The outbreak of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the ensuing lockdown has upended practically every industry in the economy, including Indian utilities.
Today, utilities face the unique challenge of managing grid supply-demand equation in a drastically reduced demand situation as factories and major industries remain shut. The share of commercial and industrial (C&I) power demand is around 40 percent in India, whereas residential demand is 30 percent. Domestic and agriculture tariffs are subsidized by C&I segment revenue to a large extent in India, but with C&I industries shut, there is a huge financial burden on the utilities.
Emerging Tech Radio host Netra Walawalkar spoke with Abhishek Ranjan, VP - System operations at BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd (BRPL) and Jitendra Nalwaya, VP - BSES Yamuna Power Ltd (BYPL) to understand the readiness of utilities during the lockdown and how they’re managing the financial, operational and social challenges brought by the pandemic.
Listen to the podcast here: https://bit.ly/3ekLy0b
Q: What are the key impacts on operations at BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd (BRPL)?
Mr Ranjan: The impact that we see is a reduction in peak demand and input energy consumption that is resulting in backing down or reserve shut down of the thermal station and that has resulted in record coal stock at the thermal power stations. Power exchange prices are very competitive these days, in fact, not only today but since last September and every Discom including ours is trying to make the most of it, optimizing the power purchase portfolio and power purchase cost without compromising on grid security or reliability of the power.
This incident has provided is an opportunity to optimize the power purchase cost and pass on the benefits to the end consumer, but the fieldwork has been impacted. Initially, it was affected briefly but due to the quick response of the central and state government it was resumed quickly as electricity was covered under essential services.
On the consumer side, it has resulted in the reduction of the billing and collection for the Discoms and since social distancing has to be maintained there is lack of physical meter reading for many of the consumers, especially small consumers so we’re now issuing the provisional bills which can be paid digitally.
The C&I segment have been hit due to lockdown therefore they have been making requests for a moratorium on the bill payment or deduction which the government has been considering. There is an impact on the cash flows of Discoms and therefore some of the Discoms including UP they have served Force Majeure notices to the generators for suspending the payments especially for fixed charges.
So, one of the areas could be for example the fixed cost or the fixed charges are billed for the bar DC not for full DC. For instance, the plants which are not generating they will not charge the entire available fault current (AFC) and may charge just the bare minimum cost which is being incurred by them to keep them running which can be done if AFCs five components can be looked it so this will help the entire supply chain without breaking down anything. As we know the entire supply chain is integrated and any one stakeholder getting weak, makes the entire supply chain weak.
Q: Had it not been for COVID-19, BRPL could have seen a peak demand of around 3.3GW this summer but instead it is observing 24 percent drop in peak demand as well as the reduction in overall daily consumption but the residential demand is expected to increase in summers. Can you share your business continuity plans and learnings from the incident?
Mr Ranjan: What we are trying to do is have a business continuity plan and this experience has helped us to find an opportunity to look for new ways to provide sustainable service deliveries to our consumers. One opportunity is the usage of technology for virtual workplace. Many of them [in the workforce] are working from home and technology is big enabler and our SCADA control center, though we have staff in the shift we can view entire loading, load patterns live and technology shall enable operations also remotely one day. The backup control centers have been mobilized and they are in place and if so in case there is any kind of emergency then they can quickly take over. There are redundant teams working in shifts, essential manpower in the field of operation 24x7 wherein they can take over in case of unforeseen events, and to ensure continuity of the service.
Personal protective equipment is a must for the frontline staff just like they are for doctors, the cleaner and emergency essential staff just in case they end up going in an infected area they are protected to ensure flawless and continuity of operations.
E-spares and the transport, thanks to our e-mobility platforms and e-cars are used for such kinds of operations in a sustainable way so social distancing without impacting consumers. So, what we are saying that is an opportunity to look at new ways of sustainable service delivery.
The positive side of the scenario is there is cleaner air and clear skies and not much PM matter – both PM 2.5 and PM 10 -- all have shown remarkable improvement in the city of Delhi and other states.
What has changed in the city of Delhi is that the transportation and halt of construction activities. Halt in these two activities have contributed a lot to the pollution reduction and now we need to think about how we can green our transportation and mobility in a quick way. So, this situation, it is hoped could give an insight for the policymakers to take some decisions to enforce cleaner mobility and cleaner construction activities.
Q: What are your thoughts on the concept of digital utilities?
Mr Ranjan: Now is the time for utilities in India to learn that digital utilities is not a mere nice to have concept but is essential if we are to maintain 24x7, 365 days operations be it in COVID-19 or any other disaster like conditions. So, the digital utility concept is now going to gain a lot of currency and we expect it to get a lot of support from the stakeholders including the regulators and the government.
Jitendra Nalwaya –VP, BSES Yamuna Power Ltd (BYPL)
When we talk of maintaining a 24x7 power supply we have to deploy a minimum workforce because some workforce is kept in reserve. At BYPL, as of now we are working with 33 percent of the total workforce.
Again, the movement of the workforce is highly restricted by the government and we have to give them the ID card and letters from authorities. Apart from that the motivation level of the workforce has to be taken care of as they could have family pressures, so we have to conduct training, awareness sessions to ensure they are not exposed on the field. Further, the Ministry of Power has come up with a guideline that there will be no traffic interruption where power supply transportation is concerned. We also have an impact on the commercial side of operation like deferment in bill collection etc.
One other aspect is that though we were online and digital, now we have gone deeper on the digital activities where we are talking to the consumer on digital helplines otherwise there will be an impact on the cash flows in the future.
As far as power scheduling and forecasting is concerned – last year we had 870MW of growth and this year it has come down to 525MW. The situation is such that with low load criteria we are getting high voltage issues in the field, a lot of impact on system reliability, and consumer complaints.
The other issue is surplus pf power, but we are shutting down the major power plants to optimize the power purchase cost which we were also doing previously.
Q: In the current times, power supply to hospital and health care centers have to be ensured 24x, plus with an increasing number of people working from home and using the internet, have utilities come up with a special initiative for this change?
Mr Nalwaya: We have identified around 140 hospitals that would be available in the most extreme conditions when the peak (virus) will be very high so we inspected all these hospitals and asked them if they need help to improve their internal network. Apart from that, there are 43 hospitals that are there in our area and we have ensured that they have one back up supply and one main supply, and those supplies are greater than the direct supplies to them. Further, we have created control rooms to speak with those hospitals in case of any emergencies.
Then there are quarantine facilities which will be there in our area, those areas are also important in terms of the power supply so for those we have dedicated control room centers to monitor power supply.
Mr Ranjan: In early days of COVID-19 break out in India, when people were brought in by Government of India by sending special planes to Wuhan, quarantine facilities were opened in West Delhi and we gave a new electricity connection supply overnight so the challenge is not only maintaining supply to existing facilities and there is close contact with the government, there is a quick response team available and hierarchy as per the business continuity plan.
The hospitals by definition have a dual source of supplies in most of the cases--- by dual supply I mean redundant supply from the system level, so say, there is Apollo hospital. It may be getting supply from two separate feeders – so if one feeder loses power then the other feeder automatically switches over. Apart from this, most of these hospitals maintain their back up supply but given the situation today there is no overloading problem in a particular network so the failure rate of the network will also be reduced anywhere we have dual supply.
Further, in critical places where the power is required especially hospitals, in coordination with the Government of Delhi and the control room for disaster management are being regularly monitored on a daily basis at a very high-level call by the Discoms.
Therefore, new connection, maintenance of existing connections is being done but if suddenly situation goes out of hand and new quarantine centers come up suddenly, then giving new connection and strengthening them will become paramount. As far as Jawaharlal Nehru stadium is concerned it is already our customer and it has a dual source of supply if the government requires, we can arrange for a fallback option. In that JNS can themselves arrange for a fall back option in case of emergencies because we don’t have portable batteries as such or we can arrange it for them.
Apart from that mobile transformers are also handy which can help in this kind of special situation so that the outages are not there. There is a hospital in South Delhi that has COVID patients, there was a special request that even a flicker or changeover is not desirable, so for such kind of facilities we need to have UPS-like supply so changeovers are not there. So, in that sense we are there in terms of service delivery.
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