CII’s Push for Lead-free Power Cables: CEA, MoP in loop

CII Confederation of Indian Industry logo

Power Ministry of India along with Central Electricity Authority (CEA), other government bodies and trade associations such as CII and IEEMA are working in an effort to build consensus and issue new norms and guidelines to promote greener transmission cables: Lead-free high voltage (HV) and extra high voltage (EHV) cables for underground power transmission lines.

An underground power cable essentially consists of conductors covered with metallic sheath for insulation and protection. The major functions of the sheath are: to provide radial barrier to bock humidity to penetrate in the cable, to provide earthing to capacitive current and to provide resistance to corrosion. Despite the fact that lead is a hazardous substance, it is still being used as metallic sheath for HV/EHV Power cables in India. It is used in almost all sectors and departments namely power sector, mining, steel, petrochemical, non- ferrous, shipbuilding, railway, cement and defense.

Concerns with Lead Sheathed Cables

Lead is recognized as hazardous substance by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The Lead content in cables of voltage rating 66 to 220 KV is about 35 – 45 % and average life span of such cables is 25 – 30 years. After the cables are laid they are never dismantled. As a result a huge amount of lead is lying buried underground and seeping into the soil. This is ultimately leading to underground water and soil contamination. This accumulation of Lead leads to contamination in the entire food chain and thus can cause heath issues such as Anaemia, Kidney Damage, peripheral and central nervous system damage.

A per a letter of CII to CEA dated 26th February 2019 it is mentioned that according to the “estimates of World Health Organization (WHO) 240 million people globally are overexposed to lead poisoning and 99% of those who(s) blood level (is) above 20 µg/dL are from the developing world”.

CII’s Initiative to build Consensus

IEEMA Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers Association logo

On 1st December 2018 Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) raised the issue regarding usage of lead based underground power cables despite availability of greener alternatives to the Ministry of Power (MoP) and similarly on 26th February 2019 CII requested CEA to issue an advisory to consider environment-friendly alternatives for transmission lines and to stop usage of lead altogether. Similar representation was taken up by CII with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for their attention towards the subjected matter. To know the insight, current market scenario and manufactures point of view CEA has also involved Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers’ Association (IEEMA) into the discussion. IEEMA in turn is engaged in discussion with industry in order to have manufacturer’s view.

Alternatives to Lead Sheath

CEA Central Electricity Authority India logo

As suggested by CII in its letter to CEA, alternatives to Lead such as Aluminum (AL) based protection, HDPE sheath are available in the market. Also as per CII’s said letter these alternatives have better strength and tenacity and are more economical (30%-40% lower cost). Further CII wrote in its letter to MoP “It is important to note, that all manufactures of Lead based power cables also have the capability to manufacture greener (Non-Lead based) alternatives.”

Setting an example UK, Latin Amercia and European countries have adopted greener alternatives. As per CII’s letter to MoP, research papers and guidelines on greener alternatives are being published by National and International organizations / associations of eminence such as Engineers India Limited (ElL), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and DNV-GL for showcasing the positive impact of green technologies over Lead based cables usage.

Noise in the Industry

Presently Indian HV / EHV cable manufacturers have different perspectives on issue of Lead usage. Some market players want a gradual reduction in use of lead based cables whereas some want this to be left to the end users of cables. Major players of the industry are against the ban since they have invested heavily in plant and machinery. Some players are requesting policy makers to keep the whole product life-cycle in mind before reaching to a conclusion and to conduct proper impact analysis of the subject.

Electrical Research and Development Association (ERDA) is also involved as it reports that lead in power cables is harmful even during the process of product testing. Some cable manufacturers are of the opinion to get more testing agencies involved and for conducting various tests like water penetration test for proper understanding.

Few Indian players like Universal Cables, Finolex Cables, Sterlite Power, Polycab, CCI, KEI and RPG manufacture HV and EHV power cables and some have joint ventures with European / Japanese companies. A high volume is imported from Europe, China and Thailand, therefore a ban shall give an opportunity to other foreign players to dominate this segment. Thus, any such step in the direction of banning use of Lead must be through a written Government Policy applicable to all suppliers and buyers alike.