The author has posted comments on this articleSujit John, TNN | Dec 15, 2012, 04.32AM IST
Bazmi Husain points to what looks like a third rail on the Metro track at Bangalore’s MG Road station and says that’s what’s powering the Metro train. The ‘third rail’ has a yellow-coloured casing, without which it can instantly kill someone who may accidentally step on the 750-volt power line. “We are the only ones in India providing both third rail and overhead power systems,” says the India managing director of ABB, the $40-billion, Zurich-based power and automation technologies company. For the Delhi Metro, ABB used the overhead technology. “That’s cheaper over the long term because it’s simpler, but the overhead wires are visually less appealing,” he says.
As we get on a Metro train that comes by – to go to the sub-station that powers the Metro rail system and where ABB has its control office – Husain talks excitedly about the urbanization progress that India has made. “Our Metro rail systems are as good as anywhere in the world,” he says. “The tickets use near-field communication technology and are reusable. In Zurich, they still use paper tickets because it’s infrastructure that was built decades ago. We have redundancy built in every step of the way, so the train will not stop even if there is a problem in one part of the power system.”
Husain says some cities are investing heavily in compact sub-stations, getting rid of the old, ugly systems on poles. Some are beginning to do underground electric cabling, and getting rid of the unsightly overhead wires. Karnataka, he says, is implementing one of the world’s biggest electricity automation systems. The system allows a central location to monitor the thousands of substations in the state, and understand all information about them. “It’s very empowering. You can plan your electricity distribution strategy better. You can quickly plan your restoration strategy if something goes wrong somewhere. The system even allows introduction of technologies to automate some of the fault correction,” he says.
We point out the blackouts in north India earlier this year. Husain declines to speculate on what caused it, but says such blackouts were more common earlier. “Our electricity systems have become a lot more robust. China’s and India’s power infrastructure is today far more modern than those in the US and Europe,” he says.
Husain has been an ABB lifer, barring his early years. He grew up in the Aligarh Muslim University campus where his parents taught. He graduated from BITS Pilani in 1981 with an electrical and electronics engineering degree, and joined ABB in its R&D division. He worked with ABB in the US, UK, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Singapore. In 2002, he returned to India to start an R&D centre, which has now become the largest in ABB. From 2005 through 2011, he was in Europe, including as director of ABB’s corporate research centre in Sweden. Last year, he was back in India as the country managing director.
Husain says India’s problem in power is the 12% shortage at peak hours, a figure that’s expected to rise to 19% even after the 80 gigawatts of power capacity that is under construction becomes operational. Reduction in transmission losses (mostly power theft) is part of the solution, and over the past few years that has come down by about 6 percentage points to 24% (the best in the world is 6%).
But the bigger solution, Husain says, lies on the consumption side. India’s factories are 30% less energy efficient than the best in the world. In a factory, motors consume more than 60% of the energy. “Motors here run like cars with their accelerators always floored. But if you fit devices that can control the motor speed based on requirement, there’s huge energy saving,” he says.
Air-conditioning is the other big power consumer. In parts of Europe, buildings must mandatorily use triple-paned glass that provides good insulation from external climate conditions and reduces internal air-conditioning requirements. “In India, we still use single-paned glass, not even double-paned. With office spaces and malls mushrooming, consumption-side measures are critical,” Husain says.