Grid Modernization Key to Renewables Integration: Sterlite Power Interview
Sterlite Power boasts a portfolio of 32 projects spanning 15,350 circuit km across India and Brazil
Integrating solar and wind power requires a resilient grid to ensure a consistent and reliable energy supply. As India targets 500 GW of renewables by 2030, a stable grid is needed to minimize disruptions and meet the increasing demand.
Transmission company Sterlite Power focuses on energy delivery by applying technologies like helicranes and drones to streamline project execution, reduce environmental impact, and enhance accuracy.
In an exclusive interview with Mercom, Sterlite Power’s CEO of Infrastructure Business, Arun Sharma, shared his insights on his company’s role in power transmission infrastructure building in India, renewable energy integration, and grid stability.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
1. Could you share Sterlite Power’s role in power transmission infrastructure building in India?
We have a portfolio of 32 completed, sold, and under-construction projects covering 15,350 circuit km of transmission lines across India and Brazil. Out of a total portfolio of 11,000 circuit km of transmission lines across India, 8,400 circuit km of transmission lines are commissioned.
Our innovative usage of global technologies such as helicranes to aid in project completion and drones to survey and monitor transmission lines remotely has allowed us to reduce the need for human intervention, minimize environmental impact, and increase accuracy in project planning and execution.
2. Renewable integration is crucial in the coming years as the scale increases. What are the transmission challenges unique to renewables? How are you planning to handle it?
Renewable integration is crucial for connecting high-potential solar and wind areas to the Inter-State Transmission System (ISTS) to efficiently transport generated power to load centers. The shorter gestation period of renewable projects compared to transmission systems requires advance planning.
The inherent variability of renewable generation, influenced by weather conditions, poses challenges for grid management, particularly as integration scales up.
Grid operators are addressing these challenges through advanced forecasting technologies, exploring energy storage solutions, and implementing smart grid technologies. Additionally, they collaborate with policymakers to develop market mechanisms and regulatory frameworks to incentivize renewable energy (RE) deployment.
In particular, Sterlite Power actively explores integrating energy storage technologies to store and release surplus renewable energy, contributing to effective grid management.
3. What is your take on the recent emphasis on grid stability and ensuring reactive power support?
Grid stability is a crucial element in the sector due to rising ramp-up requirements during peak hours, making it difficult to keep grid frequency within the requisite band under the grid code. The recent emphasis on grid stability and ensuring reactive power support is due to several factors.
The increasing use of variable renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, creates challenges for grid stability due to their unpredictability. Reliance on long-distance transmission lines to connect these sources to load centers adds vulnerability to disturbances, further impacting stability.
Maintaining voltage levels and supporting active power flow requires reactive power, and insufficient support can lead to grid instability and potential blackouts. Addressing these issues is essential for ensuring a stable and reliable power grid with the growing integration of variable renewable energy sources.
Several devices are used to ensure reactive power support, including technologies such as synchronous generators that can provide both active and reactive power support. Static VAR compensators can inject or absorb reactive power into the grid, and capacitors can store reactive power and provide reactive power support when needed. We are developing these new technologies to provide reactive power support.
4. What is your opinion on some states introducing grid support and inter-state transmission charges?
Grid support and inter-state transmission charges have both positive and negative implications.
On the one hand, these charges can help ensure that the grid can operate reliably and efficiently, especially as the penetration of renewable energy sources increases. Grid support charges can help fund the infrastructure and services needed to maintain grid stability, such as reactive power support and frequency regulation. Interstate transmission charges can help fund the construction and maintenance of transmission lines needed to transport renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed.
On the other hand, these charges increase the cost of renewable energy and make it less competitive with conventional energy sources. This could slow down the deployment of renewable energy and make it more difficult to achieve renewable energy targets. These charges could also lead to disputes between states, as some states may feel they are being unfairly burdened with the costs of supporting the grid.
Ultimately, deciding whether to introduce grid support charges and inter-state transmission charges is complex and needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and the decision should be made carefully considering the costs and benefits.
Having a transparent and open process for making decisions about grid support and inter-state transmission charges is important. All stakeholders, including renewable energy developers, consumers, and grid operators, should be involved in decision-making.
5. Rajasthan is the most preferred location for renewable energy projects, but the lack of substations and evacuation infrastructure has worried developers. What is your opinion?
Substations elevate renewable energy-generated electricity for long-distance transmission, while evacuation infrastructure includes transmission lines for grid connection. Rajasthan’s insufficient infrastructure poses challenges for developers, leading to increased costs and potential delays.
The Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation is developing transmission projects and securing funding, with private developers investing to alleviate challenges. Collaborative efforts between the government and private sector aim to overcome these issues, supporting the growth of renewable energy in Rajasthan.
Specific actions include identifying transmission projects, collaborating with private developers, and developing cost-effective technologies for infrastructure.
6. What is the plan for building transmission lines on time to handle 500 GW of renewables by 2030?
The Indian government has planned to build transmission lines on time to handle 500 GW of renewables by 2030. The plan, estimated to cost ₹2.44 trillion (~$29.3 billion), will involve the construction of 50,890 circuit km of transmission lines and 4,33,575 MVA of substation capacity.
7. Sterlite Power has power transmission projects outside India as well. What are some of the learnings and technical innovations you are adopting in India from your global experiences?
Sterlite Power has a global footprint in power transmission, with projects in India and Brazil. This allows us to learn from the best practices and technical innovations worldwide and adopt them in India.
We use drones and other technologies to survey and inspect transmission lines more efficiently and safely. This helps us to identify and address potential problems early on, which reduces the risk of outages.
Our transmission lines also use high-temperature, low-sag conductors (HTLS). HTLS conductors can carry more current than conventional conductors and are less likely to sag in hot weather. This allows us to build longer transmission lines without additional towers.
Using digital twins to create virtual models of our transmission line allows us to simulate and test different scenarios before we change the physical system. This helps us to reduce the risk of outages and improve the performance of our transmission lines.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) improve our forecasting and maintenance capabilities. AI and ML can help us predict potential transmission line problems and develop more effective maintenance schedules.
We are also learning from other countries’ best practices regarding regulatory frameworks and market mechanisms. For example, we are working with the Indian government to develop a green energy corridor scheme that will help accelerate renewable energy deployment in India.
We expect our global experience will help us play a leading role in developing India’s power transmission sector.