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Why power transmission lines need review as India 'moving over' to renewable energy

By Shankar Sharma* 

A news item, “Suspected Chinese hackers collect intelligence from India’s power grid”, throws up serious concerns with regard to the security of the safe and reliable operation of the integrated national power grid in the country.
Few months ago, whereas it was reported in the media that a power disruption in Mumbai for many hours in a stretch was probably due to such hacking by some external agencies, there has been no such confirmation from the concerned authorities. The silence in this regard by the concerned authorities is understandable, keeping in view the sensitivity of the issue.
However, in view of the obsession of our authorities to increase the coverage and complexity of the integrated national power grid (with ever increasing of additions of transmission lines, power plants, individual as well as large size loads such as railway traction, sensitive generators such as nuclear power reactors, radially connected renewable energy power parks, voltage control devices, energy storage facilities etc.), the enormity of a scenario where even few states of the Union can face power disruption, for whatever reasons, for few hours during the day time should not be ignored/ underestimated.
There can be many contributing factors for such a power disruption scenario in addition to possibility of disruptive hacking by external agencies, as mentioned in the above article.
Whatever may be the causative factor, the deleterious impacts on our economy and welfare of our communities due to such prolonged power outages can be massive, as reported on two power blackouts in the North and Eastern parts of the country on July 31 and August 1, 2012, and more recently in Texas’s electric grid in US (February 2021) which affected millions of people for 2-3 days, and lead to the largest forced power outage in US history.
With the ever increasing reliance on electricity for our energy needs, the potential for major disruption to our way of life because of the increased complexity in the integrated national power grid must not be ignored in the overall context of true welfare of our communities.
Whereas, it may be impossible to completely eliminate such power disruptions at the State /regional levels despite implementing the latest technological features, there are ways and means to minimise such risks, and prevent the spread of such forced outage across states/ regions.
In this larger context, and in view of the fact that there are enormous societal costs associated with conventional technology based vast integrated grids, there is an imperative to diligently review the very need for such large size and hugely complex integrated national grid network for a fast-emerging scenario, wherein there is a high probability of a very large number of small size renewable energy sources, such as rooftop SPV systems, connected to distribution networks.
In view of the fact that distributed kinds of renewable energy sources will become a major part of the power system in the near future, and that large size conventional technology power sources such as coal, gas and nuclear power plants will almost be completely eliminated in the next 2-3 decades, the very need for so many power transmission lines at 66, 110, 220, 400, 765 kV, and the HVDC lines should come under serious review.
Keeping in view the credible scenario that by 2040-50, the country is likely to have most of its electricity sources in the form of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power generators, it is techno-economically credible to forecast a electricity demand/ supply arrangement as below:
  • Increased focus to achieve a reduced reliance on the integrated grid quality power, and strengthen the relevance of micro / smart grids powered by distributed renewable energy sources (REs), energy storage battery systems, and suitably designed protection and communication systems.
  • Increased reliance on distributed kinds of renewable energy sources (RES): solar, wind, bio-mass, and energy storage facilities, which will not need high voltage lines or complex integrated grids.
  • Focus on the concept of a federation of micro/ smart grids at the regional / national level connected to each other through distribution level voltage lines or very few high voltage transmission lines.
It has become imperative to urgently initiate a national level discussion on all the associated issues so as to arrive at an early consensus on the kind of electricity demand/ supply arrangement, which will be most suitable for the country.

A discussion paper in this context can provide more points for rational discussions.
---
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst

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