Has the NSGM become what it attempts to solve?

india-map

In 2015 India’s Ministry of Power established a National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) with a total outlay of INR 980 crore. The aim of this mission is to unify existing government-led smart grid activities in India (MoP India, 2015b). Those activities show that, like several western countries already did before, India also wants to hop in on to the development of IT-enabled electricity grids. With already several smart grid pilot projects over the country, an institutional framework, i.e. the NSGM, and an India Smart Grid Forum, the country intends to combat the problems that have plagued its electricity grids from the beginning.

Past attempts at deregulating India’s electricity sector have seemed incapable of liberating the market from its current stagnation in terms of coordination, maintenance and price mechanisms (IEA, 2012). Furthermore, with between 200 and 300 million people without access to electricity and a technically badly maintained grid, further development within the network seems stagnant (IEA, 2012, 2015; Sardar, 2014). The main factor of stability appears to be the sector’s reliance on coal for energy production, but that does not do any justice to the country’s potential for renewable energy generation (Mishra, 2013). Reviewing the literature on India’s electricity sector, I have been able to identify four main themes that seem to return throughout the articles and reports. These themes are:

  • Energy Ubiquity, unelectrified villages are a main theme in India’s energy policy
  • Power Inefficiencies, the power grid suffers from both technical and financial inefficiencies
  • Environmental Sustainability, India has a large potential in renewables but still prefers coal
  • Governance, the current organisational structure of the power sector appears to be characterized by stagnation and corruption

In order to address these issues, India’s Ministry of Power plans to reap the benefits of smart grids. Using a set of NSGM policy documents, I could explore the core characteristics of Indian Government’s plans to realize a national smart grid implementation and what this would imply for India’s energy situation, following the 4 themes named above (MoP India, 2013, 2014, 2015a, 2015c, 2015d, 2016).

The main outline of the NSGM is to provide an organisational structure (See Figure 1) which will “plan and monitor implementation of policies and programs related to Smart Grid activities in India” (MoP India, 2015a, p. 1). Different segments of this hierarchical structure exist simply to coordinate, approve and oversee the implementation of smart grid pilots by power utilities. Interestingly enough, the Ministry of Power even claims it to be a bottom up approach, as it allows Discoms at state level to propose their own pilot projects to the Governing Council of the NSGM (MoP India, 2014, p. 31).

nsgmFigure 1. Institutional framework provided by the NSGM (NSGM, 2016a)

 Regarding the implication of the NSGM policy, in the light of Energy Ubiquity, the vision for the NSGM sets ambitious goals, such as “Access, Availability and Affordability of Quality Power for All” by 2017. Nonetheless, all these goals are unspecific in their targets. For example, it fails to define who exactly is to be targeted by this policy, as different designations for target groups are used interchangeably. In addition, the policy fails to recognize the different needs of distinct consumers.

The mission, instead, gives a promising prospective for dealing with Power Inefficiencies. In combination with other programs of the Ministry of Power, such as the R-APDRP, several technologies are being implemented along the grid, from automated distribution systems to smart meters. Within the NSGM itself, power utilities have already applied for funds and are working on pilot projects. Herein the NSGM also encourages utilities to engage in public-private partnerships and setting up new business models to cover the costs.

India’s persistent reliance on coal as an energy source, however, seems to remain intact under India’s smart grid policy. The country is claimed to have a large unused potential in renewables, which the mission is supposed to promote due to increased grid integration of both renewables and electric vehicles. It seems, however, that the NSGM has started to see environmental sustainability rather as a consequence than as a driver for the NSGM, since no plans that to achieve this are currently active.

Lastly, the main idea behind the launch of the NSGM was to speed up the country’s smart grid developments, which had been on a slow track prior to the NSGM’s introduction. Furthermore, the organisational structure would improve governance within the sector. Yet several of the intended ambitious targets for the NSGM have not shown any progress yet. Most likely this is a result of both the current state of the sector, which appears characterized by evasion of responsibility, and the lack of clarity within the formulations of the policy targets. The smart grid policy plans, namely, often fail to properly state who is responsible for their implementation.

Both the “Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India” and the proposal document for the NSGM present these governmental smart grid efforts as being the silver bullet which will completely resolve the complex and problematic nature of India’s power sector. However, based on the NSGM policy documents, the eventual policy implementation comes across as unfinished and overlooks important aspects and details. In sum, the NSGM currently seems to lack the authority and leadership that it was meant to provide.

Bibliography

IEA. (2012). Understanding energy challenges in India. IEEE Industry Applications Magazine, 17(2), 32–37. https://doi.org/10.1109/MIAS.2010.939812

IEA. (2015). World Energy Outlook 2015: Electricity access in 2013. Retrieved from http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/media/weowebsite/2015/WEO2015Electricityaccessdatabase.xlsx

Mishra, S. (2013). A comprehensive study and analysis of power sector value chain in India, 8(1), 25–40.

MoP India. (2013). Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India.

MoP India. (2014). EFC Proposal for NSGM.

MoP India. (2015a). Constitution of Governing Council, Empowered Committee and Technical Committee for “National Smart Grid Mission” (NSGM). Office Memorandum. New Dehli.

MoP India. (2015b). National Smart Grid Mission. Retrieved March 27, 2016, from http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=121331

MoP India. (2015c). Office Memorandum- Subject: “National Smart Grid Mission” (NSGM). Retrieved from http://powermin.nic.in/upload/pdf/National_Smart_Grid_Mission_OM.pdf

MoP India. (2015d, November 18). Guidelines for Implementation of National Smart Grid Mission. Retrieved from http://powermin.nic.in/upload/pdf/National_Smart_Grid_Mission_OM.pdf

MoP India. (2016, February 15). Regarding joining of Director, NSGM Project Manegement Unit (NPMU). Retrieved from http://www.nsgm.gov.in//upload/files/2782015IPDS.pdf

Sardar, M. (2014). Aggregate Technical & Commercial loss Determination Challenges and its Solution in Indian Scenario. Energybiz. Retrieved from http://www.energybiz.com/article/14/12/aggregate-technical-commercial-loss-determination-challenges-and-its-solution-indian-scenario

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About the Author

wazirM.W.W. (Wazir) Sahebali is a student at the Eindhoven University of Technology, where he currently is doing his master’s in Innovation Sciences.
At the same university, he received his bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Innovation, following the Smart Systems trajectory. Herein he specialized in both the topics of sustainability and ICT. His bachelor thesis “India and Smart Grids connected: A review of government policy”, outlines the core characteristics of India’s National Smart Grid Mission and analyses these policy plans. Wazi’s bachelor thesis was supervised by Smart Grid’s India team leader Dr Johanna Hoeffken.

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