Interview with N. Venu: “The Indian power sector is at a hyper-growth point”

“The Indian power sector is at a hyper-growth point”

N. Venu, MD and CEO, India and South Asia, Hitachi Energy, spoke to Power Line on the most promising technologies for the Indian power sector in the coming years, as well as the measures required to strengthen the electricity grid to accommodate renewable energy and accelerate the country’s decarbonisation efforts. He also discussed Hitachi Energy’s key focus areas for the Indian market and some of the opportunities that the company is pursuing. Excerpts…

What is your view on the current state of the power sector? 

Today, we are in the midst of an energy transition where there is an accelerated shift from fossil fuel-based generation to renewable power generation, with the growing electrification of transport and industries. The demand side remains robust and is poised to grow in the near to mid-term. On the supply side, however, the sector is facing short-term challenges like semiconductor shortage and geopolitical tensions.

The sector’s growth is also driven by policy-led investments in either creating new infrastructure or upgrading existing grids and systems. The Electricity Amendment Bill, 2022 will be a game changer with its framework to make discoms financially healthy and competitive in the long run.

The power sector plays a crucial role in the growth of the economy from enabling urban mobility via rapid electrification of railways to supporting industrialisation and the power demand with smart grids. These initiatives will help in fast-tracking our progress towards building a carbon-neutral future with sustainable energy systems.

What are the most promising technologies for the Indian power sector in the coming years?

Balanced growth in the sector without consuming the environment is the key to sustainable growth. As the power sector continues to grow, two imperatives led by digitalisation and sustainability will be important in realising sustainable growth. The government, with support from leading industry players, is actively working towards introducing technologies to upgrade the existing power systems to boost digitalisation and decentralisation, while maintaining the balance with decarbonisation.

The latest digital solutions such as digital substations and asset performance management systems can leverage the advances in grid technology for efficient power management. Digital substations help manage operations between distributed intelligent electronic devices and communication networks. New-age substations make it possible to heighten reliability, integrate new forms of cleaner energy, and deliver energy services in smarter and safer ways – the necessities for navigating the shift to more distributed and less predictable renewable power generation. Asset performance management solutions together with digital substations bring unique predictive, prescriptive and prognostic capabilities in their operations by employing digital technology and analytics, thereby helping utilities plan their digital journey.

The portfolio of asset and work management software enables asset-intensive industries to be more adaptive, collaborative, insightful and predictive. Utilities are also leveraging existing technologies of work and asset management in field service management practices such as vegetation management. These solutions, along with artificial intelligence, help generate field insights for proactive outage prevention.

Furthermore, as asset-intensive industries go technology ready, they become exposed to a greater risk of disruption from external sources. Moving into the digital age with certainty requires automated, evolving and resilient solutions. Cybersecurity solutions help meet the most rigorous international standards in all products and systems. Power operators are also adding a layer of reliability against external threats with a cybersecurity solution.

Sustainability is another important factor playing a role in new and emerging technologies. From products to solutions, there is a high demand for solutions that are eco-efficient and support the energy transition with the effective integration of renewable power generation units to the grid.

The high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission system is a key enabler for a carbon-neutral energy system. It is highly efficient for transmitting large amounts of electricity over long distances, integrating renewables, interconnecting grids, and opening up new sustainable transmission solutions. We have been associated with many HVDC projects in the country. We have provided our pioneering technology to some of the largest HVDC networks running across the length and breadth of the country, with the latest being the HVDC transmission system linking Kudus to Mumbai.

The new-age switchgear is another eco-efficient product that reduces not only the use of resources but also the effects on the environment throughout its life cycle. The GIS range of Hitachi Energy switchgears uses a new gas mixture, replacing the old-generation SF6 (a known greenhouse gas), and also helps reduce leakage rates.

According to you, what are the key measures required to strengthen the electricity grid to accommodate renewable energy and accelerate the country’s decarbonisation goals?

Energy transition is a pathway towards the transformation of the global energy sector from fossil based to zero-carbon emissions. India has set an ambitious target to achieve around 50 per cent of the energy demand from clean energy sources. Last year, at Glasgow, our prime minister pledged that India would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070.

While the country has been pushing for the adoption of clean energy with various policy-led reforms, we have a long way ahead. Given the rising energy demand, India would need to ramp up the investment in power infrastructure. Strengthening the electricity grid to accommodate renewable energy is important to accelerate the advancement of the country’s decarbonisation goals. Supporting sustainable power sources needs solutions that provide renewable power transfer with increased efficiency and a reduced environmental footprint with power quality products, reactive power compensation solutions, and long distance efficient transmission networks such as HVDC. In 2021, the government announced a slew of investments in the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme to achieve clean energy generation.

Another challenge in renewable power integration is the high intermittency and less spinning reserve and inertia. This requires reliable network control and protection of transmission lines. Technologies such as HVDC/FACTS with more real-time control, distributed energy resource management for utilities, and energy storage solutions will be key to managing demand and supply round the clock.

Also, the increasing complexity of networks and interconnections between devices, equipment, substations and network levels call for future-proofing against external threats from the perspective of cybersecurity to reduce interruptions due to vulnerabilities and incidents.

What are the biggest issues and challenges facing the power sector?

Currently, the power sector in the country is at a hyper-growth point with the demand for electricity growing at an unprecedented pace. In a recent draft plan, the Central Electricity Authority reported that the country’s power demand would reach 1,874 BUs by 2027, almost double the power demand in March 2022.

Understanding the demand side, distribution and transmission need to be more agile, reliable and efficient. It is important to leverage smart power solutions to ensure quality and supply retention and adapt to modern grid technologies. It is also essential to have a balanced energy mix and ensure increased use of alternative renewable energy sources that enable effective management and power supply.

The financial health of discoms has consistently drawn attention as it has a cascading effect on the entire electricity supply value chain. A shift from cost-based selection to quality and cost-based selection for the industry is critical to ensure merit and sustenance. This is also important as the industry needs to invest in building a robust infrastructure for uninterrupted power to accelerate industrial growth.

What are Hitachi Energy’s key focus areas for the Indian market for the next one to two years? What are some of the opportunities that the company is pursuing?

Hitachi Energy’s purpose is to “advance a sustainable energy future for all” and we view India among its top priority markets for growth. Green and clean energy will be the substratum of the modern world. We foresee India as a country that has significant potential in renewable energy, smart grids, grid modernisation, and the electrification of transportation and industries including data centres.

As a testament to our belief in India’s growth story and that electricity will form the backbone of the entire energy system, we have recently inaugurated two factories and expanded our capacities – a bushings factory at Vadodara and a power quality products factory at Doddaballapura – to further help in ensuring energy efficiency.

The company is expanding its portfolio globally, and there is an opportunity in India as well. Hitachi Energy will look at pursuing opportunities in technologies for battery storage, HVDC, rail electrification, data centres and other emerging areas in the energy space.

Apart from this, we are proactively moving forward with our sustainability goals for 2030 by reducing carbon emissions and resource consumption within operations. We are committed to supporting all our customers and addressing the needs of individual countries, industries and societies. We believe in an inclusive and equitable energy transition with multiple pathways to net zero.