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'Electricity Is Not The Sole Responsibility Of Government'

RP Singh, Former Chairman PowerGrid Corporation of India shares his views on the development of power sector under the current government and more importantly the way forward

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RP Singh, Former Chairman PowerGrid Corporation of India shares his views on the development of power sector under the current government and more importantly the way forward. He shares that, for power for all to be possible, then people at large need to be partnered in development on a true PPP model where the Governments could focus on much needed governance in the sector.

Power misconception

One of the major reasons for slow development of electricity sector in the past has been due to the misconception prevalent in the masses that electricity supply is the sole responsibility of the Govt. The root cause for this common misunderstanding are the acts of various Govts. to link electrical power with political power. The erratic supply of electricity to rural sector is the reason for the villagers to believe that electricity is primarily meant for "rich" or people living in cities, and left over only is for them. Thus, the major task of the Governments, in my opinion, is to let the villagers be a party or stake holder in generating, transmitting, distributing & commercially operating the power sector so that they see themselves that electricity projects are for them also and not for the rich only.

The present Govt. has done commendable work in reaching electricity to villages, hutments, talukas through various village electrification schemes in a time bound manner. In particular, special emphasis has been laid on the development of non-conventional energy particularly solar which will play a dominant role in electrifying real India where the heart of Indians lies. However, the success of "solar" will greatly depend on the "ownership" of the schemes by the masses.

Performance driven- Private sector not up-to the mark
The performance of Central Sector PSUs, particularly NTPC & POWERGRID, which have consistently been the backbone of power sector, is commendable. There is also steady growth of private sector in thermal generation, though their commercial/ operational performance is not upto the mark for reasons attributable to them as well as the Governments. The contribution of Regulatory mechanism too has not been a success story as they have positioned them on 'judiciary platform' rather than acting as 'catalyst' in growth and economic availability of power to all.

The 'UMPPs' launched with much fanfare could not occupy the much trusted position in the sector which they were supposed to do. These mega projects could not get the desired push from concerned agencies including the investors. Likewise, 50,000 MW hydro initiative has remained a non-starter but for a few in private sector. Even today not much has been done to expedite these projects which are a must for sustainable growth of non-conventional, solar and wind generation. I understand the Govt. is planning to accelerate Hydro development.

Thus, with gas not being available, hydro not taking off, nuclear suffering due to non-availability of fuel and associated risks, the only feasible solution is to judiciously operate the existing thermal power plants at optimum level to act as anchor of the system as well as address variable character of non-conventional power through their flexi mode of operation which calls for both technical and commercial redressal of thermal operation. The Govt. is in the knowhow of the complex situation facing the power sector and is exploring ways & means to address the above issues.

Transmission and Distribution- Major concern
On Transmission and Distribution front, the Govt. has rightly accelerated growth of T&D. In growth of transmission & distribution, there are some serious issues involving, ROW(Right Of Way), Huge cost involved in setting up long lines to cater to pocketed hydro and thermal projects, Slow growth of state Transmission System, Moderanization of distribution network for want of fund, amongst others.

If power sector has to grow, Transmission & Distribution have to grow. Thus, we have to look for solutions which reduce ROW constraint. Perhaps it can be through deployment of 'Mono Poles' & " insulated cross-arms" which will reduce the width of ROW as well as assist in 'uprating' and 'upgrading' of existing transmission lines.

The issue of reducing high cost in setting up transmission lines can be addressed by changing the operational/commercial philosophy of the sector which can be done by the 'Regulators'.

As far as State Transmission system is concerned, it has not grown for varied reasons such as lack of talent, money and Govt. support. Possibly this can be addressed if Transmission sector is organised on regional basis rather than State. This will lead to adequate talent attraction as well as projects of adequate size to attract large investments.

On distribution front, the 'Wire carrier' needs to be separated from the 'Content' which will bring much needed competition in the sector as well as investment in modernisation of the distribution network leading to reduction in technical losses, down time (as has happened in transmission sector). In addition, in commercial distribution, multiple players including locals as retailers will grow and bring much needed competition in the sector as well as sense of feeling by the locals of a "stakeholder".

Distribution network can also attract locals as stakeholders because lines will be of smaller size and can be built on true 'PPP' Model where in locals, the govt. agencies, panchayats including individuals & private players can join hands. This will also give rise to local job creation.
I suggest the Governments may consider growth of modular solar power on distributed generation basis and in true sense, deploy a "PPP" model in which public at large would be a stakeholder.

A 'bottom up' approach against 'Top Down' for energy sector
The present Govt.'s act of promoting roof top solar & biomass is an appreciable effort in this direction. In short such projects should be viewed as "people's project". This can be achieved through establishment of solar plants in every nook and corner of the country as 'stand alone module' connected to local self-sustaining grid, and also connected to the main grid, wherever it is economically possible. In short, we have to look for 'bottom up' approach in meeting energy need rather than 'Top down' as it stands today. This will lead to accelerated gains like reduction in T&D losses, ease of grid management, reduced changes in grid failure and in case it happens, multi grids could be revived and connected to National Grid without jeopardizing the services etc.

Revival of 'National Gas Grid'
Another area of major concern is the revival of power supply to metro cities and essential services such as hospitals, Railways, water supply etc. in the event of grid failure of the type that took place on 30th /31st July 2012. For metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad, etc., India has to work out quick mode of operational gas turbines which in no time, can feed the essential services. In today's condition where we have established 'National Grid' working on synchronous mode and at the same frequency, there is every possibility of undue delays ranging from days to weeks in restoring the power supply in the event of grid failure, if we do not take these steps on priority.

We must understand that Grid cannot store electricity whereas a gas pipeline can store gas. Thus, the much desired 'National Gas Grid' which is being expedited by the Government is a step in right direction. However, in addition to gas grid, we have to have adequate gas storage and generation plants at metro cities.