Automation is becoming an integral part of the power sector
Published by : Industrial Automation
Sanil C Namboodiripad, Managing Director, ONGC Tripura Power Company Ltd.
OTP has received many awards & accolades in the recent months. What keeps the company energized?
Our core purpose of contributing to the economic growth of North East India has kept us energised. OTPC has been operating one of the best gas-based power plants in the country and the performance has been widely recognised by the industry players. Recently, CII-ITC Centre of Excellence accorded OTPC with CII-ITC Sustainability Award 2019 for Excellence in Environment Management. Mission Energy Foundation also declared OTPC as winner of Power Plant Performer 2020 award in the category of Combined Cycle Gas based power plants with capacity more than 500 MW. In another significant development, OTPC has achieved the highest Plant Load factor among all central sector gas power stations in the first three quarters of FY 2020-21.
We have a clear focus on being responsible to our environment, community in vicinity of our plant and to our stakeholders. Our environmental performance is better than the statutory environmental norms. For development of the local community, we are taking numerous initiatives under our Corporate Social Responsibility program. The program with Education, Healthcare and Livelihood as our focus areas is designed with involvement of local panchayats, authorities, bodies and local villagers.
With respect to adding value to our shareholders, our focus is to bring the power plant operational efficiency and reliability at par with International Standards. Even though we have achieved the highest PLF and highest generation in the said category, we are undertaking a number of initiatives to improve upon our operations. We are also working towards expanding our generation portfolio particularly in clean energy space. Some discussions are also underway to explore business opportunities across the border.
The company is a shining example of success in a region that was once power deficient. How was the transformation achieved?
OTPC is the biggest gas-based power plant in the North-Eastern region and it generates power to meet about 25% of the region’s electricity requirement. Owing to the success achieved in commercialisation and operation, the OTPC plant is regarded as a role model for other plants in the region. Setting up of OTPC has also helped in formation of new socio-economic connect between North-Eastern states and Bangladesh. Transport of Over-Dimensional Cargoes through Bangladesh to set up this plant is a landmark event in the history of OTPC and is a testimony to improved bilateral relations between the two countries.
The success of OTPC can be attributed to the requirement of monetising natural gas reserves of ONGC in Tripura that were not commercially developed due to low industrial demand in the North-Eastern Region and logistic limitations in transportation to other parts of the country. OTPC was conceptualised to utilise gas from these reserves, generate electricity and transport electricity within the region and outside through wires. OTPC is a prime example of the ‘Well to Wire’ concept.
OTPC generation project linked with transmission project for evacuation of power and upstream gas supply continues to be the single largest investment in North East without any grant from the Government of India. OTPC power plant not only provides electricity at the most competitive price, but has also contributed to significant reduction in energy shortage in the region. Consequent to the plant achieving commercial operations in March 2015, the energy deficit in the North Eastern region has decreased today from 1250 MUs in 2014-15 to 293 MUs in 2020-21 till October 2020.
What is the role of automation in general, emerging technologies like IoT in particular, in transforming the power sector of the country?
Automation is becoming an integral part of the power sector. The necessity of making the plant generation intelligent and managing the assets of the power plant are the driving factors for automation of power plant operations. Several plant automation solutions like turbine control, boiler control, predictive maintenance, etc., are being deployed and are making inroads in Indian power sector.
The rampant deployment of renewable energy power plants has also given impetus to automation in the sector. In order to respond to the varying loads depending on solar intensity, cloud cover, wind speed, etc., digitisation of power plants is becoming a necessity. The same is true for the transmission & distribution sector where grid security is of prime importance. Operational efficiency, network planning and responding to ever-changing power supply position is necessitating digitisation and modernisation of the grid culminating into need for smart grids.
‘Internet of things’ (IoT) is one of the enabling factors for creation of a smart grid where seamless exchange of information forms the basis of grid security. IoT can help in switching between renewables and conventional power plants depending on demand supply position.
Today we are in an era of the power sector where the basic architecture of the electrical grid is changing. The traditional network of Generation – Transmission – Distribution – Consumer has changed. The consumer has also become a generator or a producer and with this emerging class of prosumers, the requirement of IoT has further increased.
In the present smart era, ideally, power should be decarbonised, distributed and digital, it is said. Is this an achievable goal?
If we look at the development of the power sector, we have come a long way. Starting from vertically integrated monopolies with generation, transmission and distribution bundled into a single entity, we moved to Single Buyer Models where a single entity purchases power from all generators on a competitive basis and in turn sells it to the supply entities. Now we have a multi-buyer and multi-seller model in place.
The trends of prosumers and decentralised generation are already emerging in western countries. In India, the Ministry of Power is considering Decentralised Distributed Generation under Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. In view of the history and recent developments, I am confident that future scenarios in which power would be generated and consumed would be much different from what it is now. It will be decarbonised, distributed and digital.
You have worked with most of India’s leading private sector power producers. What are the learnings that can help in the overall power scenario in the country?
I started my career with NTPC before moving to the private sector. During this period, I got opportunities to work in the generation and transmission sector in various roles. Though the power sector is thought to be slow moving, I have witnessed significant changes in the way business is conducted and power is generated and transmitted. The technological innovations in the sector are bringing about these changes.
One major issue that our country is facing is distribution of power. Distribution forms a key component in the energy value chain but our distribution sector is impeded with financial and operational issues. The distribution companies sell energy to the consumers, collect payments and in turn pay to the generators. Therefore, for sustaining the power sector, reforms in the distribution sector are highly essential.
One of the problems, despite the power surplus potential, is poor quality of power in several regions of the country. Can this be addressed in the near future?
Power Quality encompasses key matrices like Frequency, Voltage Quality, Harmonics and Power Factor. In Indian context, focus is on frequency and voltage but other parameters are not given much importance. In western countries, parameters like supply continuity, voltage monitoring and Reliability Indices like SAIDI, SAIFI, MAIFI, etc., are also measured for performance of Discom.
It is expected that the new Electricity Rules covering the rights of consumers will bring about a consumer centric approach within the Discoms. To resolve power quality problems in India and to strengthen the power sector ecosystem, regulations and standards for measurement of performance of Discoms would have to be issued by the electricity regulators. Since, this requires a significant change in operations of distribution companies, it may take some time before poor quality issues are addressed in our country.
Transmission infrastructure costs are very high. How realistic is the recent breakthrough of wireless power transmission?
Although wireless power transmission has been around for some time for small devices, high-powered wireless power transmission is a recent breakthrough that can potentially substitute the existing copper wire lines. This new breakthrough has to be commercially viable. Field testing for commercial viability is being done in New Zealand where EMROD, a technology start-up, would provide working prototype to one of the electricity distributors and would train the team before the trials. We are keenly following the developments in this area.
On the lighter side, let me ask you, are we not already in a wireless energy transfer mode when we use solar panels? Just install a solar panel on the rooftop, capture the solar radiation and convert it to electricity!
There is a talk of OTPC looking for opportunities overseas. What are the future plans in this regard?
As I have mentioned, we are presently operating in the North Eastern region. We have plans to expand within the country and are in discussion with entities in neighbouring countries to explore opportunities of mutual benefit.
Leveraging our experience and expertise in gas based power plants, we would like to partner or acquire projects that aid us in setting up gas based projects. We are also exploring avenues in Hydel as well as other Renewable Power generation businesses.