Indu Shekhar Jha possesses a special ability to take people along with him. It is one that has stood him in good stead in his current position as chairman and managing director of Power Grid Corporation of India - the centrally owned public sector unit (PSU) that builds and maintains cross-country transmission lines - which he has held since November 2015. "In the last two years, one of my biggest achievements, I think, has been changing the mindset of the people who work with me," he says. "This is what has enabled me to speed up the execution of projects and improve their quality. I treat everyone with respect, including the contractors who work for us."
There was practically a tradition at Power Grid to treat contractors with disdain and delay their payments. Jha was aware of the practice, having been director (projects) at the company since September 2009, and once he took charge, he determined to break it. "Power Grid engineers are not supposed to erect towers or lay transmission lines - it is all done by contractors," he says. "Contractors are crucial to our functioning and should be treated like business partners. Payment delays to them in turn lead to delays in project execution. Now every month we clear bills of more than `2,000 crore. The advice to our people, engineers and contractors alike is - maintain standards, maintain transparency, focus on the goal and respect time schedules."
Between March 2014 and March 2017, for much of which Jha was in charge, Power Grid's network expanded from 291,336 circuit km (CKM) to 366,634 CKM, thereby making it capable of transporting 722,949 mega volt ampere (MVA) of power, up from 530,546 MVA three years ago, according to power ministry data. In November 2015, when Jha took over, Power Grid's network strength was 3,41,551 CKM, which could carry 6,58,949 MVA. It expects to add another 100,000 CKM by 2022, with an additional investment of `2.6 lakh crore, of which its own contribution will be `1 lakh crore. Between 2013/14 and 2016/17, its revenue has also risen at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.6 per cent to reach `26,581.41 crore. In 2016/17, it was awarded projects worth `30,000 crore, almost twice the `16,000 crore of projects it got the previous year. Since 2011, when India introduced bidding for transmission projects, Power Grid has won 11 of the 25 auctioned so far.
Power Grid's performance is critical to meeting the government's commitments at the Paris climate talks in 2015, as well as to achieving its ambition of increasingly replacing fossil fuel use with renewable energy. The government's goal of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 will be meaningless, if energy cannot be transmitted effectively. The hurdle is that renewable power is intermittent or "infirm" in nature, and thus requires greater grid stability for effective transmission than conventional power. At present, both interstate and intra-state transmission networks are plagued with fluctuations and evacuation problems, which will have to be overcome if renewable power use has to become more widespread.
In 2013, Power Grid was entrusted the `43,000 crore project of building a nationwide green corridor for renewable energy - extending and upgrading the grid to connect all renewable energy plants across the country. Power Grid is making inter-state transmission lines connecting ultra mega solar parks in five states. Its responsibility increased with the new National Tariff Policy of 2016, which mandated that transmission projects of "strategic importance" would not be auctioned, but awarded to Power Grid alone. Private players have protested the decision, but the government has so far stuck to its guns. "Tariff-based competitive bidding is a proven model for building transmission networks in India. Competition in the sector will encourage use of technological innovation, which will lead to faster completion and lower costs to the end-consumer. A healthy PPP project pipeline would benefit the sector and all industry players," says Pratik Agarwal, Group CEO, Sterlite Power. Obviously, the officials in the power ministry don't agree. Thus Power Grid has been loaded with a number of important time-bound projects, such as the four 765 kV transmission lines from Bikaner to Moga, which will link green energy from Rajasthan to the rest of North India.
And Power Grid is sticking to its schedule. It has already commissioned the first phase of the green corridor - a 500- MVA transmission system for the ultra mega solar park (UMSP) in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh. Similar systems will be built for eight more UMSPs across seven other states. In May 2017, it also started work on the 800 kV ultra high voltage direct current (UHVDC) transmission lines that will connect Raighar in Chhattisgarh to Pugalur in Tamil Nadu.
Power Grid's performance is also crucial to fulfilling government's goal of providing electricity to all by March 2019, under schemes such as the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Jyoti Yojna (DDUGJY) and the more recent Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (SAUBHAGYA). The main hurdle to achieving this is not power generation, but distribution, especially last-mile connectivity. The country already has installed power capacity of 335 GW, while the current peak power demand is only 159.8 GW, according to a Central Electricity Authority (CEA) report. Even by 2021/22, peak demand is expected to rise to around 235 GW.
Power Grid is already working with some state governments to take power to every home. "We have set up a joint venture company with Bihar to build its transmission network, and are working with Uttar Pradesh, too," says Jha. These are states whose power distribution companies are in such dire straits that lenders want to have as little as possible to do with them, but with the Power Grid link - which contributes credibility, along with its technical expertise - there is hope that the situation may change. "The state governments are working against tight budgets," adds Jha. "Our joint ventures with them will not only give their transmission companies financial independence, but also access to newer technologies. It is a win-win situation for both of us." Besides, the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), which most states, including Bihar and UP, have joined, is also helping to turn around their ailing discoms.
Again, greening India does not mean green power alone - green transportation is equally important. Jha is a consultant to both Indian Railways, which is trying to reduce its use of diesel-powered trains, and the urban transport ministry, which has an elaborate plan to introduce electric cars. "He is the right man in the right place at the right time," says R.P. Singh, former CMD of Power Grid. "He is a go-getter, takes decisions in tough times, and gets work done without creating controversies."