Transmission network hampers India climate change fight

INDIA: India's National Action Plan on Climate Change, announced in June 2008 by the government, calls for 15% of the energy mix to come from renewable sources by 2020.

Progress: Projects over 50MW now connected to central network
Progress: Projects over 50MW now connected to central network

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The plan suggested annual increases of 1% in the share of renewable energy in the national grid. From a base of 5% in 2009-10, this would require a quantum leap in renewables generation.

Wind power, which has seen phenomenal growth over recent years, could make a major contribution to the shift to a low-carbon, energy-secure future, weighing in with some 50GW more of installed capacity.

This poses several challenges for policy makers and regulators, and for the wind industry. Suitable strategies, policies and regulations need to be set in place, with a major focus on transmission of power and grid facilities, as well as on financing and skilled manpower.

It will also require speedy implementation of the latest policy and regulatory measures, such as the 2010 Indian Electricity Grid Code and renewable energy certificates linked with state-specific renewable purchase specifications.

Free flow

Lack of adequate transmission capacity is already an issue, and unless wind sector players are involved in planning at the earliest stage, grid bottlenecks are expected to persist.

Administrative will is the key to solving this problem, and the World Institute of Sustainable Energy suggests, in a study for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India, that a separate transmission planning authority for renewables be set up, as has been done successfully in the US state of New Mexico.

Madhusoodan Pillai is founder director general of the World Institute of Sustainable Energy, Pune, India

At the very least, a separate department in the government’s Central Electricity Authority is needed.

Weak distribution

The current transmission planning process does not include renewables.

Local distribution is weak and often requires substantial augmentation or laying of a parallel transmission infrastructure, which adds to construction time and to costs, further complicated by stipulations over who pays for it.

This is especially true for cash-strapped state-owned utilities — the host utility often has the last word over the cost-sharing mechanism.

Until last September, renewable power was not permitted to connect to interstate transmission networks via the central transmission units.

Wind projects had to use a weak state network, leading to forced power outages and loss of revenue for investors.

But, under pressure from wind stakeholders, the central electricity regulator recently allowed projects over 50MW to connect directly to the central transmission network subject to scheduling.

The 2010 Indian Electricity Grid Code requires system operators to make efforts to transmit all available wind and solar power on a "must-run" status.

Wind generators have to forecast output 24 hours ahead of delivery, in 15-minute blocks, with at least 70% accuracy. If actual generation varies more than 30% from the forecast, the generator will pay an unscheduled interchange charge.

Providing an integrated framework with a mandate to support it from planning to fruition probably remains the most important requirement to progress wind power, and would help to address investors’ concerns of volatile policy environment and market risks.   

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