturing facilities in the country, the company also caters to the demand of Southeast Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Technology advancements to meet the emerging market requirements in the sub-T&D segment, bulk power transfer, grid stability products, digital substations and outage management are its key focus areas, going forward. In a recent interview with Power Line, Sunil Wadhwa, Managing Director, GE T&D India, discusses the key achievements of the company in the past year, its growth plans and key focus areas. Excerpts…

How do you think the power sector, particularly the T&D segment, performed last year?

The current state of investment in infrastructure, led primarily by government initiatives like the Integrated Power Development Scheme and the Power System Development Fund ensured a healthy market size for the T&D segment in 2017. States like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are significantly investing in their respective grids. Green shoots in the industrial, and oil and gas (O&G) segments indicate a revival as industrial customers have now started investing in capex. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are also ramping up their grids while developing regional links with India. Overall, the T&D space is gradually moving towards a revival and is expected to grow in the coming years.

What is the size of the domestic T&D equipment market and the current share of imports?

The domestic T&D equipment market is estimated to be around $6 billion annually, comprising conventional business and high voltage direct current (HVDC) equipment. This is quite in line with the Indian government’s planned expenditure in this space of around $36 billion in the previous five-year plan. Since GE T&D India is fully localised, our share of imports is limited and required only for select components or products.

Could you give us an overview of GE T&D India’s scale of operations, manufacturing units in terms of capacity and the product line?

GE T&D has been “making in India” for over 100 years now. We have six manufacturing facilities in the country that produce a comprehensive grid portfolio of air/gas-insulated switchgear up to 800 kV, power transformers, instrument transformers, grid automation and protection, and software solutions. We have full turnkey capabilities in extra high voltage/ultra high voltage substations and super-grid solutions in HVDC and flexible alternating current (AC) transmission system (FACTS), and have successfully executed many large-scale projects for the national grid over the years.

What were the significant business highlights for the company during the past year?

The year 2017 was a milestone year for the company as we successfully commissioned Pole 2 of the Champa-Kurukshetra HVDC link for Power Grid Corporation of India Limited. This is the first energy link in the country transmitting 3,000 MW of power through HVDC. This 1,287 km energy highway augments the interregional capacity between northern and the central-eastern regions and aims at improving power connectivity for millions of people in northern India.

The Indian grid needs rapid modernisation to support the transformation goals of the power sector. We at GE have always been at the forefront of digital grid technologies. Recently, we also launched the first-of-its-kind Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS), in collaboration with Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL), to modernise Delhi’s electric grid. The system has already started benefiting more than seven million people living in the northern and western parts of the capital city that have a peak load of more than 1,850 MW. With ADMS, work crews get notifications on their smartphones when a problem is developing, and they head off to the troubled spots and minimise the impact. Technology is helping TPDDL to improve response time significantly. In early April, when a major storm disrupted power in Delhi, TPDDL was able to restore power in three to four hours, compared to six to ten hours on an average during storms before the upgrade.

On the same lines, we have successfully implemented a distribution management system (DMS) for Tata Power in Mumbai. The system allows the company to reduce outages and minimise outage time by swiftly diverting power from alternative sources to the affected areas. This DMS control centre is now serving over 680,000 residential and commercial consumers across six zones in Mumbai.

In Sri Lanka, we have deployed the country’s first centrally integrated control and load forecasting system in the state-of-the-art National System Control Centre (NSCC) in Colombo. The system will cover 100 per cent of the nation’s transmission power flow, which serves more than 22 million Sri Lankans, by the managing peak loads of 2,500 MW. The fact that the control centre was inaugurated by the Sri Lankan president highlights the significance of the first-ever national control system and the impact this will have on the reliability and efficiency of electricity supply in Sri Lanka.

In South Asia, we won an order for the maintenance and upgradation of Bangladesh’s national load despatch centre from the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh. This is an exciting project for us as it involves the implementation of cybersecurity features for Bangladesh’s grid. Apart from this, we are partnering with Doosan to develop the grid infrastructure for their upcoming power plants in Jawaharpur and Obra, 2×660 MW each. These will be crucial for supplying more power to the people of Uttar Pradesh.

What are the new and promising technologies in the T&D segment? What are some of the solutions that GE plans to introduce in the Indian market?

With power generation rapidly shifting towards renewables, the Indian grid will demand specialised grid stability products and solutions. GE’s “Reservoir” battery energy storage system is a breakthrough solution in this space that provides flexible and modular energy storage for AC or direct current (DC) coupled systems. Advanced technologies like these will enable developers and utilities to efficiently manage the vulnerability and balance of the grid. Our software solutions related to ADMS, distributed energy resource management systems and outage management systems will enable utilities to become proficient in monitoring, controlling and managing the flow of power in their networks.

Another breakthrough technology that we are deploying in the country is that of digital substations. This solution not only eliminates the additional cost of cabling and copper but also enables the digitised management of substation assets.

What are GE T&D India’s growth plans and key focus areas? What are the key issues and concerns for the company?

GE T&D has been aligning its growth plans to be in line with the market shifts and customer expectations over the years. After executing 800 kV projects and piloting 1,200 kV in the country, we are now focusing on the sub-T&D segment, in line with the government’s focus on bridging the last-mile connectivity and reducing aggregate technical and commercial losses in state grids.

What do you think will be the key growth drivers for demand in the T&D segment in the coming years?

The future of the T&D market in India is promising. The government is focused on providing 24×7 power to the people of the country. This will require strengthening of the state grids to ensure last-mile connectivity. India will also need large investments in the grid infrastructure to balance the energy transmission from thermal, renewable and other sources. Revival in the industry in O&G, mines and metals (M&M) segment will add to the increasing need for grid substations and the technologies. The government is keen to electrify the Indian Railways and metro space with dedicated T&D infrastructure. All these factors contribute to a visibly long-term demand for the country’s T&D segment.

What is your outlook for the power sector in the next few years and the role of GE T&D in it?

The country’s power sector today is at an inflection point. On the one hand, we are dealing with stressed power assets of around 70 GW in the thermal space and on the other hand, we are preparing to add over 150 GW of renewable energy by 2022. The shift or balance between various generation mixes will be crucial to deliver cost-effective and high-quality power to consumers. The need for a clean and green environment will force regulators, policymakers, equipment manufacturers, developers and consumers to determine the technology profile of the generation, transmission and allied sectors equally.

GE T&D is fully equipped with the latest technology portfolio to support transition in the sector. Our local expertise and experience in delivering complex solutions position us best to develop the next stage of the country’s national grid.

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