Lack of reliable electricity supply is one of the biggest hurdles for socio-economic development of the nation
Imagine a life without electricity. The world comes to a standstill as the sun goes down. No engine to fire transportation. No television. No internet. No mobile phone. Health services are affected. And then there is our primal fear of darkness.

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That is the reality that more than a quarter of India’s population has long lived with. But light may gradually be entering their dark, dismal existence.

On April 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that every single village in India is now electrified and called it a historic day in India’s development journey. Going beyond the politics of electrification, let’s first acknowledge that this is a huge accomplishment. The World Bank in its latest ‘Energy Progress report’ says India is doing more than any other country in providing electricity to people. Between 2010 and 2016, the report says, India provided power to 30 million people each year.

At the same time, the celebratory mood is tempered by some hard truths:

• The electrification benchmark of 10 per cent leaves the remaining 90 per cent of the village unelectrified;

• The government’s own data reveal that 31 million households are still in the dark;

• And of India’s 18,452 villages, a mere 7.3 per cent (or 1,417 villages) have 100 per cent household connectivity.

Saubhagya scheme

Hence, true redemption for the world’s largest unelectrified population lies in the $2.5-billion Saubhagya programme, which envisages providing electricity connections to all households by the end of this calendar year. Unlike earlier schemes, the Prime Minister’s Saubhagya scheme changes the metric from village electrification to household electrification.

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However, the time has come for all Indian citizens to consider Right to Electricity as a fundamental right. The link between poverty and lack of access to electricity is finally being seen as unexceptionable. And it hasn’t come a day too soon. Many economists have long argued that without access to power people are doomed to a life in poverty. Lack of access to power contributes to poverty and to economic deprivation. From literacy to healthcare, lack of electricity hampers all aspects of human development.

In 2013, Justice S Manikumar in an erudite judgment ruled that lack of electricity affects education and health and is a cause of economic disparity, and consequently, inequality in society leading to poverty. In directing the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board to provide power to 180 families of launderers, the court held that access to electricity should be construed as a human right. “Denial of it,” said Justice Manikumar, “would amount to violation of human rights.”

Coverage of all households may well be a possibility but when it comes to talking about power as a fundamental right for all citizens, it is as much about electrification as about the quality of power, affordability and reliability. Access to unreliable power is hugely “expensive” to the poor households. It results in expensive capital equipment such as a fan being used only for a fraction of the time its needed. Multiply this with everything else a newly electrified home may be induced to purchase (often an expensive credit) and you know the cost to the household.

Focus on reliability

Worse still is the damage to capital stock from erratic electric supply. Expensive stabilisers and inverters are an added “insurance” burden when power supply is known to be erratic. Access to electricity becomes equitable only when the reliability of power supply is ensured. A mere extension of a wire is not the fundamental right that is being discussed here; that wire should carry reliable, affordable power to all households. That power is pivotal to the realisation of socio-economic goals — of individuals and the nation’s.

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So, from access to electricity as a fundamental right, access to reliable power should be a fundamental right. Apart from those who have no access to power, there are many millions who get power only sporadically. If energy is the lifeline of human productivity and ingenuity — and we know that it is — sporadic and uneven power supply curtails, even injures, that ingenuity. Closely tied to the idea of reliable power as a fundamental right is the idea of the power being affordable. With large capacities being added through all forms of generation, especially renewables, its affordability could possibly be guaranteed for the long term.

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Universal electrification, and the realisation of the dream of reliable power as a fundamental right, will ensure that villages never have to live under the veil of darkness again.



The year 2016 will be remembered as the tipping point for solar energy. For the first time, it became cheaper to produce your own electricity than to buy it from the grid!

Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not have asked for a better timing. The sharp drop in solar prices perfectly coincided with his first term.

His government’s vision of adding 100 GW of solar generation capacity may in fact materialize as early as the year 2022.

What’s more, the macro environment for solar power looks poised for an upsurge. India has an abundance of the two most critical elements for solar power – land and sunshine.

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There is easy availability of affordable solar panels in China, while global developers are now quoting about 7 US cents per unit (Rs. 4.5 / kWh) to build, own and operate solar farms in India.

Therefore, it seems as if nothing can stand in the way of India’s charge towards solar power.

However, the power industry is forgetting or ignoring one important link of the value chain; which is power transmission.

The two major risks when it comes to evacuation of solar energy are ‘Cost’ & ‘Time’.

A 500 MW solar park generates about 30% of the energy as compared to an equivalent thermal power plant.

However the required investment in transmission is equal in both cases. This signifies that it costs three times as much to transport a unit of solar energy, as compared to a unit of thermal energy.

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In order to compensate for the increased transmission cost, solar energy will need to be about a cent (Rs 0.65 / kWh) cheaper than thermal energy (at the bus bar).

However the greater risk lies in “Execution Time” of Transmission infrastructure. During the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017), India saw an addition of close to 80GW of thermal generation capacity.

The government had more than 5 years to build these systems, and due to coal shortage in many power plants, they were able to buy another year or two of construction time. Yet, the systems couldn’t be built on time due to rights-of-way and forest-clearance issues.

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Now imagine a scenario where 10GW of solar plants can get created in a matter of 90-120 days!

Today, the speed at which gigawatt-scale generation capacity can be created, is unprecedented in the history of energy, primarily due to the modular nature of these plants.

Each time a gig of generation capacity is added to the grid, one needs to invest in upstream and downstream transmission systems.

However, the schedules for transmission projects are usually measured in years or quarters, certainly not in days! The average time taken to build an Extra High Voltage (EHV) transmission systems in India is about four and a half years

The mismatch between Time to Market (TTM) for solar, and TTM of its corresponding evacuation lines is, in my view, the single biggest risk, facing the ambitious solar mission.

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In order to address this discrepancy, the government has already taken a few significant steps to reduce the project duration of transmission projects.

The forest and environmental clearances have been decentralized and the government has also reduced the project award time from 250 days to 145 days.

Commissioning of lines before the scheduled date of commissioning is permissible under current norms. New guidelines for right-of-way compensation have been issued, linking it to prevailing land prices.

These measures can dramatically reduce the time taken to execute projects.

However this is not enough. Transmission lines need to be built in 12-14 months, as compared to the current norm of 30-40 months.

For this, the government will need to invite the private and public sectors to leverage technology and mechanized construction. Perhaps, the government can announce larger bonus clauses for early commissioning.

Or transmission developers could be chosen not on the basis of lowest tariff, but on the basis of the shortest completion time.

Tariff Based Competitive Bidding could be replaced by “Time Based Competitive Bidding”, as a 50% reduction in execution time of key links, is perhaps 10 times more beneficial to the energy system, than a 50% reduction in transmission tariffs.

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In the next few years, India could undoubtedly stand-out as the first economy in the developing world to embrace clean energy in such a significant way.

I look forward to our able government taking proactive steps towards building evacuation systems and ensuring that every unit of solar energy produced, is actually delivered to the most underserved household in the country.

Upgrading Power Transmission Lines To Higher Voltage With Existing Infrastructure | Sterlite Power

Due to increasing urbanization and industrial growth, energy consumption has gone up in Tier I and Tier II cities in India. The rising population, along with the government’s focus to provide uninterrupted electricity to all homes by 2019, is projected to increase electricity consumption five to six times between 2014 and 2030.

 Over the last few decades, India has witnessed a steep rise in generation capacity. With government’s efforts, even if half of the planned renewable capacity gets installed by 2022, the generation would certainly match the nation’s requirement.

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However, the key to this fulfillment will be to match generation capacity addition with adequate power transmission and more importantly, intrastate transmission and the sub-transmission network. This network must be made available to enable the downstream to the load centers around densely populated urban areas of important states and industrial areas.

 Under the 13th five-year plan, high capacity transmission corridors comprising 765 kV AC and 800 kV High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) system have been planned to strengthen the national grid. It is estimated that 13,000 MW of HVDC systems will be required for grid expansion, but with growing demand, this itself is projected to grow to 15,000 MW under the 13th five-year plan. Most transmission networks in India had been built to handle specific amount of power flow. With increasing load, they’re ill-equipped for higher power flow, and now need up gradation to better transmission capabilities.

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This transition traditionally requires building additional transmission capacity by reinforcing the existing infrastructure, which is currently being done in the one or more of the following ways:

Building additional circuits or towers

  • Most of the current structures, however, aren’t designed to accommodate additional circuits.

Constructing new parallel transmission lines

  • However, rapid urbanization, escalating land costs and right-of-way (ROW) challenges make this option prohibitively expensive. A right-of-way, that involves permission for additional ground space, can take several years to negotiate in addition to the time needed to upgrade to higher voltage transmission. Additionally, approvals for adding lines are difficult with today’s environmental concerns due to depreciating forest and agriculture cover.

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Replacing existing conductors with conventional conductors of higher size

  • This would require tower replacements because of the additional structural loading and relative condition of the existing structures. Thermal sag associated with the conventional conductors is a concern too.

Uprating the existing transmission lines with reconductoring

  • This method is a quick-fix arrangement and applicable to only short stretches within the network to enable decongestioning.
  • The method also leads to high losses in the stretches thereby creating voltage drops and system imbalances which is why, a wide scale adoption is not possible by transmission planners.

The challenge today is to reduce the footprint of transmission corridor upgradation while increasing the transmission capacity multifold. Increased capacity without the need to reinforce existing infrastructure translates to greater profitability and lower transmission losses, therefore improving life-cycle costs compared with conventional line upgradation projects that often overrun, thereby increasing costs.

Fortunately, it is possible to upgrade transmission lines and substations to higher voltages without having to replace or reinforce the existing tower structures. The upgradation challenges can be overcome with a modern cost-effective approach that provides an ideal solution with respect to grid stability and widespread adoption for getting up to 12 times the existing power throughput. Let’s understand this approach in detail.

  • Use of compact towers to maintain the same corridor footprint

    • Using narrow base tower which has lower height, narrower base, as well as lower weight as compared to a standard tower maintains the tower footprint within the existing ROW requirements and saves significant costs and time.
    • For example, upgrading a line from 66KV to 132 KV requires ROW to be increased from 18 m to 27 m. With compact towers, this effective 33% reduction in ROW typically results in cost- savings of up to Rs. 1cr/Km and saves a timeframe of 6 months to 1 year since no additional ROW approval or forest clearance is required.

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  • Lowering the corridor footprint by using monopoles and micropiles

    • Monopoles (single poles) can mitigate space constraints related to traditional poles that stand on 3-4 poles.
    • Use of Micropiles reduce excavation effort and time as well as tower foundation footprint (by 10-20%) and adds to tower stability.
  • Replacing existing ACSR conductors with high performance HTLS conductors

    • HTLS (High Temperature-Low Sag) conductors can carry more current per than conventional ACSR (Aluminum Conductor- Steel Reinforced) conductor.
    • The power losses of the HTLS conductor are 20% to 25% lower as compared with the conventional conductor.
    • HTLS operate at much higher temperature ranges (150-2500C) than ACSR (1000C), which increases the power transmission throughput to almost twice the current capacity.
    • Additionally, HTLS conductors have low thermal expansion in the temperature range.
    • The low sag feature also facilitates reduction in tower height, which helps overcome ROW issues, as explained before.
  • Use of Mobile Substations during upgradation for minimum shutdowns
    • Usage of mobile substation at suitable strategic locations results in zero/minimal shutdown during the time upgradation is being carried out, thus resulting in higher grid reliability.

Sterlite Power is India’s leading integrated power transmission developer and solutions provider, which has been able to demonstrate this approach that tackles the key constraints of time, space and capital in voltage upgradation. Sterlite power has carried out comprehensive feasibility studies for voltage upgradation across numerous states in India and has proposed cost-effective solutions with the approach mentioned above.

India is the third largest producer of electricity in Asia, and its generating capacity is continuously growing. The distance between generating stations and load centers is increasing day by day. Huge transfer of power from generating plants to load centres at long distance will require significant line upgradation and adding additional infrastructure will not be a feasible solution to go forward.

 Access to power has the potential to change the lives of millions, by bringing about a transformation in the local economy, and with it, the country as a whole. The country wide power transmission upgradation, however, will require a co-ordinated effort by government and various power transmission solution providers to solve the toughest challenges of energy delivery.

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