Economy

Today the average power availability in rural areas is 22.5 hours and we are close to taking it to 24 hours. I want diesel generators to be history

Power and New & Renewable Energy Minister RK Singh has emphasised that government’s efforts to ramp up power distribution and transmission have brought a shift in living standards across small towns and villages. For instance, people got a respite from pollution due to diesel generators with near round-the-clock power. In an exclusive interview with the BusinessLine, Singh noted that on June 10, India’s power demand met during the day hit a record 211.86 gigawatts (GW), which is a testament to the Power Ministry’s efforts. Excerpts:

How do you analyse India’s record power consumption?

Demand went up by 25 per cent in one year, while economy grew by 8 per cent. Record power consumption is a fair indication of the work done by the Power Ministry. We made sure that there is enough power and ensured that the system is robust enough to carry it.

It happened because we worked on it. First, we added a capacity of 1,67,000 MW. We are now transferring 1,12,000 MW from one corner to another in India. It happened because we spent over ₹2-lakh crore on strengthening distribution. We added 2,950-odd new sub-stations, upgraded around 3,900 old substations. Added 7.5-lakh circuit Kms of low tension lines and lines of 2.5-lakh circuit Kms of high tension lines and 7.50 lakh transformers. We connected every home, village or hamlet in India. We connected 2.86 crore homes. In 2015, the average power availability in rural areas was about 12.5 hours at the national level. Today it is 22.5 hours and we are close to taking it to 24 hours. I want diesel generators to be history. It’s almost history, even in Bihar, where I come from. A cultural change has happened with people getting respite from DG sets.

How has Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) performed?

The great thing about RDSS is that all the States and their Discoms have agreed to do it. This did not happen in the past. They agreed to give a trajectory for loss reduction and it is backed by the State cabinet. So States have committed to reduce their AT&C losses and ACS-ARS gap. They have also committed to pay all outstanding dues, pay subsidy on time, committed to tariff approval date and issue of tariff orders on time. All truing up will be done on time. These are commitments we had been pressurising the States to do. Accounts will be published quarterly.

Besides, we have reduced the late payment surcharge, and at the same time strengthened the payment security mechanism. We have already approved RDSS for around 13 States and others are in process. I said that we will not move ahead unless State cabinet approves it. Important point here is to bring down AT&C losses and strengthen systems.

How is the drive to install smart meters progressing?

Smart prepaid meters need software. In earlier bids, some companies did not have the requisite software and had put in bids. Now, I have put bids on hold. We have established a test bed in Bengaluru to check meters. I said that any company which wants to bid for smart prepaid meters has to first set up the system on a test bed and pass it. The meter’s functioning has to be totally automatic, and without human intervention. So if money runs out, the meter should switch off. We have told companies that fresh bids will come after you test your meters and qualify. Three companies have passed, two have failed (going for re-test) and four are under testing. Right now, we can test five companies per week, and from next week we will scale it to 17 per week. It is to check automatic disconnection, automatic re-connection on recharge without any gap and recharge through mobile. Once I have 7-8 qualified firms, we will have the tender so that there is sufficient competition.

What next steps can we expect on Green Energy Open Access?

We have brought out the rules. Now MNRE will make a list of big corporate houses and consumers. We will urge them to transfer their thermal to RE through green open access. I will also recommend them to give a date for going green. We will also identify industries who have huge captive coal capacities. I will write to industries, which have large thermal capacities for captives, that they can start blending with RE, and the second step will be replacing thermal with green.

What are your plans on Green Hydrogen?

The government has launched the mission. We have also done consultations on how companies using hydrogen from fossil fuels, can be asked to transition to green hydrogen. It will now go to the union cabinet for approval.

See, we have a natural advantage of having a large RE capacity. We have land, technology and manpower. This is cheaper than other countries. So green hydrogen will be cheaper here. Electrolyser manufacturing in India has started because we have made it clear that we will prefer Made in India. We will be the largest market globally. Maybe in the next 4-5 years, we will put in place a barrier so that if you make electrolysers here, you have an advantage. This is very clear. We are also considering a PLI scheme for electrolysers.

Published on June 23, 2022