“Grid stability has increased tremendously”

Views of Powergrid’s Abhay Choudhary

At a recent Power Line conference on “Power Transmission in India”, Abhay Choudhary, director, Projects, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid), talked about the company’s investment plans, capacity addition targets and focus areas for the coming years, in addition to the key initiatives under way for the development of the interstate transmission system (ISTS). Excerpts…

Areas of operation

Powergrid has three broad areas of operation: transmission, telecom and consultancy. The tra­n­smission vertical contributes to 97 per cent of the company’s revenues. It includes construction, operations and maintenance of the ISTS cross-border transmission links, and intra-state transmission line projects secured through tariff-based competitive bidding (TBCB).

Development of a synchronous national grid

The country’s power transmission system has transitioned from five different AC grids (northeast, north, so­uth, east and west) all operating at different frequencies to “One Nation, One Grid, One Frequency”. With the development of one na­tional grid, its stability has inc­re­ased tremendously. Blackouts in the country have dec­reas­ed with the introduction of different technologies. How­­ever, the risk factor has increased simultaneously, as any instability will affect the entire country and will not be limited to just one part of the grid.

Transmission projects

Powergrid’s transmission system has grown from 23,000 ckt. km of lines and 42 substations (13,200 MVA capacity) in 1993 to 172,144 ckt. km of lines and 264 substations (468,292 MVA capacity) as of November 2021. The total interregional transmission capacity in the country has increased to 112,250 MW, of which Po­wergrid’s share is around 86 per cent (97,290 MW). The transmission systems provide evacuation infrastructure for generation capacity addition under the central sector projects as well as by ultra-mega power projects and independent power producers (IPPs), alongside renewable energy integration. In addition, Powergrid has built tra­nsmission lines as part of its transmission sche­mes for ultra-mega solar power parks and its grid strengthening schemes for intersta­te/inter­regional links, high capacity transmission corridors for IPP projects, green energy corridors, and international links with neighbouring countries su­ch as existing ones with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and a few other links th­at are currently in the offing.

Recently, a marquee project, the 6,000 MW high voltage direct current (HVDC) bipole between Raigarh in Chhattisgarh, Pugalur in Tamil Nadu and Trichur in Kerala, was commissioned. This pro­­ject marks the first usage of voltage source co­nvertor (VSC) technology in the country. With this technology, one can develop HVDC links in areas with few load centres or little generation capa­city, or in areas where the transmission link is weak. This has been de­mon­s­trated in the link between Pugalur and Trichur, where Powergrid has used a ± 320 kV system for the VSC technology.

To reduce right-of-way issues, Pow­er­­grid is designing narrow-based towers in which the distance ­bet­ween the crossarms is reduced, or us­ing mono­po­les. It is also exploring new tech­no­­logies such as insulated crossarms.

Investment plan

As per the National Infrastructure Pipe­line (NIP) targets given by the Govern­ment of India, Powergrid has a capex target of Rs 655 billion between 2018-19 and 2024-25, of which a capex of around Rs 350 billion has already been incurr­ed as of February 2022. The remaining capex of around Rs 305 billion will be incurred in the next three years. The various projects in hand include ongoing regulated tariff mechanism (RTM) projects worth Rs 71 billion, new RTM projects worth Rs 312 billion, and TBCB projects worth Rs 132 billion. The projects in hand are expected to be completed in the next four to five years, and Powergrid is on track to achieve the NIP capex target.

Currently, projects worth Rs 257.5 billion are under bidding through TBCB, in­cluding ISTS pro­­jects under bidding (Rs 129 billion), ISTS pro­jects for which bidding is yet to be initiated (Rs 108 billion), and intra-state projects under bidding (Rs 20.5 billion). With a winning share of 40 per cent, Powergrid is facing an up­coming opportunity of around Rs 100 billion via TBCB (interstate as well as intra-state).

Focus areas for the future

In light of India’s pledge to reach a non-fossil fuel energy capacity of 500 GW by 2030, there are a lot of opportunities for the transmission sec­tor, because the ne­cessary generation capacity additions would require evacuation of renewable energy power at least up to the nearest ISTS grid. Further, the recently anno­u­n­ced Revamped Distribution Sector Sc­heme (RDSS) will provide a lot of investment opportunities in distribution in­fra­structure, smart meters and augmentation works. Given the emphasis on 33 kV sub-transmission systems, Powergrid is in touch with mo­st states to partner with them for the development of 33 kV level systems.

After the separation of the functions of the Ce­ntral Transmission Utility from Po­wergrid, the co­mpany is also interested in going into generation in areas with surplus land. The substation areas of Nagda, Bina and Itarsi in Madhya Pra­de­sh; Aurangabad in Maharashtra; and Du­rgapur in West Bengal have been id­entified for solar power generation.

Smart metering is another big opportunity in the RDSS. There is an opportunity for the installation of 250 million smart meters, worth Rs 1.5 trillion. Po­wergrid is planning to issue tenders for procuring 10 million meters, and is in touch with state utilities to ins­tall these meters and embark on smart meter distribution.

In the future, Powergrid is looking to di­versify into the data centre business and the international long distance band­width business in Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and provide passive infrastructure to telecom operators. Further, the co­mpany has undertaken a battery energy storage system pilot project at Puducherry and is implementing another at Gurugram under the mini Smart City project. It is also planning to tie up with IIT Delhi for capacity building to further enhance knowledge in the area. More­over, it has taken up a pilot project for developing a data centre at Mane­sar, Gu­ru­gram, for which regulatory ap­p­ro­val is being sought for utilisation of regulatory assets for the data centre business. It will also look at creating electric vehicle charging infrastructure through the FAME India Phase II; entering the  international consultancy business in Ug­a­nda, Fiji, Moldova and Nepal; and creating international in­terconnections with Sri Lanka, Myan­mar and Nepal.