India’s minister of state for power, Bharatsinh Solanki, is in awe of South Korea. The reason for his admiration—while being as import-reliant as India for meeting its energy needs, South Korea has been able to bring down its power transmission and distribution losses to 4%. That’s astonishingly low compared with India’s 34%.

With energy supply deficits being a cause for concern for the growing economies of China, India, Japan and South Korea, planners in India have been grappling with the twin issues of adding power-generating capacity and trying to stem transmission and distribution losses.

India, ranked sixth in the world in terms of power generation, has now sought South Korea’s help to try and plug the leaks. “We are actively seeking their help to bring down our losses," Solanki said after a recent visit to Seoul.


No system can withstand such losses without coming under intense demand pressure. India needs to tide over a peak power shortfall of 13% between 5pm and 11pm by reducing losses due to theft and pilferage.

India’s per capita consumption of electricity is a mere 700 units, compared with the world average of 2,600 units.

Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint

These problems have resulted in huge losses for SEBs even as the government has been trying to address those concerns. However, two of the government’s most ambitious energy schemes —the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) for rural electrification and the Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (APDRP)—are way behind schedule.

APDRP—meant to upgrade the distribution system, minimize transmission and distribution losses, improve metering and assign responsibility for the realization of user charges —has not been able to bring down losses to 15% by the end of 2007, as originally targeted in 2000-01.

RGGVY, which had a target of providing electricity to 125,000 villages and connecting 23 million below-poverty-line households across the country by 31 March, has also been faltering.

According to a KPMG report titled White Paper on Implementation Challenges and Opportunities, “While some progress has been made at reducing the transmission and distribution (T&D) losses, these still remain substantially higher than the global benchmarks, at approximately 33%."

“In order to address some of the issues in this segment, reforms have been undertaken through unbundling the state electricity boards into separate generation, transmission and distribution units and privatization of power distribution has been initiated either through the outright privatization or the franchisee route; results of these initiatives have been somewhat mixed," it added.

Concerned about the financial health of distribution utilities, deputy Planning Commission chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said at a state power ministers’ conference in April that the viability of the entire power sector would be at stake if distribution utilities do not improve their financial positions.

“In addition to the leakage proofing of the sub-transmission and distribution network, the key to the problem lies in implementing information technology (IT) based monitoring systems, distribution automation systems and smart technologies at consumer interface points," according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers Association.

India currently has an inter-regional power transfer capacity of 20,800MW, and Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd (PGCIL)—responsible for power transmission—plans to increase it to 37,000MW by 2012. Five regional load despatch centres and one national load despatch centre manage power transfer between regions and form the backbone of India’s transmission network.

Smart grids

PGCIL, which carries around 50% of the total power generated in India, has been using technology to its advantage. The state-run utility, which operates around 74,000 circuit km of transmission lines and 124 substations, has installed sensors on its network that provide it with readings every 15 minutes on key transmission parameters. The company uses this to monitor its systems and and to take corrective measures. It also plans to install synchro-phasers that will monitor the distribution network to detect any surge or stress in the system on a real-time basis.

“We have gone for a pilot project. Four such units have been installed and commissioned in the northern region. We are now starting with a pilot project in the western region. Similar projects will be done in the other regions," said S.K. Soonee, chief executive officer, Power System Operations Corp., a subsidiary of PGCIL that handles the power management functions of the country and is also responsible for grid stability.

“The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission has been approving all such new technological initiatives," he said.

These measures are being adopted to counter the problems of grid contingency. The problems become chronic when the state governments break grid discipline and overdraw from the grid, leading to its collapse— the worst-case scenario for any transmission utility. When this happens, all the states that draw power from that particular grid are blacked out. The states also discriminate in providing open access to inter-state transmission and distribution systems.

The country has an installed capacity of 163,000MW of electricity and plans to add around 62,000MW in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12). According to experts, at least 45,000MW of this capacity can be achieved.

The demand for building up the transmission network will go up further with India planning to add 100,000MW of capacity during the 12th Plan period (2012-17). This will require the strengthening of regional grids and more inter-regional links.

The country is planning to deploy “smart grids". These help utilities detect, isolate and correct problems. They also help utilities provide power consumption choices to users based on parameters such as price at any given point of time.

“We want such a smart grid system that helps us realize the problem in milliseconds and resolve it," said S.K. Chaturvedi, chairman and managing director, PGCIL.