Views of R.K. Singh: “Development is not possible in the absence of electricity”

R.K. Singh, Union Minister of Power and New and Renewable Energy

Union Minister of Power and New and Renewable Energy R.K. Singh spoke at length about the journey of the Indian power sector at recent industry events. He emphasised the importance of adopting advanced technologies in the sector and called for reforms in the operational procedures of the regulatory authorities. He also spoke about the growing role of solar power in India and globally. Edited excerpts…

The Indian economy has witnessed tremendous growth since the independence and is currently ranked as the world’s fifth largest economy. Our power sector is ahead of many developed na­tions in various aspects. Deve­lopment is not possible in the absence of electricity, as electricity is the fundamental driving force behind a country’s economic deve­lopment. We have faced and overcome multiple cha­llenges in the past 50 years. We still face many obstacles in terms of technology and regulatory structures. We have changed our managerial systems for the efficient and smooth functioning of the regulatory systems. These changes were essential for modernising operations and fostering a viable and resili­ent system.

Going forward, we must stay abreast of the advanced technologies being adopted globally for energy transition. It is not just a matter of completing the engine­ering phase, but also of understanding the operation of technologies. To gain this knowledge, it is necessary to immer­se oneself in environments where power is generated and distributed. Learning the working of power systems is vital for making necessary provisions and evaluating the entire power system, including its requirements and operational aspects.

The primary and most pressing challenge revolves around ensuring the system’s viability. When a system lacks viability, it becomes ineffective, discouraging potential investments and leading to underdevelopment of the sector. One significant factor contributing to this lack of viability in the power sector is the prevalence of political giveaways, which also have a lasting adverse impact on the economy.

What is currently imperative is the establishment of stringent regulations and the formulation of rational policies. It is crucial to ensure that tariffs are cost reflective, aligning payments with actual consumption. The nation’s progress and development hinge on the availability of sufficient energy resources.

Significant improvements have been witnessed in many areas, including the timely issuance of tariff orders and true-up orders by distribution companies, transmission licensees and generating utilities. This is crucial for achieving cost-reflective tariffs, which contribute to the financial viability of the power se-c­tor. However, there has been an increa­se in the pendency of cases in some commissions, which should be resolved on priority.

“It is crucial to ensure that tariffs are cost reflective, aligning payments with actual consumption.”

Regulators should ensure that tariffs cover the entire cost of service for discoms. In addition, the government has made energy audits compulsory, which will help in identifying areas of power leakage or theft and in reducing AT&C losses. The trajectories for the reduction of AT&C losses should be realistic.

Furthermore, the roll-out of prepaid meters in the country will increase the billing and collection efficiency of disco­ms, thereby improving their financial heal­th. Further, upfront payment by co­n­sumers will reduce the working capital requirements of discoms.

While the decision to provide subsidy to a particular category of consumers is the prerogative of the state government, it is incumbent upon the state commissions, as regulators, to ensure that discoms get the subsidy amount from the state government. The state governments are free to declare subsidies but they have to be paid for. Despite significant expansions in transmission capacity, we still face sh­ortcomings in connectivity. Embra­cing the challenge of capacity enhancement is essential to maintain the efficiency and modernisation of our power system. With our nation’s rapid growth, there is a compelling need to accelerate the pace of electricity generation and transmission.

Our current per capita energy consumption stands at around 1,400 units. To compete with developed nations where the per capita consumption reaches 10,000 units, we must strengthen our po­wer system significantly.

Renewable energy development in India

India has witnessed significant growth in renewable energy capacity, with arou­nd 186,000 MW currently in operation. An additional 132,000 MW is either un­der construction or in the bidding pro­cess, and we aim to maintain this rapid expansion to cater to the growing economy and increasing electricity demand. Electricity demand surged by 20 per cent in both August and September and 16 per cent in October. To meet this rising demand, we are continuously adding capacity, with a particular focus on solar energy.

In our country, solar energy has a distinct advantage over other renewables becau­se it is more dependable and reliable, av­ailable for more months each year. In contrast, wind energy is primarily accessible for only three or four months during the monsoon period. The flexibility offer­ed by solar power deployed in smaller kilowatt sizes makes it particularly well-suited for providing energy access to ho­m­es, especially in remote villages in hilly and desert regions.

It is imperative that we thoroughly as­s­ess the pathways we need to pursue, in­corporating a detailed analysis. We must determine the most efficient combinati­on of wind and solar resources and ma­ke informed choices. Undoubte­dly, the challenge before us is substantial, but it presents an exciting opportunity  to electrify our entire economy primarily through green technology. While thermal power will persist for the next two to three decades, renewables will take the lead beyond that period.

In the case of solar energy, the availability of land is crucial. The potential for both offshore and onshore wind power needs further examination. We must calculate the power requirements for 2050 and explore alternative solutions.

“The primary challenge we face is that 750 million people still lack access to electricity. Bridging this gap not only presents an energy challenge but also calls upon the conscience of humanity to transition towards cleaner energy sources.”

ISA’s focus areas and priorities

The primary challenge we face is that 750 million people still lack access to electricity. Bridging this gap not only presents an energy challenge but also calls upon the conscience of humanity to transition to­wards cleaner energy sources. It is our primary goal at the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to help people get access to electricity. This should be the central ob­jective of the energy transition, as those who use biomass or generate energy by cutting down trees do so at the expense of the planet.

We must also provide expertise to countries lacking the knowledge to undertake clean energy transition and guide them on how to generate electricity using solar energy. The ISA assists countries in establishing regulatory and physical structures for clean energy generation, transmission and distribution processes. Apart from this, the organisation de­mon­strates how to carry out and operate solar projects while bearing the associated cost as well. These projects include generating electricity for health centres through solar energy, which is a major milestone. This has enabled the preservation of vaccines for extended periods by providing cold chambers. ISA has initiated projects to provide electricity to educational institutions offering primary education and cold storage facilities for agricultural use. These contributions can have a significant impact on the economies of countries. Notably, ISA has made impressive progress with 109 member countries and 116 signatories, of which 94 have been ratified. This is testimony to the role played by this inter-continental organisation, which has been growing rapidly and playing a prominent role in the clean energy transition.