Are the power utilities of J&K ready for automation under RDSS?

Chanakya Charan Dass “Tikri”
The Ministry of Power (MoP) under the Government of India (GoI) is implementing in various states/UTs of the country, including J&K, an ambitious scheme named Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS). The objective of the scheme is to improve the quality and reliability of power supply to consumers through a financially sustainable and operationally efficient Distribution Sector. The scheme also envisages reduction in losses of the power distribution utilities by capacity addition wherever required and smart metering.
The scheme has several other components but one of the most important components is to implement automation in the distribution sector for making the power system/network transparent enabling the operators to analyse the system/ network issues in real time & take decisions based on real time data available to them. The scheme also envisages construction and operation of a main control centres along with backup control centres and based on the requirement and wisdom of the utilities, control centres at the circle level too. The circle level control centres shall, in normal circumstances, be responsible for a cluster of receiving stations falling under their control. These control centres shall also be reporting to the main control centre in real time and in a well defined administrative and technical hierarchy. They shall take over the rolls of one another as per exigencies and requirement/demand of the situation.
The backup control centre shall come into play only if the main control centre develops some issues.
The beauty/USP of the scheme is that the control centres are not limited to having information about data of the receiving stations viz current, voltage, loading conditions of various elements in the receiving station, but will also be able to control the receiving stations in real time as per the requirement/exigencies involved. The control centres will also be able to know in real time the energy inflow and outflow from any of the receiving stations. This facility, along with the introduction of smart metering at consumer end and on distribution transformer, will obviously help in reducing the technical and commercial losses in the power system as energy accounting will become reliable and scientific. This will also enable reduction of the economic strain in which the power utilities in J&K perennially find themselves in.
Conceptually this is a wonderful scheme. It seems to be a panache for all the ills of the power sector in J&K, namely reduction of AT&C loses & bringing in transparency in real time and also result in consumer satisfaction. But the question that needs to be asked is whether J&K power utilities have the capacity, capability and will to implement and finally takeover, operate and maintain this scheme of automation and control?
A case study in this regard will not be out of place!!
During the 1990s the power grid of the country wasn’t what it is today, neither in scale nor in quality, but power sector expansion was envisaged as the demand for power was growing at a very fast pace.
Those days the regional grids were managed by utilities by sending messages through telexes, fax messages or by hotline telephonic conversation. Many progressive utilities also had real time data available to them. There was a minimal transparency regarding what was being conveyed by the grid managers nor with respect to what was being implemented.
It was also realised by the MoP that the load centres in the country were located farther away from the sites where enhanced electric generation was possible. This brought in the concept of bringing all the disjointed and segregated grids together for bringing in efficiency and creation of the National grid. This also involved updation and strengthening of the regional grids. By this time the transmission lines were also taken away from the generating companies and Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) was established not only to plan and expand the transmission network, but also to create/strengthen/upgrade the existing regional load despatch centres and establish a National Load Despatch Centre using the latest communication, SCADA and load despatching tools/technologies. The result was that State Load Despatch Centres and Sub-Load Despatch Centres came up in several states of the country. The first region that was taken up for implementation of the project was the northern region comprising of J&K, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, UP, Rajasthan and Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), as it had a stake all across the constituent states.
To complete the job entrusted to them PGCIL, under auspices of the Unified Load Despatch and Communication (ULDC) project established the SLDC control centre in Gladni, Jammu and SubLDC control centre in Bemina, Srinagar. Similar systems and control centres were established by PGCIL in other constituent utilities too.
The choice of communication medium was left largely to the state utilities. J&K chose Power Line Carrier Communication (PLCC) as they had, in all likelihood, procured that equipment during this period. Other states chose a mix of microwave and OPGW.
ULDC project & the associated systems were commissioned by PGCIL in 2002. The project was dedicated to the Nation by the then Prime Minister of India, Sh. Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The load Despatch Centres (SLDC/SubLDC) in J&K had a rickety start as the PLCC systems couldn’t be commissioned/integrated by the utilities in J&K and finally in 2012 PDD entered into an agreement with PGCIL to install Optical Ground Wire (OPGW) on the PDD transmission lines along with other communication equipment for communication of data from the Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) installed in the grid stations to the respective control centres.
While the OPGW/communication equipment was being installed on the transmission lines, the PDD decided to change their old control and relay panels with the new ones under Power System Development Fund (PSDF). During this process the RTUs were disconnected from these panels and no one restored them back. Overtime a situation arose when substantial OPGW was laid and was available for transmission of data while the RTUs stood disconnected.
Today the issue rests here and there is a deadlock as restoration of RTUs requires additional funds.
There is a Kashmiri saying which when translated into English runs something like this – “when there was no jewellery, they were able to identify a daughter-in-law; but when jewellery became available a daughter-in-law could not be found.” Applied to SLDC project it translates; thus, when RTUs were available there was no communication medium (OPGW) and when communication medium became available there were no RTUs.
And how many grid stations were involved in the project in J&K? Around 70 in number. Which means that a project with around 70 stations could not be completed since 2002 – a whopping 22 years!!
The power utilities of other states are already gearing up for implementation of ULDC phase 3, but in J&K even the phases 1 & 2 have not taken off, though the equipment is available at site.
Now coming to RDSS scheme. The scheme envisages connecting around 1000 number receiving stations of JPDCL & KPDCL to the respective control centres for providing real-time data as well as system control. They will be using communication networks of the telecom providers. As already mentioned, the project when completed will be a game changer and bring in transparency and bring down AT&C losses and add to the satisfaction of electricity consumers.
But the question remains that if the ULDC project with less than 70 grid stations is incomplete even after 22 years of its initiation then how much time it will take for 1000 receiving stations to be made functional under the scheme? Someone must try to understand as to why a project with around 70 grid stations could not be made functional. Learning from there could probably be used to put the automation part of the RDSS scheme on an even keel.
Another example is that of around 172 receiving stations in J&K which have been integrated to the control centres under RAPDRP scheme but are nonfunctional because of various reasons. Same is the case with other 100 stations that are equipped with RTDAS capabilities, but the system is not in use.
Thus, a considered view must be taken by the power utilities in J&K as to whether they are presently equipped, administratively & technically, to undertake a project of such a huge magnitude under RDSS scheme? Do they have skilled manpower to take the project over & later operate & maintain it? Or is there any other plan in place? After all the funds, though provided by the central government, are from the taxpayers of the country and should not be allowed to go down the drain.

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Op-Ed