Interview with N. Venu: “Our mission is to power a sustainable future”

“Our mission is to power a sustainable future”

The increase in the penetration of renewable energy sources and the emergence of new forms of load such as electric vehicles (EVs), electrified rails and data centres will promote grid modernisation and expansion, says N. Venu, managing director and CEO, India and South Asia, Hitachi ABB Power Grids. He, moreover, believes that Industry 4.0 technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), digital asset management, battery energy storage and smart charging ecosystems will support the energy transition in the country in a big way. Excerpts from a recent interview with Power Line…

What, in your view, have been the most noteworthy achievements in the power sector over the past 25 years?

The early 2000s marked a new beginning for reforms with the enactment of the Electricity Act, 2003, which ultimately put us on a path of electricity surplus. From about 84 GW in 1996-97 to 384 GW today, of which 100 GW is renewables alone, we have more than quadrupled our installed base. Inviting private investment in the transmission space further expanded the sphere, and today we can globally pride ourselves on our power transmission superhighways, enabling electricity for a growing population.

While India’s per capita energy consumption has been growing consistently for the past 41 years, it has risen nearly 160 per cent to 1,208 kWh in the past 25 years alone. India achieving near-universal access to electricity for households, with more than 900 million people procuring electricity connections, within two decades is noteworthy. It is also a matter of honour that India’s position jumped to 22 in 2019 from 137 in 2014 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business-Getting Electricity ranking. We see that there is a strong commitment to a sustainable energy future in the country. Ambitious targets such as 450 GW of renewable capacity, 100 per cent rail electrification and 30 per cent EV penetration by 2030, and initiatives such as Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and EV (FAME) and the National Hydrogen Mission are all harbingers of positive sectoral growth.

How do you see the power equipment industry evolving in India going forward, particularly the transmission and distribution (T&D) segment?

The rising penetration of new electricity connections, growth of urban transportation, increasing per capita usage and reforms such as “Power for All” and 450 GW of renewable capacity by 2030 will further boost the demand for power tra­nsmission and distribution equipment. It is estimated that between 2020 and 2024, India will likely lead T&D market growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are already seeing how new technologies are being introduced to support changing demand and supply patterns. These technologies have come into India either independently from foreign players that set up their own manufacturing facilities here, or through the joint venture route. If I take Hitachi ABB Power Grids, which has the largest installed ba­se in the power equipment industry, to­day, 80 per cent of our portfolio is locally manufactured. We are making in India for India and for the rest of the world, ali­gned with the global best practices and industry standards.

How will the power sector change over the next 25 years?

Over the coming years, we will see electricity forming the backbone of the entire energy system as we strive for carb­on neutrality. This transition will be ac­hieved through three key building blocks:

  • Shift from fossil-based generation to renewable power generation
  • Growing electrification of the transportation industry
  • Sustainable energy carriers, complementary to direct electrification

Clean energy will soon form the bedrock of all modern societies. Renewables will be the undisputed winner of the energy transition, and we will also see the prod­uc­tion of hydrogen via electrolysis ca­­­t­­­­­ching up fast. Additionally, new forms of load such as EVs, electrified rails and data centres will trigger the adoption of smart energy management systems. This transition to cleaner, resilient and efficient en­ergy will see grid modernisation and expansion across the country. In­d­ustry 4.0 technology will advance ex­po­nen­tially, and data will be harnessed to develop AI and ML solutions that will de­liver real value and intelligent decision-making to power sector stakeholders.

What will be the biggest challenge for grid management over the next 25 years?

India is in the midst of an energy transition towards carbon neutrality. This tra­nsition means a growing number of play­ers will be using, producing and tra­ding electricity. There will be new forms of load such as EVs and data centres, supply feeds such as microgrids and hydrogen, as well as new market entities such as pro­sumers.

The Indian power industry will need to develop significant energy management capabilities. We will require considerable investments in grid modernisation to ensure a sustainable energy transiti­on. This will entail the adoption of smart digital grid solutions to manage the risk of grid instability, AI-enabled power products and systems to improve operational performance and enable integrated planning, and a higher degree of customer engagement. Unfortunately, the pandemic has set us some steps back. We need to build capacity, flexibility and resi­lience to integrate increasing am­o­un­ts of intermittent renewables and distributed energy.

“We must continue innovating on various technologies to produce stronger, smarter and greener grids.”

What will be the most promising technologies for the Indian power sector in the next 25 years?

Next-generation technologies can optimise targeted operational areas, leading to a tech-enabled ecosystem in the pow­er industry. For example, a power generation plant can make use of a centralised automated control room such as a digital twin – a virtual representation serving as the real-time digital counterpart of the phy­sical entity – to assess asset health, enable predictive maintenance, reduce workload and ensure continual improvement in processes and products. One can also imagine the extensive use of robotics for equipment inspection and remote monitoring, for better fleet-level visibility.

Implementation of technologies such as ML, big data, hybrid cloud manageme­nt, cybersecurity, robust OT and IT solutions for reliable control of energy systems, digital asset management, battery energy storage and smart charging eco­systems will lend support to the en­er­gy transition and to the Govern­ment of India’s vision of achieving self-relian­ce in energy by 2047.

What have been the biggest achievements of Hitachi ABB Power Grids in the past few years?

To be closer to our customers and cater to the local market needs with our de­cades-long experience and know-how, we started our stand-alone operations in India in 2019. Our mission has been to be the partner of choice for both customers and partners, to co-create innovative energy solutions to scale up their digital journey.

We recently commissioned one of India’s longest power transmission links. The ±800 kV, 6,000 MW link, stretching ac­ross 1,800 km and connecting Raigarh in central India to Pugalur in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, has enough ca­pa­city to meet the electricity needs of more than 80 million people. We also won or­ders from industry players such as HPCL Rajasthan Refinery Limited and the Bharat Aluminium Company to str­eng­then their mission-critical power in­fra­structure and support economic re­vival. We initiated an e-bus pilot project with our flash charging technology with Ashok Leyland and IIT Madras to advan­ce public e-mobility in India.

What will be the company’s focus areas in the coming years? What are some of the new opportunities that the company is pursuing?

To build back better, we see that governments and major infrastructure provi­de­rs will require support in demand res­pon­se and the transition to greener en­ergy al­t­er­natives. Our mission is to power a sustainable energy future with pioneering and digital technologies, as the partner of choice for enabling a stronger, smarter and greener grid.

We are bringing the future of electrified transportation today through our flash and fleet-charging Grid e-Motion portfolio, and through our grid automation solutions such as SCADA and Lumada. These solutions bring with them a treasure trove of data ranging from traffic and weather to despatch schedule, fleet routing and vehicle battery, enabling smart mobility. We are already meeting more than half the demand of loco transformers for certain electric loco manufacturers for Indian Railways, and supporting nine out of 10 metro projects with our power technology solutions. We aim to play an active role in making smart cities of the future a reality and in the decarbonisation of utilities, industries, infrastructure and data centres.

This year, we also announced our carbon-neutral 2030 vision, a three-dimensional approach to decarbonisation. The programme is designed to reduce the car­bon footprint of our operations and the products we deliver, and walk the talk on a sustainable energy future.