Navigant Research Blog

India’s Power Sector Moves into the 21st Century

Lauren Callaway — January 14, 2015

In December, ABB announced a $55 million project win in the Indian states of Behar and West Bengal.  ABB will install both transmission and distribution (T&D) substations, incorporating ABB substation technologies with fiber optic telecommunications systems and new substation automation systems.  As a part of an overall goal to meet growing demand, improve access, and reduce losses, the facilities will support generation and other transmission investments in Northern India.  And ABB isn’t alone – big wins in India have also been announced by Alstom and Tata Consulting Agency.

India has seen a lot of activity in terms of electric infrastructure investment over recent years, and the nation is on its way to becoming a global leader in the installation of smart grid technologies.  As my colleague James McCray describes, these investments are benefiting from several large-scale efforts to expand electrification, reduce the environmental impacts of generation, and decrease power system losses.  In 2009, The World Bank and POWERGRID (India’s transmission operator) introduced the Fifth Power System Development Project, a series of transmission investment projects set up to bolster India’s then-troubled economy through providing resources for industrial and agricultural enterprises.  Now in its fifth year, the planned $16 billion program has funded regional projects in both Northern and Southern India.

Acceleration

In terms of expanding and updating its distribution grid, India’s central government has begun the second stage of its Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (also known as R-APDRP).   This two-phase project has supported individual state utilities in an initial stage of data gathering for information and planning, as well as the aforementioned second stage of new grid construction and upgrades, including advanced metering infrastructure and distribution automation rollouts.  Investments under this plan are expected to total around $10 billion.

If you haven’t noticed yet, the sums of money involved are tremendous.  The global smart grid market for distribution was forecast at $15 billion in 2014, indicating that if India is allocating between $10 to $20 billion (of the $26 billion total for T&D) over the course of a few years, that would make the country one of the world’s largest spenders, the United States, Western Europe, and China.  Yet, India’s Power Minister, Piyush Goyal, stated in November that India needed to put even more into its T&D infrastructure – $50 billion over the next 5 years.

The Big Shift

India has several primary drivers for investment: growing demand and a need to increase electrification; reduction of fossil fuel consumption (the majority of India’s electricity is coal-fired according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the country wants to install more solar); and reliability (India has suffered heavily from rolling blackouts in recent years).  At the moment, India’s grid is constrained due to limited and aging infrastructure – some estimate that generation plants are utilized as little as 70% because of this.

Investing in new infrastructure and smart grid projects, India is targeting efficiency while simultaneously extending its grid.   For the time being, India will increase coal-fired capacity to meet its demand challenges, but the country is also promoting renewables both directly (through government investment) and indirectly as it improves its transmission infrastructure.  With these investments and states such as Gujarat leading the way in progressively supporting renewables, it is possible that India could soon shift from an underdeveloped energy infrastructure heavily dependent on fossil fuels to a leading example of clean and efficient energy at a national scale.

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