West Bengal’s state power distribution utility, West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) caters to almost 18.2 million consumers in the state and supplies almost 55 per cent of power, with the remaining being sold by private discoms.
The discom has performed reasonably well in the past few years. It reported a high collection efficiency of 98 per cent in 2016-17 and 99.06 per cent in 2017-18. It also reported consistent profits. With the discom’s efforts, the state has achieved its village and household electrification targets. It has also achieved 100 per cent metering on consumer premises.
The discom is also striving to bring down its high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of over 25 per cent to a level of 22 per cent by 2019-20. To this end, a number of initiatives are being taken by the discom to improve its billing efficiency and upgrade infrastructure by undertaking smart grid, prepaid metering and underground cabling projects.
Besides, the discom is focusing on increasing power generation. WBSEDCL currently owns over 1 GW of hydro and renewable power projects, including a 900 MW pumped storage hydro plant. Going forward, another 1,000 MW of pumped storage capacity is proposed to be added by the discom. “Pumped storage has been the strongest point of WBSEDCL though it is largely a distribution company,” stated Surajit Chakraborty, director, WBSEDCL, at the Power Distribution in India conference organised by Power Line. The discom also has plans to increase its renewable project portfolio with the addition of solar power plants.
Of the 18.2 million consumers served by the discom, 16.5 million are domestic consumers, 0.1 million are industrial consumers and 0.29 million are agricultural consumers. There are over 4,799 bulk consumers, which contribute to 65 per cent of the company’s revenues.
On the generation side, the discom currently owns the 900 MW Purulia pumped storage project, which has been operational since 2007-08. The company also has 310 MW of solar plants, both ground mounted and rooftop.
WBSEDCL’s distribution network comprises 15,029 ckt. km of 33 kV lines, around 164,333 ckt. km of 11 kV lines and 333,476 ckt. km of low tension (LT) lines. The utility has 606 substations at the 33 kV level and 10,455 MVA of power transformer capacity. In 2017-18, the discom met an average peak demand of 5,914 MW. Its energy sales have increased by 1.67 per cent from 27,250.69 million units (MUs) in 2014-15 to 27,706.19 MUs in 2017-18.
Between 2014-15 and 2017-18, the discom’s AT&C losses declined from 29.95 per cent to 27.33 per cent. Meanwhile, the transmission and distribution (T&D) loss declined from 27.6 per cent to 26.65 per cent. The discom’s average revenue requirement-average cost of supply gap increased from Re 0.02 per unit in 2016-17 to Re 0.05 per unit in 2017-18.
In 2017-18, the discom generated total revenue of Rs 207.94 billion, a 4.33 per cent increase over the previous year. The company registered a net profit of Rs 408.5 million in 2017-18 as against Rs 313 million in 2016-17, an increase of 30 per cent. The utility’s capital expenditure stood at Rs 24.48 billion in 2017-18, increasing at a CAGR of 8.34 per cent from 2013-14 to 2017-18.
Key interventions and initiatives
The discom has been taking a range of initiatives for reducing its AT&C losses. These include the installation of high tension (HT) and low tension (LT) capacitor banks. So far, HT capacitor banks have been installed at 11 kV bus at 79 substations and 67,107 LT capacitor banks have been installed to reduce the line loss and improve the voltage profile. Moreover, in the last five years, 95 new substations have been constructed at the 33/11 kV level.
For feeder metering, all 33 kV and 11 kV feeders have now deployed static meters. WBSEDCL also reduced the length of 622 feeders at the 11 kV level and undertook rationalisation of 506 feeders at the 11 kV level to reduce its technical losses. In order to reduce the LT/HT ratio, 79,174 km of HT lines have been added to the system in the last five years.
Another initiative has been the replacement of existing LT overhead (LTOH) lines with aerial bundled (AB) cables. For instance, in December 2015, a 100 kVA distribution transformer (DT) at Jagatdihi, Burdwan, was running with an LTOH line of 2.452 km and reported an AT&C loss level of 40.32 per cent. After LTOH lines have been replaced with LT-AB cable, AT&C losses are now at only 1.27 per cent. Another strategy implemented by the discom has been the conversion of one-phase wires to two-or three-phase wires and laying of new LTOH lines to share the load of the distribution transformers with other transformers.
The discom has also implemented several measures for improving its billing and collection efficiency. It has introduced spot billing, which is being further upgraded with Android smartphones that are GPRS and GPS enabled. The discom has also incorporated multiple options of bill payment such as online cash collection, cash collection kiosks at 150 customer care centres and real-time gross settlement facilities for bulk consumers directly through banks. Further, disconnection notices are now generated automatically if the payment is not received by the due date.
Another key initiative for reducing AT&C losses has been the installation of tamper-resistant meters. In the past five years, static intelligent meters, which are capable of detecting tampering, have been installed on consumer premises. Along with this, supervisory meter readings are taken throughout the year in all customer care centres. AMR-compliant meters have been installed for all bulk consumers and high-value low and medium voltage consumers.
For distribution system strengthening, the company is looking to set up high voltage distribution systems in 13 districts of the state, for which the preliminary project report (PPR) has already been prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Power. The company is planning to take a loan from the World Bank for incurring an estimated expenditure of Rs 28.06 billion for the project. According to the PPR, the company is planning to implement an underground cabling project in Asansol. In addition, it has already started the installation of amorphous core DTs. A feeder bifurcation is under way, which also involves the segregation of agricultural feeders. In total, 623 feeders have been identified for segregation along with 17,500 km of new lines.
Moreover, a smart grid pilot project for advanced metering infrastructure and peak load management has been undertaken by WBSEDCL in Siliguri. The pilot project is currently in the implementation stage. Consumers under the “Siliguri Town feeder” will be covered in the project. This system will enable two-way communication from the meter to the head end system. As part of the project, around 5,306 smart meters will be deployed including 5,276 single-phase and 130 three-phase whole current meters.
On the generation side, one of the biggest ongoing projects is the 1,000 MW Turga pumped storage power project in Ayodhya hills in the Baghmundi block, in Purulia district. The Turga pumped storage project is aimed at utilising the rainfall in the catchment of the Turga Nala in Ayodhya hills for peak power generation. On the renewables front, a 200 MW solar park at Dadanpatra, Purba Medinipur, is also planned. The project is awaiting approval of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
WBSEDCL’s initiatives for improvement of customer experience, reduction in AT&C losses, and implementation of smart grids are expected to deliver results in the coming years. However, the utility remains exposed to high AT&C and distribution losses. According to ICRA, there is a significant increase in the short-term borrowing levels and a substantial build-up of regulatory assets due to the increase in power purchase costs. The timely release of tariff and true-up orders as well as reduction in external debt levels would reduce the company’s exposure to such issues.