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“24×7 Power for All”

Lighting up a nation

With the fastest growing major economy in the world, India is on its way to becoming an economic powerhouse. To meet their growing energy needs and provide “power for all” by 2019, the Indian government is relying on the integration of renewables, with the goal of using over 50 percent to power the country by 2027.

The energy sector undoubtedly plays a vital role in the economic growth and development of any country. For an emerging economy like India, the energy needs are going to double in the next six to seven years at the current rate of economic growth, the country’s Minister of State for Power and New and Renewable Energy, Raj Kumar Singh, said during a conference in October 2017.

The Indian government, therefore, is determined to bring about a massive energy transition – its “24×7 Power for All” program aims to provide power to all households, industries, businesses, public needs and agricultural farm holdings by 2019. And in doing that, the country also wants to fulfill its climate pledge, by making an incredible shift to renewable energy.

The government has set a target of generating 175 gigawatts of renewables by 2022, comprising 100 gigawatts from solar power, 60 gigawatts from wind, 10 gigawatts from biomass and 5 gigawatts from small hydropower. The target is ambitious and progressive, but can renewables be the primary source powering the second-most populous nation in the world?

India can easily achieve 200 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2022.
Raj Kumar Singh, India’s Minister of State for Power and New and Renewable Energy

Supporting India’s push for renewables are the lower solar and wind tariffs recently discovered. Solar power tariffs plunged to a new low of US$ 0.038 (Rs 2.44) per kilowatt-hour in May 2017 and wind power tariffs dropped to a record low of
US$ 0.04 (Rs 2.64) per kilowatt-hour in the second wind auction conduction by the Solar Energy Corporation of India in October 2017. And Singh is urging investments in renewables, confident that equipment prices will also continue to fall. “175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022 is a very conservative target,” he said, “India can easily achieve 200 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2022.”

The rapid upward trajectory of India’s renewable growth is dramatic. In their latest renewables market analysis and forecast, the International Energy Agency reported that “by 2022, India’s renewable capacity will more than double. India is set to join China and the United States to account for two-thirds of the global renewable expansion. The country’s ongoing commitment to renewables will be showcased in Mumbai at the solar industry conference Intersolar India in December of 2017, and in February of 2018 the World Energy Council’s annual India Energy Conference will focus on India in the global energy transition. According to Singh, India will continue to grow and at the same time “decrease its carbon footprint so as to maintain its commitment towards giving the future generations a cleaner environment to live in."

The challenges facing “Power for All”
“The main challenge with renewable targets is aligning the bold vision from the top (central government) with the bottom-up realities from the states and utilities,” says Rahul Tongia, a scholar of technology and policy, and a fellow at Brookings India.  

The main challenge with renewable targets is aligning the bold vision from the top with the bottom-up realities from the states and utilities.
Rahul Tongia, Brookings India Fellow


Power needs to be affordable to encourage consumption, and “affordability comes from transmission,” says I.S. Jha, Chairman and Managing Director of Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, a state-owned electricity utility company that transmits about 50 percent of the total power generated in India on its vast transmission network. The network consists of roughly 138,857 circuit kilometers of extra high voltage (EHV) transmission lines spread out across India. Therefore, the energy transition in India will depend on how the country manages its grid-related challenges.

The challenges before India are manifold. First is low penetration of electricity: 79.2 percent of India’s total population has access to electricity, but the vast majority faces rampant power cuts. The second biggest challenge is low per capita consumption – at 1,010 kilowatt-hours in 2014–15, India’s per capita consumption is still only around a third of the global average (3,026 kilowatt-hours). To add to these, India is also plagued with high transmission and distribution losses, currently estimated at around 19.66 percent.

Moreover, an energy transition requires heavy investments – for India to meet its target of installing 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, the country will need US$ 200 billion. “Lack of money per se isn’t the bottleneck for renewable energy growth. Risk-adjusted returns, and that too in the right currency, is the issue,” says Tongia.

India’s energy prospects: Compared to the United States, India projects to increase renewables, power generation and consumption by 2030.

Integrating renewables into the grid
Integrating renewables into the grid comes with its own set of challenges. “If we have a 100-gigawatt solar power generation capacity,” Jha explains, “and 50 percent of India goes dark, we lose 50 percent of generation capacity, thereby putting the grid under tremendous pressure.” Fluctuations in the amount of generated solar or wind energy can also make the grid unstable. “In such a scenario,” says Jha, “a technology like STATCOM (Static Synchronous Compensator) works as a shock absorber.”

Harald Griem, Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Management Division at Siemens Limited in India, agrees: “STATCOM continuously provides variable reactive power in response to voltage variations, supporting the stability of the grid.” STATCOM and Static VAR Compensators (SVC) are part of the Flexible AC Transmission System device family (FACTS) that improve grid stability and power transfer capability. In India, Siemens has won three SVC and four STATCOM projects.

In a scenario of fluctuating renewable energy, a technology like STATCOM (Static Synchronous Compensator) works as a shock absorber.
I.S. Jha, Chairman and Managing Director of Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd.

Opening up the Green Corridor
Power Grid is integrating all renewable energy power plants. “If it is one mass, the grid will be more stable,” Jha says. This is being achieved by the National Green Corridor program, a project envisaged by Power Grid, which is intended to enable the flow of renewables into the National Grid Network.

The control and support for handling the variations will come from technologies like SVC and STATCOM. “We are installing 14 STATCOMs all over the country,” says Jha. With newer energy sources making India’s energy mix more complex, technologies like SVC and STATCOM will provide for continuity. But these initiatives need to be supported by good forecasting. Ergo, Power Grid is installing Renewable Energy Management Systems all across the country.

Towards a flexible and stable grid
Over the last five years, Power Grid has rolled out projects worth more than US$ 15.5 billion (Rs 1,000 billion). “These investments have added flexibility to the grid,” says Jha.
High-voltage direct current or HVDC systems are also being used for long-distance transmission of power. India has several state-of-the-art HVDC projects in place, such as the Talcher-Kolar, Ballia-Bhiwadi, Mundra-Haryana, NER-Agra, Champa-Kurukshetra and the upcoming Raigarh-Pugalur-Kerala project.

“Voltage-sourced converter (VSC) is the latest innovation in HVDC technology,” says Griem, “offering a very stable and highly-flexible reactive power control.” Speaking about the upcoming Raigarh-Pugalur-Kerala project, Jha says the Pugalur-Kerala HVDC line will be 200 kilometers long, and once completed, it will be India’s first DC link featuring VSC technology. For the project, Siemens will supply two converter stations with two parallel converters, each rated at 1,000 megawatts and featuring its VSC HVDC technology.

Like India’s Power Minister R. K. Singh, Jha is equally upbeat about the country’s energy transition plans. “Even today, our grid is of a very high quality,” says Jha. And the big positive for India, he feels, is its monitoring system. “The prime minister is personally monitoring each project.” With the right initiatives and monitoring of projects, the day is not far when his optimism becomes reality.

Swati Prasad is a business journalist based in Delhi.
Picture credits: Siemens AG, Arush Mayank