In Kerala, the first effort in the electricity sector was taken up by a British company called the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company, Munnar. The first hydroelectric project in Kerala was established in 1900 on the right bank of a tributary of River Periyar- Muthirapuzha and commissioned by 1910 with a capacity of 200kW.
It was during 1912-13, the government of Travancore seriously considered the idea of power generation in Kerala. Accordingly in 1913, a team under the leadership of Chief Engineer Sri. S.M Jacob was constituted to study the feasibility of electricity generation in Travancore, Kochi and Malabar states. In 1927 the Travancore Government decided to generate electricity for supplying to the households of Thiruvananthapuram city and for this purpose an Electricity Division was formed under the Public Works Department. Finally, in 1929, a Diesel Power Station was established under Government ownership at Thiruvananthapuram for production of electrical energy on commercial lines. Three oil engine generators, of a capacity of 65 kW each, were installed and commercial production started in 1929 with an installed cost of Rs. 9 lakh. Subsequently, many agencies came forward to produce electricity in the private sector.
The next significant development was the formation of a separate department for electricity and in 1933 His Highness Sri Chithira Thirunal Maharaja and his Diwan Sir C P Ramaswami Iyer formed an Electricity Department under the Travancore Government. The formation of the Electricity Department paved the way for notable developments in the field. Thermal generating stations were set up at Kollam, Kottayam and Nagercoil (now in Tamil Nadu) in 1934. By that time, the possibilities of hydroelectric generation attracted the attention of the technologists and the authorities.
In 1933, the works for the first hydro electric power station in Kerala began at Pallivasal, a village situated on the south western part of Idukki district. On March 19, 1940, Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore inaugurated the first stage of the Pallivasal project, which had an initial installed capacity of 13.5 MW. It was the first Hydro Electric Project in Kerala, set up to serve the power needs of the general public. The State Electricity Department also took over the 200 kW power station in 1928 from the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Co. By that time, a comparable electric transmission network had also been completed with 66 kV substations at Alappuzha, Mavelikkara, Kothamangalam, Kundara, Kalamassery, Viyyur, Aluva, and Thiruvananthapuram, which were also commissioned in 1940 itself during April and May.
In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 5 of the Electricity (Supply) Act 1948,the newly formed Government of Kerala (elected through the first general election conducted) constituted the Kerala State Electricity Board by order dated 7 March 1957 in order to carry out the business of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of electricity and strives to provide quality electricity at an affordable cost to all classes of consumers in the state of Kerala.
Kerala State Electricity Board commenced functioning on 31 March 1957 as per order no. EL1-6475/56/PW dated 7 March 1957 of the Kerala State Government. It had 5 members with Sri K P Sreedharan Nair as chairman. All the staff belonging to the erstwhile Electricity Department was transferred to the Board. The 'Board' consisting of the chairman and the Members is the Supreme Governing Body.
For the management of rapid expansion of the Electricity supply system, Sri. Chandu Nair, Deputy Chief Engineer was appointed as the Chief operation Engineer and the Generation, Transmission and Distribution placed under the control of Chief operation Engineer.
The Civil works connected with Hydro Electric Projects are executed by the Civil Branch. The civil works connected with the projects were under the control of the Chief Construction Engineer and Sri. C.S.Padmanabha Iyer took charge on 01.06.1957.
Also there was an Executive Engineer(Civil) in charge of Hydro Electric Investigation works under the control of the Chief Engineer.
A separate Circle was formed in May 1957 for the Pamba Hydro Electric Project.
The schemes of the former Electricity Department were planned along with other state Schemes included in the 2nd Five Year Plan and the Board continues to carry out the schemes included in the plan, coordinating its activities with the Planning authorities of the state.
The Hydro Electric schemes under first Five Year Plan
- Sengulam Project
- Madupetti Dam Project
- Neriamangalam Project
- Poringalkuthu Left Bank Project
The Hydro Electric schemes under second Five Year Plan
- Panniyar Project
- Sholayar project
- Pamba project
By the completion of the Poringalkuthu Left Bank Project, the Poringalkuthu Division was abolished and a new Division formed for the investigation of Hydro Electric Scheme in Malabar area, and a second division in the Panniyar project in June 1957.
At the time of its inception, in 1958, the KSEB had an installed capacity of 109.5 MW, with a total annual internal generation of 441.35 MU. Fourteen years after the commissioning of Pallivasal, the second powerhouse of the state of Kerala, the Sengulam power house with an installed capacity of 48 MW(4x12MW), was commissioned.
Approval of the Planning Commission for the implementation of the Idukki Hydro Electric Project was received in January 1963.
The 300 MW Sabarigiri Hydro Electric Project, which was added to the Kerala System in 1966, enjoyed the special status of having a capacity higher than the capacities of all the other projects (including Sholayar which was also in the final stages of commissioning in 1966), in the Kerala system put together. Sabarigiri also elevated Kerala to a power surplus state in 1966.
But the demand for power was steadily growing at a faster pace. Since then, project after project was added to the Kerala power system till 1976, when the first stage of Idukki HEP, with a capacity of 390 MW(3x130MW) was commissioned. When the stage II of Idukki , with a capacity of 390 MW was also added in 1986, Idukki HEP became the largest project in Kerala, with a total capacity of 780 MW. The Idukki project continues to be the largest project, hydro or otherwise, of the KSEBL till date.
After the commissioning of Idukki HEP in 1986, the Hydro Electric Projects which gave significant contribution to the capacity addition were the 75 MW Idamalayar, the 150 MW Kuttiyadi Extension Schemes, the 180 MW Lower Periyar and the 50 MW Kakkad project. After the commissioning of the Kakkad HEP, proposals for major Hydel projects like Silent Valley, Pooyamkutty etc. did not materialize due to issues related to environmental clearance . However, KSEB focused on small Hydel projects and commissioned 25 projects in this time.
It is widely accepted that fossil fuels are limited, that its price will go on increasing, that they do not offer a long term solution, that they contribute to global warming and that alternative sources are to be identified.To cater to ever-increasing demand of power, Government of Kerala has decided to give encouragement to power generation from Non-conventional Energy Sources and formulated Kerala Solar Energy Policy, 2013 vide notification dated 25.11.2013.
The state Renewable energy policy is directed towards a greater thrust on overall development and promotion of renewable energy technologies and applications. This will facilitate excellent opportunities for increased investment in this sector, technology upgradation, induction of new technology market development and export promotion.
However at a macro level, Electricity Act 2003 promotes absorption of renewable energy and mandates for specified consumption from renewable sources in the area of every distribution utility. Accordingly Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) and more specifically solar purchase obligations have become mandatory recently. This at present is fixed at 3% of the total consumption for RPO and out of which 0.25% shall be from the solar sources alone, with annual escalation at 10% till the quantum from renewable reaches 10% of total purchase. Being the integrated utility on transmission and distribution in the state, KSEB shall act as single window service provider to all grid connected solar plants in association with other state agencies.
Also, to aid in the Government of India’s endeavor to increase renewable penetration in the capacity mix, the utility has been encouraging all types of renewable energy generation including solar generation with an ambitious target of 2500 MW by 2030. As of March 31, 2023, Kerala's total solar capacity has reached 765 MW, reflecting its commitment to renewable energy.