Is the Indian grid ready for expansion to renewable energy?

01 August 2012 |

Mr. Shivansh Tyagi specializes in project development policy and project finance as Consultant in the Solar Project Development team at BRIDGE TO INDIA. He interest lies heavily in tracking the development of power infrastructure in India. 

Two major grid collapses in less than 48 hours – this is the worst power crisis India has ever seen, affecting 19 states and about 600 million people. A cascading effect of power overdrawn from the grid by northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab lead to grid frequency plummeting to an alarming low of 47.50Hz in India earlier during the day. This grid failure has raised fundamental questions about the robustness of the Indian power grid, especially given India’s ambitious renewable power targets, adding significant amounts of unscheduled power to the grid.

  • Wind and solar power are still a negligible part of India’s power generation but there are plans to increase the proportion significantly
  • Wind and solar power are known to be more erratic in comparison with power from thermal or large hydro sources
  • Is the Indian grid stable enough to transmit power from more erratic sources such as solar and wind power?

Currently, wind and solar power only contribute around 8% of India’s power. This is still a negligible quantity. Although reaching a significant installed capacity of renewable power is still some way in the future, it is hard to imagine that India’s grid will be ready for this scenario. For an idea of the challenges ahead, just look at the “Energiewende” discussion in Germany. India wants to integrate in-firm wind and solar power up to the tune of 12-15% by 2020, as targeted by the Indian government under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). The erratic nature of solar and wind power can cause drastic grid disturbances, much more than those experienced through conventional power.

The Indian government plans to develop green energy corridors with dedicated transmission lines for solar and wind power. But will that be a sufficient solution for the capacity addition that is imminent with India’s economic growth and rising power demand?

India is almost back to its status quo of having a highly unstable transmission infrastructure prior to 2001 or perhaps even more fragile than it was ten years ago. With the plan of a centralized national grid (one that will synchronize all five regional grids in India) incidents like the one witnessed this week could leave the entire nation with no power and an economic loss of millions.

If the Indian grid is not ready for significant deployment of centralized renewable power, what are our alternatives?

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