Blogs

Aug, 2016

Grid infrastructure missing link in India's solar chain

Hartek Singh,Founder & CMD, Hartek Group

Buoyed by the positive response from the industry and the proactive approach adopted by various state governments, India is now making rapid strides in the solar segment. The country's solar power generation has gone up 14 times in a span of just five years from 0.5 MW in 2011 to 7 GW now. As a result, the revised solar target of 100 GW by 2022 looks distinctly achievable. In an ideal situation, this shift to renewable energy should provide a ready answer to the power woes of the country, which is blessed with abundant sunshine throughout the year, but the situation in India is not so ideal because the transmission system is not growing in sync with the increase in solar power generation.

If left unaddressed, this yawning gap could leave us with a lot of catching up to do later, putting immense pressure on the existing transmission lines, eventually leading to system collapse. The fact remains that our transmission lines are not geared up to receive the kind of solar power being injected into the grid. Given the high stakes in the solar sector, we cannot afford to have breakdowns.

As the first and foremost step, we should upgrade our transmission and distribution lines. The way the solar sector is growing, it becomes imperative for every state which has jumped on to the solar bandwagon to upgrade its T&D system accordingly. The failure to do so may create a difficult situation,in which states like Punjab find themselves today. Having gone into a solar overdrive, Punjab is now well on its way to achieving an installed solar capacity of 1GW by the end of this financial year. But the T&D system in the state has not been upgraded adequately to withstand this additional load of electricity. While the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd has been asked to build separate transmission lines to evacuate green energy, it is expected to build only inter-state transmission lines, at least in the initial stages. Within the states, the local governments have to invest in capacities.

Lack of an efficient and reliable T&D infrastructure is one of the biggest obstacles in the way of realising India's solar potential. Our existing transmission capacities are grossly inadequate. Millions of kilowatt hours of electricity is lost due to inter-state transmission congestion. High T&D losses make solar power generation a highly unviable proposition. Though the government, in association with the NTPC and the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, is focusing on upgrading its substations and T&D lines to reduce T&D losses, this needs to be done on a war footing. The situation calls for urgent corrective action. We cannot afford to operate with the same network of poles and wires.

The answer lies in constantly upgrading the grids and coming up with new ones to match the outflows created by new solar projects. The example of Andhra Pradesh is worth emulating here. Whenever the Andhra Pradesh government comes up with a plan to set up new solar projects, it has a parallel plan on T&D ready. Let's enable the utilities to acquire the financial firepower to invest heavily in grid infrastructure and make large-scale green electricity purchases.

India needs to gradually upgrade its grid ring system from 440 KV to 765 KV to 1,200 KV so that maximum power can be transferred to the central ring and suitably distributed among power-deficient areas of the country. The upgrade from 66 KV to 132, 220 and 440 KV should take place simultaneously. At the end of the day, each unit generated must reach its rightful destination. If we cannot achieve this one thing, the entire purpose will get defeated.