Interview with Sandeep Zanzaria: “The power sector is expected to witness dynamic changes and innovations”

Sandeep Zanzaria, MD and CEO, GE T&D India Limited (GETDIL)

In a recent interview with Power Line, Sandeep Zanzaria, MD and CEO, GE T&D India Limited (GETDIL), shared his views on the performance of the power sector over the past year, his outlook for the sector, and the emerging opportunities for equipment providers. He highlighted the key business achievements of GETDIL in the past year and the company’s top priorities and future plans. Edited excerpts…

How has the power sector performed in the past year or so?

Over the past few years, India’s power sector has witnessed a remarkable transformation. We have achieved universal electrification, rapidly expanded renewable energy sources, improved distribution networks and enhanced energy efficiency. As a result, India now ranks fourth globally in installed renewable energy capacity, with 43 per cent of its electricity being generated from non-fossil sources.

The Minister of Power and New and Renewable Energy, R.K. Singh, has reiterated India’s commitment to achieving 500 GW of renewables before the 2030 deadline. To accommodate this new type and scale of power, and address the challenges of intermittency and latency, the country is focusing on upgrading and modernising grid infrastructure. The past year has witnessed significant ac­tivity in this regard. It is encouraging to see the adoption of digital technologies for remote grid management – translating into significant cost savings and efficiency impro­ve­ments. The use of te­ch­nologies such as compensator (STATCOM) and flexible AC transmission system solutions in the grid has played a key role in maintaining grid stability.

The transformation of India from a power-deficit to a power-surplus nation over the past decade has been comme­ndable. We are now in a position to trade electricity with neighbouring countries. During 2022-23, transmission projects witnessed phenomenal growth, adding approximately 14,500 km of transmission lines and 76,000 MVA of capacity. A significant portion of this capacity addition came from green energy corridors. This is another area with tremendous scope for growth, with respect to the synchronisation of renewables into the grid. Mean­while, the government’s production-linked incentive schemes and its Make in India initiative are driving capex and the expansion of projects across industries, contributing to incr­ea­sed demand and upgradation of electricity infrastructure.

Achieving a sustainable and reliable power supply requires an optimal combination of renewable energy sources and fossil fuels. India is actively working to­wards addressing the trilemma of ensuring reliable, affordable and sustainable power. Several large industrial houses are planning to manufacture hydrogen within India and export it to global markets, positioning India as a low-cost hub for this resource. With the electricity market expected to grow, both in terms of existing and new products, there will be a demand for new renewable capacity, whi­ch calls for inc­reased flexibility in the grid. This entails the integration of energy storage systems and the augmentation of the transmission system.

What have been the key business highlights for GETDIL over the past year?

GETDIL is one of the leading players in the country’s transmission sector. With the energy transition happening at a fast pace, GETDIL has assumed a critical role, supplying products, solutions, turnkey capabilities and ser­vice offerings. While the ma­jority of our offerings are aligned with projects as­so­ciated with the Green En­ergy Corridor, there is also a significant focus on industry and infrastructure projects. GETDIL has continued its partnership with neighbouring countries, with a focus on the export segment.

GETDIL has been actively involved in str­engthening India’s grid infrastructure, pr­oviding cutting-edge technology and eq­uipment to enhance grid reliability and capacity. With the adoption of digita­li­sa­tion, we have incorporated IoT and data analytics. During 2021-22, our services delivered significant profits, with consistent growth in volumes and margins. In addition, GETDIL has in­ves­ted in local manufacturing, suppo­r­ting the Make in India initiative, and contrib­uting to job creation and skill development.

What are your key priorities for GETDIL? What are the company’s future plans?

Ensuring the reliability and resilience of India’s grid infrastructure is paramount. We will continue to provide the latest av­ailable technologies and solutions to modernise the grid, enhance its efficiency, and accommodate the integration of renewable energy sources. India’s energy la­ndscape is evolving, with a growing em­phasis on renewable energy. GETDIL will play a pivotal role in supporting this transition by developing and offering advan­ced solutions for grid modernisation and renewable energy integration.

The addition of renewable project capa­city is faster compared to conventional projects. With the explosion of global demand, there is a tremendous pressure on the supply chain. The supply chain disruptions have not normalised after Covid-19. One of our key objectives is to reduce the delivery timelines to support our key customers.

India is a large country, where the giga­watt-scale renewable energy potential is limited to specific geographies. Trans­mission of this power to load centres is also essential for grid stability. To achieve this, many advanced applicati­ons such as HVDC and STATCOM are re­quired. GETDIL is well positioned to de­l­iver these solutions based on its local and global experience. With the application of lean mindset and tools, we continue to im­prove the efficiency of processes, thus ensuring a better customer experience.

Embracing digitalisation is at the core of our strategy. We will leverage data analytics, artificial intelligence and IoT to optimise grid operations and provide predictive maintenance services. In terms of future plans, GETDIL will actively participate in India’s energy transformation journey. We will continue to collaborate with the government, customers and industry stakeholders to shape the future of the power sector.

What is the outlook for the power sector in the near to medium term? What are some of the key opportunity areas for equipment providers?

In the near to medium term, the power sector is expected to witness dynamic changes and innovations. There is an enhanced focus on decarbonisation and sustainability in the power sector. The rising demand for renewable energy pre­sents a significant opportunity for us, and the demand must be duly met by upgrading and modernising grid infrastructure. Our commitment to providing advanced technologies and systems will help enhance grid reliability, flexibility and resilience.

It is critical to mitigate the impact of climate change, and it is a joint responsibility of corporates to support governments in implementing and adopting sustainable ways of power generation and distribution. For instance, SF6, a po­tent greenhouse gas, has been widely us­ed for insulation purposes in high-vol­tage equipment at substations. Fin­ding safer alternatives to SF6 for transmission and distribution equipment is crucial. GE has developed an alternative called g3 (Green Gas for Grid), which is an air-insulated switchgear and gas-insulated switchgear solution with significantly lower global warming potential compared to SF6.

One example of industrial growth is observed in the data centre industry, which has seen significant expansion in specific regions of the country. Data centres have become the backbone of multiple digital markets, attracting significant investments. The power requirements of data centres create a demand for extra-high voltage substations, creating more opportunities for us.

We will also continue to invest in and develop innovative solutions that en­ha­n­ce the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources. As the ne­ed for energy storage to balance intermittent renewables grows, we will dedicate ourselves to developing cutting-edge energy storage technologies.

What are the measures needed to strengthen the electricity grid, increase renewable energy integration and accelerate the country’s decarbonisation goals?

Significant investment in grid modernis­ation is essential. This includes upgradi­ng and expanding the transmission and distribution infrastructure, and promoting the deployment of smart grid techno­logies. Most power grids were started 100 years ago. They were designed for a cert­ain way of producing and consuming ele­c­tricity, with generation connected to high voltage systems. Thus, there is a need for energy transition and a change in society’s expectations. These original grid systems require upgrades.

Today, renewable resources are connected to distant demand centres (for large onshore and offshore wind) alongside distributed generation connected to distribution grids. The machines that we use to generate electricity from renewables are different from traditional synchronous machines. Further, with the growth of distributed resources, the distribution grid, the last mile of the network that connects to our houses, will need to manage two-way flows. The grid was designed for one-way flows, with limited intelligent devices and controls.

With large renewable energy capacities coming up at specific geographical areas, transmission evacuation will increasingly occur on higher voltages like 765 kV and 400 kV. STATCOMS will play an important role in stabilising voltage fluctuations. Finally, to facilitate long distance transmission of power and improve grid stability, large HVDC links will be required. This will also help in building intra-re­gional capacities. Developing digital in­frastructure for grid prediction and control will be critical. The grid will require more predictive tools to manage uncertainties in the system, along with hardware and software deployments. Thus, we must focus on modernising grids to accommodate the changing nature of power while also addressing the inherent latency and intermittency.