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Smart grids in India: A reality check

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Smart grids in India: A reality check

August 11
10:16 2020

Why India needs smart grids

Robert H.K. Demann, Head – Smart Infrastructure, Siemens: India’s aging, decades-old electrical infrastructure is in need of modernisation and upgradation. In recent years, the Government of India, together with state governments, has made good progress in achieving its aim in electrifying all parts of the country. But the customers’ demand for 24×7 high-quality power is not yet a reality in many parts of the country. The lack of adequate investment in upgradation and modernisation over the years has resulted in sub-optimal levels of electricity supply, coupled with high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses. This has resulted in a situation where even major cities still witness many instances of power supply disruptions. This is in contrast with cities like Hong Kong and Singapore that witness negligible power outages in the whole year. In this scenario, customers are looking for “smart solutions” with digital capabilities that can reduce losses, improve operational efficiency and assist in optimising long-term investments.

On the other hand, new demand is being created by the emerging trends in the market, including growth of data centers, renewable energy sources and sunrise sectors such as eMobility charging infrastructure. The network operators must contend with these technological disruptions in the grid planning and operations. Accordingly, the need for “smart grids” that assist network operators in managing the customer expectations for reliable power supply with good quality of power, will gain increasing acceptance.

Smart grids use a range of digital technologies and IoT solutions that can intelligently respond and adapt to changes in the grid. The data collected can be harvested to create decisions and recommendations to the grid operators to become more reliable, cost-efficient, flexible, and safe.

Latish Babu, Director – Power & Grid Segment, Schneider Electric India: India is on an accelerated growth path and to maintain its economic growth, the country needs reliable and secure smart grid. They are energy efficient, green and build in productivity.

Reducing the losses from AT&C is a key catalyst for smart metering in distribution utilities. Smart metering helps improve the component of billing and collection efficiency and efficacy, thereby reducing the difference in actual supply cost and the realised average revenue. AT&C losses have a strong impact on India GDP. Additionally, if AT&C losses decline, it will potentially lead to lower tariff realisation for consumers.

Smart grids help in reliability improvement – improve reliability of supply to customers – fewer or no load shedding. Smart grids offer flexibility and sustainability in the power sector, fulfilling the energy demand with reliability, resilience, stability and allows for consumer participation in overall energy management

Accommodates increasing asset utilisation and efficiently integrate renewable intermittent energy sources – smart grids lower maintenance cost with proactive, predictive- and prescriptive-asset maintenance toward reliability centric asset management and reduces capital costs incurred in failure replacements for electrical companies. Increases utilisation of assets and profits, eliminates transmission losses and provides them with the ability to incorporate intermittent renewable energy into the system.

The smart grids enables bringing together of the energy and processes which is an innovative way forward.

Syed Sajjadh Ali, Managing Director – India, Electrical Sector, Eaton: India has seen a transition in the power generation scenario, from thermal power stations to mega super critical power generation stations and now hyperscale renewable power generation farms. This has lead to creation of vast power generation facilities which are often at remote locations and the power has to be transmitted over long distances to the consumers. At the same time, the revolution is ongoing in creating micro-level generation in the form of rooftop solar units which is bringing power generation right in the users premises, whether it is a manufacturing unit, commercial setup of residential premises. Considering the vast geographical landscape, and the need to reach out to the remotest location and the commitment towards climate change, India needs to adopt smart grids which helps bridge the above gaps.

Though India has made significant investment in implementation of smart grid infrastructure, it continues to make huge AT&C losses. What may be the reason?

Robert H.K. Demann: The Government of India’s National Smart Grid Mission set-up to boost smart grid infrastructure development is a visionary and positive measure. However, there has not been adequate investment in smart grid infrastructure in India – project cost of current projects and pilots account for less than Rs. 1,000 crore. Given the size and scale of distribution networks, this obviously shows that a lot more projects need to be setup and implemented.

Also, over the past years, while the transmission sector has secured funding for most projects, the power distribution sector still suffers from funding constraints (dependent on either central government funded schemes or state grants). In addition, with more consumers being added and the per capita electricity consumption increasing (growth of over 50 percent in a decade between 2008 and 2018), most of the funds are typically used in creating new electrical infrastructure but not enough goes in maintaining the existing infrastructure.

This situation has resulted in DISCOMs still being plagued with huge AT&C losses. Hence, the pace of investment needs to be accelerated to hasten the growth of smart grids. Also, end-customers can benefit from increased lifespan of assets and greater reliability of their network.

Syed Sajjadh Ali: India has made some excellent progress in establishing a nation-wide grid at the extra high voltage levels and this helps bring in stability and efficiency in the energy transmission at the national level. However the infrastructure for distribution network has a lot of scope for improvement. Barring few larger cities, the power distribution still continues to be through overhead lines which are susceptible to outages, disturbances, poor connections and thefts which results in to poor networks as well as higher losses. Further, since the distribution happens at the lower voltages, there are cases of unbalanced loads or poor power factor loads which further leads to the stresses in system, resulting in higher losses. Further, since the power needs to be distributed over long distances at lower voltages, the losses further increases. As per the CEA estimates, India has improved the AT&C losses by up to 10 percent between 2005 and 2015. However they were at 24 percent which is 2 to 3 times than the same for countries like USA, Japan, and South Korea. In short, there is still a significant potential to improve the losses by up to another 10 percent points.

Latish Babu: This is an ongoing process and we have made significant progress in the right direction. Smart grids infrastructure helps power utilities obtain massive amounts of electricity consumption data at a high frequency from smart meters, which is helpful to detect electricity theft and technical losses in near real time and helps to reduce it in the go. A crucial component for reducing losses is improving billing and revenue collection and checking on problematic equipment or hardware. A smart, automated metering system, without manual intervention, would reduce meter-reading and data-entry errors and costs.

One such unique success story of ensuring seamless, reliable power distribution is of the South Bihar Power Distribution Company Limited (SBPDCL). The key challenge here was to meet the growing energy demands of the consumer – supply of reliable and quality power. Also, lack of a centralised information system due to which the power distribution company did not have information to power losses or faults. This further led to difficulty in recovering the system and inability to access relevant data.

Schneider Electric accessed the challenges of SBPDCL and decided to deploy EcoStruxure Grid Solutions for better connectivity and reliability. The project modernised the state’s electrical distribution network by deploying solutions across the three layers. In the first layer of Apps/Intelligence and Services, the Command and Control Centre and Disaster Recovery Centre was established. In the second layer of Edge Control, Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS), Geographical Mapping of Distribution Network and Assets on GIS were integrated. Finally, in the third layer, 53 substations of 33/11 KV, 250-plus feeders, 305 ring main units for distribution and power reliability and 550 fault passage indicators on the overhead lines were implemented.

As a result, the residents benefitted by quality power and 24×7 availability in line with Government of India’s vision. There were no voltage fluctuation; safety and reliability were ensured to eliminate accidents. Efficient billing systems were put in place. The DISCOM benefitted by reduced power losses (AT&C losses), lesser breakdown, better revenue protection, quick fault identification, modernisation of assets and skilled and trained resources to meet the rapidly growing energy demands.

What needs to be done to get the best out of smart grid infrastructure?

Syed Sajjadh Ali: The need for India is to bring the power generation closer to the users by making the optimum usage of current generation capacities and the renewable energy sources, like rooftop solar, which can help bring economical power to the users and in the process also reduce the dependence on the distribution grids. In fact the power consumers of today would be the potential producers of energy and can be termed as prosumers (producers as well as consumers of energy). This poses two notable challenges:

• How do you create a smart and stable distribution network that is able to effectively understand the changing consumer load patterns and able to regulate the distribution efficiently. This is where smart/communication ring main units are able to create a reliable system of underground distribution systems that can monitor, alert and manage the system with minimal manual intervention.

• How do you create a smart microgrid, which can effectively source the power from the available economical resources and derive energy tariffs based on the net consumption (e.g. a commercial building with rooftop solar installations can generate power during weekends and feed back to the utility, consume power from the utility during cloudy times / night times and be billed only for the net consumption). The smart grid metering is a solution for this, however there is a scope of cost optimisation here.

Robert H.K. Demann: Existing distribution utilities and network operators are bearing the brunt of rising losses and financially weak position that poses a challenge in smooth operation of the grid. The operators are tasked with the responsibility of providing 24×7, good quality power. In such a scenario, smart grid solutions such as advanced metering infrastructure, supported by meter data management platforms, help bring the intelligence to monitor and reduce losses while also improving revenue collections.

With the correct sensing, data transmission and analysis, we will be able to not just maximise the potential of infrastructure but harness the value out of data to drive digital transformation of grids. Primary infrastructure like Smart RMUs, transformers, panels, etc. are assets already available and communicating – these, however, are sparse in the network and need to scale up to see the real impact of the transformation. Asset management solutions provide intelligence to maximise reliability, optimise operating and maintenance costs and manage the asset more efficiently. For instance, remote access to health of the relays, fault notifications on-the-go, etc. enable operators to mobilise their workforce and address issues before they spiral out of control.

Power grids are undergoing an unprecedented transformation both on the supply and demand side. Many new and distributed sources of energy including the influx of renewables and new demand loads like data centers and electric vehicles call for a more flexible grid, driving the need for greater digitalisation and automation. Intelligent products that can communicate are an essential component in the convergence of information and operational technologies.

The ongoing digitisation and networking of assets also makes these grids vulnerable to cyberattacks. Cyber security should not only be viewed for individual products but should be seen in the context of the entire system. The optimum and secure interplay between the individual components, by integrating all products to form a secure system sets the basis for a fully protected operation.

The integration process and technical solutions need to be based on international security standards to mitigate vulnerability increase in proprietary systems. Hence, cyber security solutions move beyond just securing products, but also include consulting that covers technological, procedural and personal aspects, along with comprehensive services throughout the entire life cycle of the installed base. This helps implement advanced prevention and detection solutions to optimise substation protection coverage, safeguarding the reliability of grid operations.

Latish Babu: It is imperative to invest in maximum gain technologies – it is all about reducing the AT&C losses and improving system reliability. With the digitisation of the grid losses are reduced, thereby improving reliability, resilience and improving distribution network in the power sector. Technology capabilities such as Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and Cloud are critical components of any digital transformation and can provide the grid’s digitised platform. Here predictive maintenance services play an important part by leveraging Cloud technologies to manage critical asset performance and ensure infrastructure safety even before any failure happens.

Also, the smart grids rely on highly competent human network. The smart grid needs people with skills, expertise, tools and resources to adopt, manage and optimise the grid’s potential. It’s imperative that workforce is skilled in emerging technologies like – IoT, AI and data and analytical skills.

Lastly, smart grid pilot projects implementation play a key role in learning through quick experiments adopting good practices and overcoming commercial or technological evolution and uncovering potential barriers. With the Government of India’s (GoI) priority shifting from pilot to scale up, it is important to note the multitude of information and data available about the outcome of these pilot projects should be efficiently utilised. Thanks to these pilot projects, there is a growing knowledge within the utilities. The project deployments provide vital insights into problems, strategies and lessons learnt during the project development phase.

About Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric is leading the Digital Transformation of Energy Management and Automation in Homes, Buildings, Data Centers, Infrastructure and Industries. With global presence in over 100 countries, Schneider is the undisputable leader in Power Management – Medium Voltage, Low Voltage and Secure Power, and in Automation Systems. We provide integrated efficiency solutions, combining energy, automation and software. In our global Ecosystem, we collaborate with the largest Partner, Integrator and Developer Community on our Open Platform to deliver real-time control and operational efficiency. We believe that great people and partners make Schneider a great company and that our commitment to Innovation, Diversity and Sustainability ensures that Life Is On everywhere, for everyone and at every moment.

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