Alstom India last week unveiled the country's first ultra high voltage direct current (UHVDC) transformer at its factory in Vadodara. Speaking to Jyoti Mukul & Shreya Jai, Rathin Basu, country president, Alstom India and South Asia, says India has the most modern integrated power transmission network in the world, beating even China. Edited excerpts:
How is the new UHVDC transformer different from the earlier technology available in the power sector?
So far in India, alternating current (AC) for transmission and the distribution grid is the normal choice so we have been making AC transformers. Since 2007, when the transmission grid was expanded, it went to the next extra voltage level of 765 Kv. Today, that is the highest level used in the grid. This is the grid's backbone voltage in the 12th Plan.
Direct current (DC) is another form of electricity, being used for bulk power and for long distance. You need to have HVDC (high voltage direct current). It is different and it is complex and requires technological capability and the art of converting technology into something you can make and test. In 765 Kv extra high voltage space, we were the first one to transfer the technology from our European unit. Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat flagged off the transformer in April 2010. It was India's first AC high voltage transformer.
At the same factory, we have made the 800 Kv UHVDC transformer. This is part of the Rs 5,800 crore Champa-Kurukshetra order placed by PowerGrid in July 2012. We transformed the technology from our UK unit and built it over six-seven months and tested it over six weeks.
How do you rate India's transmission sector in terms of technology?
India started to graduate to higher technology in 2000 when it decided to set up five load dispatch centres. We bagged contracts for three of them and the remaining went to GE. Next came the National Control Centre commissioned in 2008 in Delhi. That manages the power load in the entire country. Alstom was involved with it, too. India's transmission grid is smart. Post-2007, came 765 Kv extra high voltage. Today there are 50 sub-stations ordered of which more than 30 have been commissioned. Twenty-nine of these are with Alstom Technology. It is a huge position we have, thanks to being the first one to invest in three factories at Vadodara, Hosur and Chennai between 2007 and 2009. Together the investment was around Rs 800 crore. It took us into a different orbit. We have been able to localise rapidly, which gave us an early start.
The next phase was extra high voltage. Then came the gas insulator switch (GIS). Post 2007, there was lack of availability of land which compelled developers to go in for compact substation solutions available in the world but expensive. GIS takes 20 per cent of the space of an EIS substation. It is maintenance free and does not look ugly. GIS stations can be built underground. In India, we have supplied 650 bays of GIS, of which more than 350 bays have been built in our Chennai factory.
What is the next level of technology in the transmission sector?
PowerGrid has come up with a national transmission asset management centre. It is a unique concept because PowerGrid wanted to monitor 192 sub-stations from this centre at Manesar. Unlike the National Control Centre or NLDC, it does asset management and has maintenance whereas NLDC has the operational function. NLDC manages the power flow, connects with generation centres and transmission lines. It has the intelligence to give shutdown orders and alternative passage to power.
In Manesar, though there is more or less the same kind of electronics and software, CCTVs with high resolution cameras can extend arms and focus. If there is a fault, these can zoom into the sub-station and detect the fault. Through this, PowerGrid is running more than 10 sub-stations unmanned. This is an unique concept. Western countries do not have such a large grid. In transmission technology and usage, we are ahead of China but in power generation they are ahead of us.
For bulk power, the 765 Kv AC backbone is good but not good enough to carry bulk power of 3000 Mw and 6000 Mw over distances of 2,000 km, that is how HVDC transformers came on board. PowerGrid has been modern enough to bring in the latest technology. Take the blackout episode, it took three days to recover in California but in India we recovered in less than an hour, thanks to this kind of technology. People knew what was happening. Since December 31, 2013, India is the largest synchronised single grid, not China or the US, which has multiple grids.
How has Alstom benefited from this?
India has imbibed a lot of technology. PowerGrid is in love with technology, and Alstom has invested ahead of time and contributed to this.
Where do you see your future business coming from? State governments are yet to take the leap in terms of transmission technology?
We have participated in building inter-regional capability for transmission of power. In the short-term, we are India focussed. Today PowerGrid is our primary customer. The private sector has not really come up. There are 10 HVDC projects. Based on the plans, the country can expect one HVDC project every year and this includes connectivity to Bangladesh.
The reason states are not on a par with PowerGrid in technology is because they have little money. State transmission companies have a huge challenge and they are not able to transmit power despite being in surplus in some regions. Some states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra have gone in for 765 Kv, since by the nature of technology the state has to be large in area and population. At 400 Kv, there are projects in West Bengal, Bihar and the North East. In Tamil Nadu, we see some projects coming up.
The national plan to remove congestion has been taken care of by PowerGrid by building 765 Kv and HVDC lines. They are also building a renewables grid for solar and wind power. At the state level, no plan is visible but given the constraints in the country, states will have no option but to come up with projects.
What are Alstom's growth plans in India?
We were growing more than 20 per cent at a compounded rate till some time back. But in the last three years it slowed down to 10 per cent revenue growth. Order growth has been faster. Thirty to 35 per cent of our business comes from Power Grid. We also looking at renewables. We are looking at a newer type of tender. There are 14 projects for a renewables pathway. States should also be investing in renewables. All these plans were for 20,000 Mw renewable power, but the government has increased the target to 100 Gw. PowerGrid and others have not taken in their programmes the matching investment that will be required.