Power Quality – the Chinese way!
As an invitee to APQI’s (Asia Power Quality Initiative) 10th anniversary in China, I was struggling to define my expectations clearly. This was my 3rd visit to China, and like a true Indian my mind too was hovering to solve the basic challenges of being in China – language barrier and food. But I must say, the experience I went through totally blew my mind.
The first shake-up was the timings of the conference – from 7.30 am to 11.30 pm. More importantly, from my previous experience, I knew this was for real and offered no allowance, whatsoever, like the much infamous Indian Standard Time.
On the early morning of 20th August, as I was headed to the venue at Suzhou, a Tier II town in the Southeastern Jiangsu province of East China, with Shri Manas Kundu – APQI India Coordinator, we couldn’t avoid but compare the state of electrical power in India and China.
The first shock!
Take for instance some top-level facts. China has more than 3 times the demand (>1000GW) than India. Its per capita energy consumption is also almost 3 times that of India. But it’s what I got to know from the Manager of the Hotel in Suzhou (and later confirmed by the industry experts), where the conference was being held, that gave me a real shock. The average supply interruption for electricity at the hotel has been 30 minutes or less in the entire year.
Now, electricity, as we know, is the same worldwide. There is hardly any difference in the distribution infrastructure that is used to transmit the electricity across the world. There are of course variations subject to each country’s standards, local conditions, environment etc. But largely, if one were to generalise, the electrical power knows no frontiers.
And it is in this context that the comparison bothers me more. Can we expect anything but an average power supply interruptions of 30 mins or less per year in a Tier II Indian town such as Kanpur or Mangaluru?
Compared to, the BRICS nations, or going further, to Thailand, Malaysia and other much smaller economies than India, the significant lags in terms of performance of reliability of electrical power, for me, have always been difficult to digest. And it even more surprises me when I find in India often the reliability of power supply is intermingled with power quality or worst even when LOAD SHEDDING is made as a tool to address utility deficit to provide reliable power even today.
The conference, of course, was an eye-opener to me in this context.
There is a lot to be proud of, but…
I am of course proud of the huge strides India has made in terms of reducing the energy deficit, the formation of the NEWS grid, a single frequency across the country, advances in synchrophasor technology and many other notable achievements and the fact that electrification has reached almost to the last village in the country.
But it’s high time that the focus also shifts to reliability. And while the rhetoric is always “when there is no availability what is the point of worrying about reliability”, this is exactly where we ought to focus now in India. If less than 30 minutes of supply interruption has been a norm for over 10 years in a two tier city in China, there’s something to observe and learn from here. And I tried to see it from the lens of the Chinese community whom we interacted during our stay to have some takeaways:
The Genesis and governance of standards
The standards which govern the supply of power, interconnections, utility obligations, end user obligations are water tight and honed over many iterations over the years.
A collaborative approach to developing standards –
Next, the formation of the standards for electrical power is not a one way exercise, but an example of collaboration of the highest order among government officials, utilities, academia, equipment manufacturers, testing laboratories as well as recognised experts in the domain. This ensures buy-in of all the major stakeholders. Most notable is the tight knit relationship and participative approach between academic institutions and industry / equipment manufacturers. At the same time organisations like the China Power Supply Society, Asia Power Quality Initiative play a stellar role of cementing these relations together on a common platform.
The secret of success is not having the standards…
Just having a standard is not enough, and the second most important part is the implementation of those. That is where, I think, the success in the reliable delivery of power comes to the Chinese. Since the buy-in is already there due to the formation group having fair representation from all quarters, implementation is much easier. More importantly, this ensures that there is a level playing field amongst competition. Take the case of Active Harmonic Filters (or APF as it’s known in China). Each and every manufacturer adheres to the standard which ensures uniform cost structures, uniform quality, standardisation of raw material and many other benefits. It also weeds out unscrupulous fly by night vendors out there to make a quick buck. The recent standard on Automatic Power Factor Correction Panels in India is a welcome move and I hope it is whole heartedly adopted by the entire community supplying these to customers across India.
Taking on reliability with availability
So the key takeaway for me is that those who have succeeded have taken both the availability and reliability challenge together at some point of time. Based on some personal interactions, I understood that, in China, there are 8-10 standards just on Power quality catering to different needs of the subject including power conditioning equipment, renewable generation, smart grids, power quality events and other areas.
The unparalleled benefits
Some benefits which this bestows and a no-brainer are the heavily reduced dependencies on back up systems for the larger part of the population who don’t have mission critical systems. Did you know the Indian UPS market is almost equal to the Chinese market size in spite of demand in India being 1/3rd of the Chinese. Imagine the inefficiencies we are adding in our system due to all these converters, in places where things were not so mission critical. And not to mention the hard to unearth causes that plague our SME or even the commercial/residential sector. These range from floating neutrals, reverse power flows, weak sources, momentary surges during switchovers and resultant failures, malfunctions that everyone has to grapple with, rather than focusing on improving their toplines among other higher priorities. With a robust power system in place all of these can almost disappear magically …
For an event that hosted over 300 delegates, there was hardly any time lost as the hall was rearranged from theatre to a dining seating arrangement with individual name tags on each table. The group photo of 200+ Delegates saw everyone to organise themselves, click the photo and get back to their respective seats in under 5 minutes. These and many such small but noticeable instances highlighted the importance of small disciplined steps in making the big wins.
It would really do us well now that we have almost bridged the deficit gap of energy in India and heading towards an energy surplus nation to start focussing on the small wins to reach such levels of quality and reliability of the Indian power system and have something more to feel proud about. Not only that would attract top mission critical facilities in both manufacturing as well as the new age digital sector, but in the process, probably, save billions of dollars of capital expenditure by ensuring the reliability of electrical power.