Can Green Energy Transmission Corridor Development Keep Up with Rapid Renewable Energy Growth in India?

January 9, 2017


Recognizing the need for transmission infrastructure to cope with increasing renewable energy capacity, India is developing the Green Energy Corridor (GEC), a transmission network to connect renewable energy rich states to states that lack renewable energy generation potential. The project is under implementation in eight states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

Once complete, the GEC is expected to facilitate evacuation from solar parks and large-scale grid-connected solar and wind projects. The GEC is also expected to boost the inter-state sale of renewable energy, and coupled with the waiver of Inter State Transmission System (ISTS) charges, renewable energy costs are forecasted to come down enough to help states fulfill their renewable purchase obligations (RPOs) and energy demand. The GEC is also expected to address the curtailment of renewable energy in the future.

GEC is expected to address certain limitations of renewable energy like, intermittency and variation in power quality. Under the GEC project, renewable energy management centers (REMC) are being set up to forecast renewable power generation and demand. These centers will also be interconnected with load dispatch centers (LDC) to gather real time information, and monitor & control capacity addition, stated an official at Central Electricity Authority (CEA).

For a project that has already had its share of delays and is being touted as the cure-all for grid issues, the renewable energy sector is skeptical if it will get done in time to make an impact.

Skeptical Developers

Developers across the country are struggling with evacuation and transmission issues, which account for huge losses leading to increased project costs. “A state-of-the-art modern grid and robust transmission infrastructure is necessary for the power sector.” We have heard about the GEC, but, whether it happens or not, we are yet to see, said a developer.

Developers are concerned about solar park integration into the grid as the evacuation system and infrastructure is not yet ready. Due to faulty transmission lines and grid infrastructure, planning for the next batch of auctions has yet to begin and developers don’t know where these projects will be located.

According to some developers, tenders are released in some states without consulting the state electricity regulatory commissions (SERCs). When power purchase agreements go to regulatory commissions for approval they are getting held up because the SERC is citing a lack of transmission infrastructure.

The infrastructural development under GEC is slow; it is not at par with the pace of tenders coming out. Within the next three quarters solar projects of close to 8.5 GW will be commissioned, but, the grid is not ready to infuse the power produced. This is our gravest fear, said a developer.

“The progress of GEC on paper and on the ground is very different,” commented another developer. The government should provide compensation for projects on standby after they have been commissioned or it will be a great loss for developers.

Optimistic Implementing Agencies

Government officials have said that the GEC is on track to meet its March 2020 deadline. The Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) is developing the inter-state transmission corridor and the state transmission utilities are responsible for setting up and strengthening the intra-state transmission infrastructure. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) will be providing 40 percent of project costs in the form of grant, commented an MNRE official. The PGCIL has estimated that the cost to develop the GEC comes to Rs. 380 billion (~$5.59 billion). “We have already received a €500 million (~$527 million) soft loan from KfW, Germany, and are awaiting approval of a $1 billion (~Rs. 14.73 million) loan from Asian Development Bank.” The inter-state transmission network will be up and ready by the end of 2018, stated an official at PGCIL.

The areas that are expected to benefit from the GEC include: the high voltage direct current (HVDC) Bipole link between the Western Region (Raigarh, Chhattisgarh) and the Southern Region (Pugalur, Tamil Nadu), North Trichur (Kerala) through the Raigarh-Pugalur 6,000 MW HVDC System, the HVDC Bipole link between the Western Region (Raigarh, Chhattisgarh) and Southern Region (Pugalur, Tamil Nadu), and the North Trichur (Kerala) through the Pugalur- Trichur 2,000 MW VSC based HVDC System.

High Capacity transmission lines are expected to be set up between: Ajmer (New) and Bikaner (New) 765 kV D/c, Bikaner (New) and Moga (PG) 765 kV D/c. The loop-in and loop-out of one circuit of the 400 kV Bhadla – Bikaner (RVPN) line at Bikaner will occur, and establishment of 2×1500 MVA, 765/400 kV S/s at Bikaner will take place.

Laying the 400 kV transmission lines is nearly complete in Rajasthan for the pooling stations. In Tamil Nadu, 765 kV lines are being set up for the Nagapattinam pooling station which will connect to Kolhapur in Maharashtra. In Andhra Pradesh, Nellore and Vemagiri pooling stations are being strengthened through 765 kV lines to connect to Sholapur and Jabalpur. In Tuticorin, 765 kV transmission lines are being set up to connect the pooling station to Madhugiri. The transmission line from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh to Dharam Jaigarh in Chhattisgarh is also being upgraded to 765 kV, stated an official at PGCIL.

By end of November 2016, 343,521 circuit kilometers (ckms) of AC transmission lines and 15,512 ckms of high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines along with 684,454 MVA AC and 16,500 MW HDVC transformation capacity was added. Inter-regional transmission capacity has increased to 62,650 MW.

In some states, environmental clearances and land availability are becoming major issues, otherwise, “we are well on track to achieve the designated infrastructural development targets,” stated an official at CEA, which is the monitoring body for intra-state infrastructure development.

“Even solar and wind projects of only a few MWs take a year to complete. Project development on the GEC has begun and loans are flowing in; even the government is providing grants through NCEF and MNRE,” said an official at PGCIL, when asked about developer concerns regarding the GEC.

Officials at the implementing agencies believe that the GEC is on target to meet the MNRE-projected timeline and developers’ concerns about delays have been heard. Detailed project reports have been made, presented, and incorporated by the CEA, state transmission utilities, PGCIL and MNRE, said an official at MNRE. “We have left no room for error as a robust transmission system is central to India achieving its energy goals.”

“We have already had curtailment and evacuation issues in several states with a projected 4 GW solar market this year. Next year solar demand is forecasted to more than double that and there is a legitimate concern that the current grid infrastructure is inadequate to handle the capacity, let alone waiting until 2020 for GEC to come up,” said Raj Prabhu CEO of Mercom Capital Group. India’s renewable energy future depends on adding transmission capacity and removing bottlenecks immediately, added Prabhu.