How We Can Energise India's Power Sector

11/06/2015 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
NARINDER NANU via Getty Images
Indian workers install new power cables at the roadside in Amritsar on May 9, 2015. Temperatures are already hovering around the 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Farenheit) mark as summer has arrived in the northern Indian plains. AFP PHOTO /NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

For a long time now, the power system in India has been experiencing extreme challenges in bridging the demand and supply gap. The gap has been increasing due to challenges in availability of good-quality coal -- close to 60% of 240GW installed capacity of the country's power is met by this fuel. Meanwhile, concern for the environment in the context of global warming has taken a front seat and the pressure on power project developers with delayed environmental clearances has drastically delayed projects. Aggregated technical and commercial losses by any standard are a long distance from the best in class across the world -- in fact, the loss ranges from 25% to 40% depending on which part of the country you are in. Lack of concerted efforts to educate the public about energy conservation is also a challenge. Contrast this to the US, where millions are spent on educating youngsters about renewable energy. Indian needs to progressively implement such initiatives. We deal with one-hour power cuts in a city like Bangalore; the situation is far worse in other parts of the country.

The core issue however is that most of our power utilities, with a few exceptions, have problems in terms of financial health and project execution.

Our "say to do ratio" (what we commit vs. what we execute) is so bad that it puts off domestic as well as international investors. We need more investment to be brought in and this is critical for any project to be successful. For example, the Make in India campaign demands better investments in the manufacturing sector to improve infrastructure and facilities.

In a country of 1.2 billion people, there exist many opportunities. One such opportunity is capacity enhancement. The demand and supply gap is still close to 10%. When quality electricity is made available, manufacturing gets revived, agro industries get a push, storage of agro products is improved. India's per capita consumption is still only about a third as much as developed nations. This calls for capacity enhancements on a large scale. Ultra mega power plants, PV solar plants, hydro power plants, wind energy systems etc., are all the need of the hour.

"Our "say to do ratio" (what we commit vs. what we execute) is so bad that it puts off domestic as well as international investors. "

Efficiency improvements in transmission and distribution networks are also long-pending. We need to move much further than automatic meter reading. Smart grids have been discussed for too long and we are already late. In my opinion, focused efforts are required for seamless integration and addressing the complete value chain (from generation to the end consumers).

The ambitious Smart Cities initiative will also require a better power scenario to get off the ground. For a city to be "smart", the power situation has to be smart -- the need of the hour is to attract other partners to the concept. The next important step would be to ensure adequate water supply. Power and water are both deal-makers /breakers.

I would also advocate demand side management and differential tariff for bringing about discipline in the usage of electricity. This would also make renewable energy integration in o the grid easier. This is because we have no better option than enhancing the RE content in the context of environment protection and global warming.

Micro grids (both DC and AC islanded) could help reach remote places of India that are still in darkness. These pose little or no technical challenges. All we need are policy changes and a willingness to improve our approaches to aid inclusive growth. India announced the ambitious Power for All initiative by 2012 - this is still a distant dream. We really do need to work on our say-to-do ratio and grant power to the nearly 300 million people who are still without power.

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