Grid Infrastructure in India Needs to Scale Rapidly to Keep up with Solar and Wind Tenders

Solar and wind tender activity has surged in recent weeks following a long pause, but the sudden surge in planned renewable capacity has many in the industry wondering if India’s transmission infrastructure is equipped to handle this influx of intermittent sources of power generation.

These concerns are well-founded. Numerous completed large-scale projects were unable to be commissioned during the fourth-quarter of 2017 due to delays in grid infrastructure and evacuation issues.

To cope with increasing renewable energy addition, India is developing the Green Energy Corridor (GEC), an interstate transmission network that would connect renewable energy rich states to states lacking in renewable energy generation potential.

Considering the recent surge in government-issued tenders for inter-state transmission system – (ISTS) connected solar and wind projects, the need for a stronger grid is now becoming more important than ever. In 2017, there was a spate of ISTS-connected tenders in the solar and wind sectors.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most notable ISTS tender and auction developments in recent months:

Reverse auctions enabled the wind energy sector to procure new wind generation capacity at lower prices, and the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) took advantage of this by tendering 4,100 MW of ISTS-connected wind energy projects during 2017. According to Mercom, SECI tendered wind projects with a combined total  capacity of 1,000 MW under Tranche-I, 1,000 MW under Tranche-II, and 2,000 MW under Tranche-III, as well as 100 MW of ISTS-connected wind projects for Central Public-Sector Enterprises (CPSEs).

CERC Regulation

In June, SECI  tendered 750 MW of solar for the Bhadla Solar Park to leverage an extension of a government program to waive ISTS transmission charges through December 31, 2019. The projects will supply electricity to Uttar Pradesh. Moreover, the 750 MW Rewa Solar Park development in Madhya Pradesh will also benefit from this waiver because it will rely on the ISTS network to supply power to off-takers.

In November, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) issued a trajectory for planned solar and wind tenders. Under the trajectory, 3 GW of solar will be tendered in January 2018, 5 GW in February 2018, and 6 GW in March 2018. In the wind sector, another 3 GW is expected to be tendered by the end of 2018.

In the recent months, several states have started to announce deviation charges anticipating challenges in integrating new intermittent energy sources to the grid.

In January 2018, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) released draft regulations for forecasting, scheduling, and deviation settlement of solar and wind power generation to facilitate the grid integration of these power sources in Tamil Nadu to maintain stability and security of the grid.

Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have also issued regulations for the forecasting, scheduling, and deviation settlement of solar and wind generation for grid stability.

The Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) is also in the process of drafting similar regulations.

The question now is whether the country’s ISTS is resilient enough to handle a surge in solar and wind generation. In the recent past, there have been instances where state electricity regulatory commissions have come out with orders and notices asking their distribution companies (DISCOMs) not to enter into new Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with solar (in rare cases) and wind project developers due to the unavailability of the required grid infrastructure.

This problem is only likely to get more pronounced as time goes on and more new projects come online. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) waiver of the transmission charges for solar and wind projects that use the ISTS network is likely to spur a spate of new solar and wind tenders that will place an extra load on the ISTS network.

When asked about what is being done to accommodate this renewable generation capacity, a MNRE official told Mercom, “the development of green energy corridor is going as planned, we are on track to meet the completion deadline of March 2020. And the ISTS-connected projects that have been tendered or auctioned will be completed only by the next year. There is a minimum of 12, 13 months project completion timeframe, as far as my knowledge goes.”

“We (MNRE) are providing 40 percent of project costs in the form of grant, to both PGCIL who is developing inter-state transmission corridor and to the state transmission utilities that are developing intra-state transmission infrastructure,” added the MNRE official.

When contacted an official at PGCIL told Mercom, “there were slight hiccups in between, but we are on track; the PGCIL will complete the inter-state transmission network on schedule, by end of 2018.” None of the auctioned or developed projects related to ISTS network will have to face unnecessary delay.

Another PGCIL official told Mercom, “the largest obstacle for such massive projects is getting funding, but MNRE ensured there was no delay due to that. MNRE is providing a 40 percent grant and due to this even we could get easy loans from other avenues like KfW Germany and the Asian Development Bank. This ISTS network will be the pride of the nation, it will be the most modern.”

According to Power Minister R.K. Singh’s address to the Lok Sabha recently, as of November 2017, a number of inter-regional links with a total transmission capacity of 78,050 MW have been constructed, enabling the interconnection of the five regional grids.

Apart from the development of new infrastructure, existing infrastructure is said to be augmented and strengthened to meet increased demand. According to the Power Minister, transmission lines that have been strengthened so far include: the Chandrapur HVDC back-to-back line; the Kolhapur-Belgaum 220kV D/C line; the Ponda – Nagajhari 220kV D/C line; the Raichur – Sholapur 765 kV 2 X S/C line; the Narendra – Kolhapur 765kV D/C (charged at 400kV) line; and the Wardha – Hyderabad 765kV D/C lines between the western and southern regions.

The Warora Pool – Warangal (New) 765 kV D/C, Raigarh-Pugalur HVDC, loop-in loop-out (LILO) of one circuit of Narendra (New) – Narendra (Existing) D/C at Xeldam to form Narendra (New) – Xeldam 400 kV S/C & Narendra (Existing) – Xeldam 400 kV S/C lines are under implementation.

“If 17 GW of solar and 3.5 GW of wind are tendered as announced by March 2018 and if they are promptly auctioned within a few months, there will be a huge rush of installations in 2019 and it would be chaos if the grid is not ready to handle the load by then,” said Raj Prabhu, CEO of Mercom Capital Group.