Not many people would remember the day towards the end of August in 2012 when large parts of north and east India plunged into darkness as the power grid collapsed, leaving over 400 million Indians without power. While that has by far been the worst ever-blackout anywhere in the world, things have changed dramatically since then. Power demand in India has soared but there has been no such collapse in over seven years since then.
India's installed power generation capacity rose from 305 gigawatts in FY16 to 360 gigawatts by FY19. As generation capacity increases, there is greater need to evacuate power to regions that need it. Much of that work has to go be done by state-owned Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) that has beefed up the national power grid. The earlier five regional grids - north, south, east, west and north-east - have been joined into one national grid.
Indu Shekhar Jha, who took over as Chairman and Managing Director of Power Grid Corporation in November 2015, was responsible for executing the projects to beef up the grids and convert them into a national grid. As Jha points out, "My focus was on getting projects off the ground quickly and executing them on schedule."
Till 2014, the regional grids were not very strong. "We needed a strong grid so that surplus power from one place could be moved to another easily. The government had great focus building a national grid," says Jha. It was in 2017 that 'one nation, one grid' finally took shape.
The primary driver was almost Rs 90,700 crore capital expenditure. The company's transmission network rose from 129,354 circuit kilometres in FY16 to 148,149 circuit kilometres in FY18. The transformer capacity during the period rose from 254,848 MVA (mega volt amp) to 331,163 MVA.
When Jha took over in 2014/15, revenues of PGCIL were Rs 17,780 crore and profit after tax was Rs 4,979 crore. In 2018/19, revenues were Rs 35,618 crore and PAT Rs 9,722 crore. Jha has since moved on to become a member of the Central Electric Regulatory Commission.
During his term as the CMD of Power Grid, Jha brought about many changes in the way the public sector undertaking functioned. The first major internal change was delegating powers to senior executives and building trust among employees. The other change was getting EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) contractors on board. "After all, they do the work for us. I considered them as partners and not contractors," says Jha. He ensured on-time clearance of vendor bills, which enhanced the sense of belonging among the contractors.
Power Grid got support from the Ministry of Power and the Prime Minister's office. Initially the focus was to ensure that every village was connected. Today, work is on to ensure household electrification through the Saubhagya scheme, under which PGCIL is working in Jammu & Kashmir and 12 districts of Odisha.
With renewable energy being given a push, PGCIL faces a new issue - integrating different types of energy generated. The central government has a target of producing 500 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030.
As Jha points out, the integration of renewable energy is quite different compared to conventional power generation. Unlike conventional power, the generation of renewable energy is intermittent. Developing the grid to cope up with the challenge of intermittent power is a huge challenge for PGCIL.
While the targeted capital expenditure was Rs 25,000 crore annually, PGCIL has exceeded that every year for the last three years. In the immediate future, PGCIL is looking to diversify operations and start international operations as a consultancy initially.
But one thing is for sure. PGCIL will have to keep beefing up its network as power demand keeps rising. After all, there is no way that the country can afford another power blackout like what happened in 2012. And ensuring that things are well under control is a major part of what PGCIL is doing.