An eye to the future

Stepping into its 100th year of operations, IPCL is planning to make its Asansol operations a “Smart Utility”, keeping pace with global technology and digitisation trends. – Somesh Dasgupta, Group President, India Power Corporation Ltd

India Power Corporation Limited (IPCL), formerly known as DPSC Limited, an ISO 9001:2015 company, incorporated in 1919, has actively forayed into a diversified portfolio, with renewable and conventional modes of power generation, distribution and power trading. The company is celebrating its 100 years of operation at present. In an e-mail interaction with Electrical India, Somesh Dasgupta, Group President, IPCL discusses about the journey of IPCL and its vision for the upcoming days.

Incorporated in 1919, IPCL is celebrating its 100th year of operation. Could you walk us through the key milestones that the company has accomplished so far?

IPCL, earlier known as Dishergarh Power Supply Corporation (DPSC), was established in 1919 by Bengal Coal Company Limited to supply power to its collieries in the Asansol belt. It was subsequently awarded distribution license for distribution of electric energy in the Asansol-Raniganj belt, in 1932. That was the biggest milestone for us as we are the only company that has retained the licensee received during that tenure.

Another remarkable milestone for was in 2006, when the company forayed into Renewable Energy was commissioned 10.4 MW Wind Power Plant in Karnataka. In 2008, we developed a 2MW solar plant at Seebpore in association with the West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation Limited (WBGEDCL) which was the first-of-its-kind grid connected solar plant in Asia.

The year 2014 marked IPCL started distribution in Bodh Gaya and adjoining areas in Bihar as a distribution franchisee which was operational for four years. In 2016, IPCL formed a joint venture, India Uniper Power Service Private Limited, with Uniper Kraftwerke Gmbh, to provide operation and maintenance services to power plants in India. 2016 also marked the acquiring of Meenakshi Energy having a capacity of 1,000 MW port-based thermal power plant in Nellore. 2017 marked the inauguration of the 450 MW Haldia project (three units of 150 MW each) by the West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee, paving the way for further industrialisation, socio-economic development and job creation in the state. It also saw commissioning of 12 MW solar plant in Uttarakhand.

The last biggest milestone for our company was in 2018, which marked the operationalisation of the automated local control centre at the 220/132/33kV J.K. Nagar Substation and implementation of Smart Grid Technology and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition in India Power’s distribution network, boosting efficiency and reliability while minimising wastage.

What’s your comment on the recent performance of power generation sector in India?

When we talk about power generation, there is the conventional power generation which is thermal energy and then there is the non-conventional power generation which is renewable energy.

There are mainly two struggling points for the thermal power generation in the country: Non-availability of Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) and non-availability of Fuel Supply Agreements (FSA).

90 per cent of the IPPs (independent power producers) in the country do not have the long-term PPA which makes it difficult for them to operate and sell power at agreeable rates.

Also, most generating plants do not have FSAs with which they can get coal at notified prices for them to generate power at competitive pricing.

When it comes to non-conventional or renewable energy generation, the main struggle is with the low PLF (Plant Load Factor), which is the main reason why the operations are so unstable and cannot guarantee stable power supply to the buyers.

IPCL has diversified portfolio, with renewable and conventional modes of power generation, distribution and power trading. What will drive the power sector in 2019?

The growth trajectory for 2019 will be decided by the government. The primary objective should be to privatise the distribution sector and the private companies be invited to distribute power as licensee. Only if the private companies get more and more opportunity to invest, there will be a competitive market and the rates at which the end consumer gets the power will also be regulated and the benefit of it would be received by the consumers.

What should be done to revive stressed power projects?

In power generation, the stressed assets can be revived only when the following conditions are in place:

  • Proper FSA should be available to the generation sector: Availability of coal in affordable prices through proper FSA ensures regular and smoother operation.
  • Reduce generation cost: There should be a proper plan for restructuring the existing loan or project financing for the Non-Performing Assets (NPAs), because the current format is unable to extend ease of repayment by the assets which are already under pressure.
  • Distribution sector needs to be privatised: Over the past seven years, there have been huge additions in the generation base, in both thermal and renewable power. But we are unable to create infrastructure to distribute the power in appropriate ways to the consumer. While India is among the top five countries in terms of installed capacity, it is in the bottom five when it comes to per capita consumption. The main challenge lies in utilising the unused capacity of nearly 100,000 MW in the thermal segment. The high level of AT&C losses in state-owned DISCOMs is another area of big concern. It is important to focus on reviving thermal assets and enhancing competition in distribution through greater private sector participation.
  • Revision of the coal policy and stopping the populist practice of free power as part of welfare schemes are also essential to improve sector performance.

IPCL has been able to bring down T&D losses in its distribution network. Could you tell us more on this?

IPCL has a stable network and has ensured that the pilferage or commercial wastage in transmission and distribution is very low. It has been recognised to have the lowest T&D loss percentage of 3 per cent in the entire country.  It is mainly because of the various digital initiatives implemented by us which ensured that the network is smart and agile.

What makes a utility smart?

When a utility is completely digitised so that it becomes self-monitoring, analysis, and has an efficient reporting and control technology so as to make the whole process quick and efficient.

Last year you announced plans to convert Asansol into a “Smart Utility”. How far is achieved?

Stepping into its 100th year of operations, IPCL is planning to make its Asansol operations a “Smart Utility”, keeping pace with global technology and digitisation trends. Calendar 2018 in the power sector threw up a bunch of challenges, transformation, ups and downs, hits and misses, new learnings and experiences. However, we as a team could sustain such business-environment impacts, consolidate our position and look beyond the opportunity to reengineer our operations with an eye to the future. In sync with the “Smart Utility” concept, the company has embarked on a clutch of tech upgrades and systems augmentation in the Asansol-Raniganj region, including commissioning of the first phase of SCADA, connecting five 33kV substations, then taking it to the 11kV level, taking up pilot automation or digitisation of a couple of feeders from grid to consumer, with end-to-end real-time information, and metering and equipping 60 distribution transformers with IoT devices and DT monitoring systems.

What are the growth plans for your company this year?

The power sector is facing a lot of challenges in the current times and we are now looking at opportunities in expanding in distribution and related areas.

How are you mapping growth for next 5 years?

It is very difficult to map a company’s growth in the power sector for 5 years as it completely depends on the government policies and framework. We would try and respond according to the government policies and reform mechanisms in power and coal sector.