Lack of Transmission Capacity a Growing Concern for Solar and Wind Companies

With more than 66 GW of renewable energy capacity connected to India’s national grid, the country’s renewable industry continues to grow at a fast pace but the transmission infrastructure needed to facilitate the growth of renewable energy generating projects in India remains a question.

As of April 2018, India’s cumulative installed solar capacity was 22.5 GW, according to Mercom’s India Solar Project Tracker and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) data indicates that wind installations have crossed the 34 GW mark.

There is growing skepticism on whether India’s transmission infrastructure is equipped to handle the influx of new intermittent renewable power generation. The nation’s increasing renewable energy capacity has recently prompted a number of states to propose deviation charges anticipating challenges in integrating intermittent renewables onto the grid. These states include HaryanaAndhra PradeshGujaratMaharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

To address the lack of grid infrastructure, a comprehensive plan comprising transmission as well as control infrastructure was identified as a part of the Green Energy Corridors, which includes an intra-state and inter-state transmission system to strengthen the infrastructure, and establishment of renewable energy management centers (REMC) at state, regional, and national load dispatch center levels.

The Green Energy Corridor project was estimated to be complete by 2022 but according to many in the industry is running behind schedule. Mercom recently reported that the Standing Committee on Energy is apprehensive about whether the Green Energy Corridor target is attainable.

The Standing Committee observed, “The cumulative target of achieving 3,000 circuit kilometers (ckt-kms) of transmission lines by March 2019, leaves 5,500 ckt-kms of transmission lines to be installed during 2019-20, to reach the stipulated cumulative target of 8,500 ckt-kms of installed transmission lines for the Green Energy Corridor by March 2020.”

Considering the recent surge in government-issued tenders for the inter-state transmission system  (ISTS) to connect solar and wind projects, the need for a robust grid infrastructure is becoming more important than ever.

Due to the unavailability of evacuation facilities, project developers have already been suffering as they are not able to get the authorization to utilize connection bays. Connection bays are important for power generating projects, as without them evacuation cannot take place.

In September last year, Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) filed a petition against renewable companies asking Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) to intervene to prevent underutilization of bays and grid connectivity granted to solar and wind projects. The respondents (wind and solar companies) argued that PGCIL has to develop and strengthen the inter-state transmission system to facilitate 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 instead of objecting to renewable companies applying proactively for connectivity.

When asked to elaborate on the present situation of transmission, Mercom’s source at Greenko, a renewable energy project developer, said, “A major negative is the non-availability of a Central Transmission Utility (CTU). Even in states like Rajasthan and Gujarat, CTU availability is limited and it is said that there is only about 3,000 MW of CTU availability right now and a lot of project developers are already booked for grid access. Under the General Network Access Regulations of Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), projects with power purchase agreements (PPAs) of seven years or more qualify for connectivity. For new projects, it is difficult to assess the grid availability.”

When contacted, another source of Mercom at one of the country’s leading developers, said, “Yes, transmission is an issue in India. Initially, no one thought renewables would grow so fast over the past two years or so, but now after we have logged more than 20 GW of solar and 5 GW of wind in two years, it is becoming a headache. Renewables need a specific and dedicated transmission network and system as they are intermittent by nature. Specific HDVC (high-voltage, direct current) lines are required and the Green Energy Corridor project is running behind schedule. Looking at the project development pipeline, all I can say is, if the transmission network is not modernized on a war footing, it will be detrimental for renewables.”

Expressing his concerns on the future, the source raised an important question, “Who is going to invest, if they can’t evacuate.”

“The country’s renewable energy installation target has been set at 175 GW of renewables by 2022, but the transmission infrastructure is not yet ready to absorb such levels of renewable energy. There needs to a transmission line build-out goal set in tandem with the renewable installation goal as they go in hand-in-hand. Without the grid infrastructure to handle renewable installations, I don’t see how the 175 GW goal can be reached,” said Raj Prabhu, CEO of Mercom Capital Group.

Saumy Prateek Saumy has been with MercomIndia.com as a staff reporter covering business and energy news since 2016. Prior to Mercom, Saumy was a copy editor at Thomson Reuters. Saumy earned his Bachelors Degree in Journalism & Mass Communication from the Manipal Institute of Communication at Manipal University. More articles from Saumy Prateek.