In May 2014, when Piyush Goyal took over as Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Ministries of Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy, he had said that one of his major priorities is to de-bottleneck the system and ensure fast delivery.

But as luck would have it, soon after he assumed office he found himself dealing with Northern grid failure, which was mainly due to poor infrastructure — weak transmission network.

Since then, successive power ministers have continued with the reform process in the power sector. Measures have been taken to correct the situation and average availability of power has increased to 22.5 hours in rural areas and to 23.8 hours in urban areas, according to government data.

AT&C losses in power sector have come down due to reforms in revamped distribution sector scheme to help distribution utilities (Discoms) improve their operational efficiencies and financial sustainability.

One of the key contributors to the Modi-led NDA getting a second term was promises of rural electrification and subsequently the promise of electricity in every household.

According to the Power Ministry, in the 10-year NDA reign, from a power deficient situation we are now in a power self-sufficient state, thanks to the substantial generation capacity added. Substantial transmission capacity has also been added, it said.

Earlier this year, RK Singh, Minister of Power and New & Renewable Energy, had said that the power sector in India rewards its customers, adding that the government was racing to add electricity capacity to meet the growing demand.

Singh had further said that “we are the only country to have brought in general network access…” Singh had also claimed that he has tried to insulate the system and to curb the practice of making electricity a part of political parties’ freebies.

But critics would say that is easier said than done. During election time, promises are made across sectors.

Last mile issues

The challenge that remains for any government in this sector is the last mile connectivity — that is to ensure a healthy sub transmission and distribution network which can flow power from producer to distributor to the consumer with ease.

According to Power Ministry statement of January 2024, during 2023, 14,390 ckm of transmission lines, 61,591 MVA of transformation capacity and 4,290 MW Inter-regional Transfer Capacity have been added.

In the last nine years, with the addition of 1,87,849 ckm (64.48 per cent increase), the transmission network of 4,79,185 ckm has evolved as the largest national synchronous grid in the world.

The total inter-regional capacity to transfer power from one region to another has been enhanced to 1,16,540 MW (224.17 per cent increase) from 35,950 MW in the last nine years.

But herein lies the challenge.

India has huge ambitions in energy transition and plans to have 500 GW of non-fossil based electricity installed capacity by 2030.

Renewable plans

The Ministry of Power had constituted a high level committee under the Chairperson, Central Electricity Authority with representatives from Solar Energy Corporation of India, Central Transmission Utility of India Ltd, Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, Grid-India, National Institute of Solar Energy, and National Institute of Wind Energy for planning the transmission system required for having 500 GW of non-fossil fuel based installed capacity by 2030.

The Committee prepared a detailed Plan titled ‘Transmission System for Integration of over 500 GW RE Capacity by 2030’.

The Plan has identified major upcoming non-fossil-based generation centres in the country, which include potential RE Zones in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, RE park in Ladakh etc. and based on these potential generation centres, transmission systems have been planned.

The transmission plan also includes transmission system required for evacuation of 10 GW off-shore wind located in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. The plan provides broad transmission system requirement for having about 537 GW of Renewable Energy capacity by the year 2030.

However, the challenge is evacuation of renewable energy — transmission availability. The location of the sub-station to lift the power makes a difference for small players in the sector to succeed. Ideally, sub-station should be located within 5-10 km.

However, the actual location may substantially vary from the projected location. Since the IPP is responsible to connect transmission lines till the substation, the cost of laying transmission lines increases if the sub-station is located from the acquired land.

The development of transmission infrastructure — challenges persist with the dominant role of PSU — holding 60-70 per cent market share, which deter private players due to mismatched return requirements, according to the industry.

Connectivity - Access to grid continues to be a challenge. Many States have not invested in upgrading their grids. Despite the Centre’s initiative for a unified national grid, varied State regulations and infrastructure deficiencies persist, hampering the seamless flow of renewable energy.

Streamlining processes and investing in grid upgrades are essential to facilitate timely project commissioning and maximise renewable energy utilisation.

And above all, availability of land and potential litigation issues are also major hurdles. In case of remote locations, the transmission infrastructure required to move power generated to consuming centres also increases costs for the IPP.

All these plus high transmission and distribution losses, which are more due to political factors, end up burning a hole in the consumer’s pocket. These make all reform efforts seem half baked. For any government to fully succeed in this sector some harsh decisions need to be taken.