With 34 years of experience in the power sector, IS Jha heads the country’s largest power transmission company, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL). An electrical engineer from NIT, Jamshedpur, Jha has contributed to national transmission planning and inter-connection of the regional grid resulting in a pan-India national grid. It is because of Jha’s efforts that the country is on the threshold of witnessing the target of 'one nation, one grid, one price'. In an interview to PRASHANT MUKHERJEE, Jha discussed the impact of GST on the sector and the company’s plans for an electric vehicles business. Excerpts:
Q. Everyone is talking about the power surplus in the country. How much is the surplus and what is the contribution of PowerGrid to this surplus?
A. If you see, a lot of thermal projects have been added to the grid in the past few years. Demand has not picked up in that proportion. This coupled with PowerGrid developing a robust national grid has resulted in access of power anywhere in the country. Thus, on an overall basis, power has become surplus and is available for consumption to each discom in the country.
Q. With GST coming into effect, what kind of changes will we see in power tariff? Is it really going to be beneficial for the end user?
A. It is amply clear that if there are any gains due to GST, they will be passed on to the end consumer, both by PowerGrid and the generators. GST rates are yet to be notified. From the draft rates, we can do some back-ofthe-envelope calculations. But clarity will emerge only after we see our vendors and their vendors being able to pass on the benefits of GST to us. In the short term, we may not see any discernible benefits (since gestation period of transmission and generation is more than 2 years), but I believe in the longer run, power tariffs shall benefit from GST.
Q. What exactly is PowerGrid’s proposed electric vehicle programme? There are reports of PowerGrid considering setting up charging stations for electric vehicles. Can you elaborate?
A. Yes, we are considering entering into electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The modalities are under discussion at various forums in the ministry. In the electric vehicle space, there would be players who would supply the electricity, those who would provide the infrastructure and manage the facility, and maybe battery owners (if battery swapping succeeds). PowerGrid will take up the charging infrastructure space. There are a couple of business synergies. Electric vehicles have the potential to help in grid management (peak/offpeak load balancing), if managed smartly and our expertise in grid control systems puts us in a better place to manage the load distortions. We are in the process of replacing our company cars with EVs along with setting up charging infrastructure to gain some experience.
Q. There have also been reports of PowerGrid exploring commercially viable energy storage solutions such as batteries. So is PowerGrid going to be a battery manufacturing entity as well? Please throw some light.
A. There are no plans at present to be a battery manufacturing entity. But we may require grid-scale battery storage systems to manage transient peaks/load drops (which shall become more prominent as more and more renewables are added) and for smoothening and firming of power within time blocks. Towards this end, we are already testing a couple of technologies through pilot projects in Puducherry.
Q.With such a huge push towards renewables, do you see a bleak future for conventional power?
A. You have to understand that there is a peak time for renewable power (mainly in wind and solar) which may not coincide with the peak demand time. Thus, for balancing and meeting the requirements at other times, there has to be conventional power. Maybe, storage technologies will mature in future which can then reduce our dependence on conventional power.
Q. What is PowerGrid doing to reduce congestion in the network because in the southern states the problem still persists?
A. We have experienced congestion in the southern region earlier mainly because a number of planned generation units could not come up or were delayed. We have worked relentlessly during the last three years to ease the situation. As a result, the New-SR grid inter-regional transfer capacity has increased by more than 115 per cent in the last 3 years and is now 7,450 MW. It will get further enhanced to 9,700 MW in a year’s time. As of now generally there is no congestion. This has resulted in achieving the one-nation-one-price target for most of the time.
Q. We have seen instances like when the Ukraine power grid in 2016 becoming the victim of a virus attack. What safeguards does PowerGrid have to tackle such a situation?
A. We are well aware of the risks of cyber attacks and have taken various safeguards available in the industry. Besides, CERT also issues various advisories and action is taken accordingly. Thus, the security system is well updated with minimal risk of cyber attack.
Q. Could you please share the details of PowerGrid’s flagship project, green energy transmission corridors given the current government’s heavy push on renewables.
A. The gestation period of renewable projects (1 year for wind, solar) is very little compared to the gestation period of a transmission line (about 3 years). PowerGrid, anticipating this, has evolved two schemes GEC-I and II which are basically creation of highways for renewable power transmission. So basically any new generation can tap into these highways and get connected to the grid very quickly. GEC-I comprises two systems, one starting from Gujarat, traversing Rajasthan and finally ending in Punjab and the other in Tamil Nadu. These have been designed in the potential areas of wind and solar. GEC-II on the other hand is for tapping power from the ultra-mega solar parks and is in different states, including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Both these projects are under implementation.