Special Report

Endeavouring to taper T&D losses

Neeraj Nanda, President – South Asia (T&D, Solar), KEC International Ltd

“Advanced project management tools are helping EPC companies to micro-plan and effectively monitor the projects and achieve a high degree of resource/cost optimisation”

Neeraj Nanda, President – South Asia (T&D, Solar), KEC International Ltd., discusses the extensive network and key trends in the transmission line market and how with IoT in place, the technical losses can be optimized.

Stimulating the Indian power sector
The government-launched initiatives are focused towards holistic development of the existing power scenario and to fulfill the mission of ‘24×7 Power for all’. India’s energy consumption has doubled since 2000 and is expected to more than double by 2040, which will account for one-fourth of global increase in that same period. Per capita electricity consumption in the country is about one-third of the world average and less than one-tenth of America’s levels. In fact, even though India is the third largest market in terms of gross electricity generation, it still has almost 200 million people without access to power. Rectifying this situation will be critical to ensure India’s economy grows five-fold by 2040 and that policies such as Make in India, Skilling India and Digital India are a success.

Significant initiatives
With special emphasis on rural electrification, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) was launched to provide continuous power supply to rural India, and as recently declared by the Prime Minister, all villages in India have access to electricity now. Further, towards focus on last-mile connectivity, the Saubhagya scheme is in place, to electrify about four crore un-electrified households. The Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) has already been implemented for strengthening the networks in urban areas. Also, 100 per cent FDI allowed in the power sector, has boosted FDI inflows in the sector.

However, from my point-of-view, the Indian government’s enhanced push on renewable energy is expected to be a potential game-changer for the sector. With the fast rate of RE capacity addition, the transmission planning will be of utmost importance, in order to enable the flow of renewable energy into the National Grid Network. On these lines, government has already initiated work on the first Green Energy Corridor of India, and I anticipate a significant volume of work coming from Green Energy Corridors in the next 3-4 years.

The face of technology
On the project execution front, technology is promoting cost and time optimisation of projects. LiDAR is being used for surveying, cloud-enabled software for mapping the geographical contours, which help attain high level of line-route optimisation (in transmission line projects) and radically improve the productivity as compared to conventional methods. UAVs/drones are being used for conductor stringing activities, cutting down the time durations multifold. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is being actively used to virtually design and simulate/visualise projects in 3D and reduce re-work by detecting possible clash points upfront. Advanced project management tools are helping EPC companies to micro-plan and effectively monitor the projects and achieve a high degree of resource/cost optimisation.

Being the ‘smart’ power
Another aspect of the transformation in the Indian power sector is digitisation/automation. While we have covered good ground on automation/ digitisation of generation assets and transmission infrastructure/ substations (through systems such as SCADA and GIS), there is a long way to go on the distribution side. I can certainly see government’s strong impulsion towards this direction. Initiatives such as National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), UDAY, IPDS and Smart City Mission are driving the efforts towards making the grid ‘smart’. Under NSGM, the Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP) – being coordinated by EESL, aims at replacing 250 million existing conventional meters with smart meters across India. The smart grid is expected to optimise operational efficiencies, analyse load patterns, help in managing peak loads and improve the quality of power. The system shall facilitate efficient outage management and remote asset performance tracking.

The extensive network of the transmission lines
In FY18, the transmission sector witnessed a 5.3 per cent growth in installed capacity with an addition of 17,170 MW, along with an addition of 23,119 ckm of transmission lines and 86,193 MVA of substation capacity. The growth in transmission network in terms of both line length and transformation capacity has been more pronounced at the higher voltage levels and witnessed exalted participation from private players in TBCB transmission projects undertaken by the Ministry of Power.

The transmission system of 220 kV and above voltage levels in the country currently is about 4 lakh ckm of transmission lines and 8.5 lakh MVA of transformation capacity of substations. Further, as on 30th September 2018, the total transmission capacity of the inter-regional links is estimated about 86,450 MW.

Key trends in power transmission line market
Since the launch of Tariff Based Competitive Bidding (TBCB), almost 70 per cent projects awarded through this route have gone to private players. The competitive bidding process for inter-state projects has resulted in lower tariffs and faster project execution. This calls for innovations on the EPC front that focus on addressing cost and time elements. Among the intra-state projects, we observed an increased participation from local EPC players; quality control in such projects becomes an important feature as the aggressive bidding presses back the project finances leading to project construction quality issues. Also, if we talk about the Reverse Auction (RA) process, we need to re-look the way it is happening within the industry. It is important to reorganise the framework for bidder assessment/qualification criteria, and focus more on the industry players, who are credible and really bring value with quality and long term sustainability. With cost, time and quality elements being of essence for EPC players, faster innovation adoption becomes one of the important features for maintaining a sustained competitive advantage in the transmission line market.

Also, power generation is expected to be driven by renewable energy, especially solar in near future. These projects have shorter construction timelines, as short as six months; and the transmission infrastructure needs to commensurate with the RE project timelines, which in turn ensues innovation in design and construction technology. EPC players with a high degree of mechanisation, digitisation and enhanced project management techniques seem well-placed to take on such challenges.

What needs to be done more?
Although, T&D losses in India have been gradually declining over the years, they are still one of the highest amongst emerging economies and remain a serious cause of concern. At all-India level, energy loss in T&D for FY16 was estimated at about 240 billion units. The government is putting-in effort to control these losses through various initiatives under schemes such as Smart Grid Mission/EESL’s Smart Meter program and UDAY. However, the pace of progress of these reforms needs a thrust. With having IoT in place, the technical losses can be optimised while the billing and collection accuracy/efficiency of DISCOMs has potential of seeing substantial improvement. The billing efficiency can be enhanced by removing contributors such as defective meters/test-kits, issues in billing software/backend data entries, meter reading delays and error by meter readers. Similarly, the collection efficiency can be boosted with action in areas such as timely delivery of bills, providing adequate collection facilities, having an effective grievance redressal mechanism and encouraging collections through non-cash modes.

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