“We are working to become a fully digital utility”: Interview with Tata Power-DDL’s Ganesh Srinivasan

Interview with Tata Power-DDL’s Ganesh Srinivasan

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (Tata Power-DDL), a front runner in adopting smart and sustainable technology solutions, has installed over 250,000 smart meters across its consumer segments. It has launched an array of digital initiatives for the safety and convenience of its consumers. Despite the pandemic, the discom has ensured uninterrupted power supply to its consumers. Network strengthening, expansion of solar rooftop capacity in the licensed area and setting up of electric vehicle (EV) charging points and battery swapping stations are some of its key focus areas. Excerpts from a recent interview with Ganesh Srinivasan, chief executive officer, Tata Power-DDL…

What have been the operational and financial highlights of Tata Power-DDL in the past two years?

Tata Power-DDL has been a front runner in adopting smart and sustainable technology solutions to both improve operational and financial performance, and enhance customer experience.

Despite the challenges that the pandemic brought along, the company was co­­mmitted to providing uninterrupted po­wer supply to essential emergency es­tab­lishments and all its customers. The company took several initiatives on the technology and consumer front, some of which were:

  • Installation of over 250,000 smart meters across its consumer segments – domestic, industrial and commercial – under its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) project with radio frequency canopy technology and NB-IoT communication technology.
  • Bolstered digital bill payments: Du­ring the lockdown phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, we received over 90 per cent payments from digital modes, and also managed to raise 350,000 bills with actual readings instead of provisional ones during the lockdown.
  • Launched an array of digital initiatives keeping in mind the safety and convenience of consumers. These include a dedicated website section, a chatbot and increased focus on improving on­line services such as complaint registration, online payments and self meter reading.
  • Replaced old static and mechanical me­­ters with electronic meters to im­prove billing efficiency in village areas.
  • Installed a submersible substation to pro­vide continuous and reliable po­wer to key consumers during exigencies. This will prove highly beneficial considering the space constraints in urban cities.
  • Commissioned a 66/11 kV GIS grid substation at the Narela industrial hub in Delhi to facilitate load growth and po­wer reliability in order to benefit over 2,000 industrial units.

The company has been recognised in the category of Top 25 Innovative Com­pa­­nies by the CII Industrial Innovation Awards 2020 for the development of So­u­th Asia’s largest grid-scale battery energy storage system (BESS), in collaboration with AES and Mitsubishi, and the Asian Power Award for setting up India’s first grid-connected community energy storage system (CESS).

As per the 2021 Smart Grid Index benchmarking, company ranks among the top 20 utilities across the globe, and the highest in India. It has been commended for its best practices in monitoring and control, green energy, customer em­powerment and satisfaction and cybersecurity.

While there has been a major improvement in the operational and commercial performance since privatisation in 2002, from a financial sustainability point of vi­ew, a cost-reflective tariff is the most cri­tical parameter for liquidating the regulatory assets, which are now at Rs 55 billion.

What are the key initiatives and new technological interventions being undertaken by Tata Power-DDL?

Several new initiatives have been taken to control and optimise the cost of power purchase and achieve 95 per cent billing efficiency, opex optimisation and reduction in AT&C losses. Additionally, several technological interventions have been undertaken by the company, one such being behavioural demand respon­se (BDR) powered by smart meters. Th­rough this programme, the company in­tends to empower customers to better understand their energy consumption and thus reduce its peak demand and net­work capital costs. The results from the BDR pilot programme will be used to scale it further.

Other technological interventions are:

  • Building new capabilities in artificial intelligence and machine learning to further optimise operational and co­mm­ercial processes.
  • Increasing the share of green power in the energy mix from 21 per cent to 50 per cent by 2030.
  • Collaborating on projects with the Eu­ropean Union such as IElectrix for mo­bile storage, local PV and smart substations demonstrating urban islanding.
  • Providing value-added services to end-customers such as energy-as-a-service.
  • Installing three types of battery projects – BESS at the grid level, CESS at the community level and a unique pole-mounted BESS for resilient and sustainable distribution.
  • Implementing digital input and digital output (DI/DO) for the digital substation, which has the ability to track and mo­nitor critical parameters of the electrical equipment and LV automation. This will result in reliability im­provement.

From installing BESSs to live peer-to-peer solar energy trading and setting up ur­ban microgrids, the company has been able to achieve technological br­ea­kthroughs and new milestones to ensure better peak load management, system flexibility and reliable power to consu­mers. Tata Power-DDL has also initiated the development of a roadmap for distributed energy reso­urces with the U.S. Trade and Develop­ment Agency (USTDA).

What are the biggest issues and challenges fa­cing the discom and how are these being addressed?

Having a cost-reflective tariff that can liquidate the burgeoning regulatory assets is one of the key challenges faced by Tata Power-DDL and other discoms in India. The company aims to address the issue of liquidation of regulatory as­sets and cash flow issues through policy advocacy and finding win-win solutions from the perspective of discoms and end consumers.

Other important challenges include spa­ce constraints in the city due to urbanisation, increasing power purchase costs due to increase in coal and gas costs, and unavailability of an administered pri­ce mechanism in gas. We have contracted about 1,800 MW of gas-based generation plants, of which the available economical gas is only 20 per cent, leading to 80 per cent of the capacity re­ma­i­ning idle/redundant. As a result, we have to pay fixed costs of about Rs 12 billion per annum without getting any com­mensurate power thereof.

What are Tata Power-DDL’s future network ex­pan­­sion and strengthening plans?

While the company has been able to ensure safety and improve the quality of in­stallations with smart meter data, it is also dynamically working on the load growth analysis and study of the future demand in its licence area, based on the impact of both solar rooftop and EVs. In addition, the focus areas include:

  • Achieving network strengthening and optimisation at a significantly lower capital investment.
  • Increasing solar rooftop capacity in the licensed areas.
  • Improving connectivity to new/upgra­ded DTL grids by ensuring reliable power supply. For instance, we are setting up multiple grids in smaller pockets of Delhi for improving EV infrastructure/promoting green mobility.
  • Reducing the stress on existing grids to avoid overloading during contingency.
  • Increasing the capacity of power transformers to cater to the increasing load growth.
  • Better outage management through proactive information collection using last gasp as a feature from smart meter data analytics.
  • In line with its commitment to sustainability and building a greener Del­hi, the company is setting up EV ch­arging points for four-wheelers and battery swapping stations for two- and three-wheelers.

Overall, the adoption of the total quality management approach by the company has helped in improving reliability thro­u­gh predictive maintenance by integrating policy management and daily work ma­nagement in the process. The company is proactively working towards be­coming a fully digital utility to empower its 1.8 million consumer base.