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IoT: Stirring up a quintessential revolution

IoT, together with automation can power ON India 24/7. Here’s a detailed exclusive analysis by the experts on how harnessing ‘intelligence’ and ‘smartness’ have paved way to next-gen T&D

Internet of Things (IoT), together with Big Data and Analytics, can act as a major catalyst to help cut India’s power losses, streamline electricity supply and provide electricity to millions of households that are still bereft of power supply.

Meenu Singhal, Vice President, Industry Business, Schneider Electric, says, “Smart grids with automation, integrated controls and new technologies such as connected sensors can help in faster restoration of electricity after outages. Efficient power transmission, reduced management expenses, and seamless integration of energy systems that are based on green and renewable sources would help in efficient management of energy and reduced outages while cutting dependency on non-renewable sources.

Basically, IoT involves digitisation of assets, collection of data about assets, and analytics of data to control the process or plant or network of connected assets. Ajey Phatak, Marketing Manager, Beckhoff Automation Pvt Ltd thinks that IoT has the potential to transform the T&D sector significantly.

He says, “Sending electricity consumption data to the utility company through the data collected from electricity meters was the first few manifestations of IoT concept. This not only helped the utility companies to monitor and track power consumption, but also increased accuracies and increase revenue.”

If the power meters that are connected to the internet host have add-on services such as power outage location, then quick resumption of power breakdown services and pre-paid power distribution services in real time are possible. Phatak adds, ”IoT can bring the utility companies as profitable entities. However, to make this happen, advanced metering infrastructure must be in place at consumer level with reliable internet connectivity.”

Empowering the existing T&D systems with IoT
IoT has three components: digitisation of assets, collection of data about the assets, and computational algorithms to control the system formed by the interconnected assets. In the power sector, the most popular application is condition monitoring and predictive maintenance of a wide variety of assets.

“The IoT-based approach facilitates transition from traditional reactive and periodic maintenance strategies to proactive strategies. The applications are focused on the highest value assets in both generation plants as well as transmission and distribution grid,” Singhal adds. To add on to that, Phatak opines that IoT could empower the utility companies to manage the T&D equipment assets and reduce breakdowns and equipment failure.

“Today, many power grids are affected by unreliable services due to old equipment, poor maintenance and lack of upgrades. Predictive maintenance of wide variety of assets is needed, especially for the power generation and T&D grid assets,” says Phatak. In this application of IoT, assets are continuously monitored by sensors, the collected data is sent to the cloud where machine learning and AI algorithms are used to predict the health and impending failure and determine the time to do maintenance.

Phatak suggests that investment in IoT, for both existing and new equipment, has the potential to significantly reduce unscheduled downtime by identifying problems before they occur, which will increase reliability of the utility service and reduce costs.

“Other application is to optimise the power generation plant’s production efficiency. One good example where real-time monitoring is done with IoT concept is wind farm networking of wind generators,” he adds.

Reviving the ageing infrastructure
Ageing infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges for power distribution companies since it impacts their ability to provide reliable and cost effective power supply to end users. So, the question arises whether the existing infrastructure could be saved or revived by IoT. Singhal is of the opinion that in case the existing distribution infrastructure cannot be made compatible with IoT, it makes perfect sense to replace the same to ensure that T&D network becomes robust, more efficient with minimal losses, and quick restoration in case of disruption.

However, Ninad Deshpande, Head – Marketing, B&R Automation, says, “Technologies are evolving rapidly, leading to the rise of advanced automation concepts, which are available for deployment across industries in machines and factories. No doubt these advancements have their share of benefits.”

However, he cautions that replacing the entire infrastructure is too expensive and risky. Like the old proverb goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. On the contrary, manufacturing units and factories are looking at leveraging the benefits from the available next generation automation solutions.

Deshpande says, “Even as technologies change, the objectives at machine level and line level remain the same. We seek higher throughput, less downtime, lower energy consumption, and higher product quality.”

The journey to smart manufacturing sets out to achieve all of these objectives by applying the latest developments in open communication along with ever-increasing intelligence in the sensors, actuators and automation systems.

He explains that factories are looking at ways to gather data from machines as well as lines and send it to IT systems for analytics. With intelligence becoming more and more decentralised, and a growing volume and variety of machine and line data becoming available for analytics, the need for edge computing is on the rise. Edge architectures help collect data from sensors, actuators, machines, lines and plants and move it to IT systems for analytics and long-term storage.

Deshpande further adds, “With EDGE architecture, B&R makes it possible for factories to keep the existing infrastructure and still be able to leverage benefit from the new technologies. We have successfully implemented such architectures in India in various brown field sites to make them smart and help them to gain access to the new technologies.”

Meanwhile, Phatak asserts that investments are needed for all aging distribution infrastructure equipment, but while doing so, investing in IoT applications simultaneously will ensure full life of these newly installed assets.

Automating electrical power distribution system
Today, electrical power distribution systems are already automated, but adding advanced automation concepts help in optimising their operations. Solutions such as energy monitoring, predictive maintenance, data acquisition, and upper layer connectivity are helping these automated systems to achieve higher efficiency, productivity and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), which results in higher profitability.

“Unplanned downtime results in wastage and losses. In addition, getting the system up and running is time consuming. At times, it could take hours for reinstating the plant. To counter such unplanned downtimes, plants and factories are exploring solutions such as predictive maintenance and asset performance management,” says Deshpande.

However, Meenu Singhal insists that the Government of India is also working towards providing 24/7 affordable and environment-friendly ‘Power for All’ by 2019 by taking specific actions to improve access to electricity to all and strengthen the T&D infrastructure with IoT. Concepts like prepaid and smart meters are key steps that will ensure easier access to quality power supply.

SCADA+PLC = Integrating the entire system operations
Today, factories are more like islands of automation at machine and factory level. SCADA primarily was deployed as a means of data acquisition and monitoring. However, a seamless connectivity between Operational Technology (OT) space and Information Technology (IT) space was not possible.

The connected factories of the industrial IoT generate and process enormous volumes of data in order to perform automated responses that boost performance. The question is how to make most efficient use of a network without overloading it. Ninad Deshpande says, ”B&R provides the best real-time performance out of your network. After pre-processing data locally, B&R edge devices send it off for remote storage and analysis, which frees up more of your network capacity.”

Meanwhile, Ajey Phatak elaborates that PLC and SCADA talk to each other using electronic device communication language. “Technically these are called as ‘communication protocols depending upon the physical connection layer the protocol differs. The type of physical connection decides the protocol and how fast a message can be transmitted or received between devices,” he adds.

PLC is a hardware, which has facility to interact with sensors and actuators through the various inputs and outputs, which are connected to it from the field. The sensor signal like a switch or a temperature sensor signal is read by the electronics of PLC hardware and then a logic programmes is run by the PLC.

“According to the PLC logic programme, the output modules is activated and then switches the process ON or OFF or in other words, controls it,” Phatak adds.

SCADA, on the other hand, is not hardware, but software (usually installed in a PC or laptop) where the operator of the plant gets to monitor and control the whole process in any industry by using the tools provided in the software.

Meenu Singhal, however, describes that it’s a system architecture, which you have to build. These are architecture, which are based upon openness of the products in which they’re in and the interoperability of the architecture, which is being built together.

“So, we combine these things together and irrespective of the brand and the product below them and above them, these things have to operate with diagnostic features. So, we build SCADAs and connect it to the RTUs and connect it with the systems.

It’s done in almost all industries; all the manufacturing process you will have the SCADA layer built in wherever they need a process control to be done,” he adds.

The need for modern T&D network is imperative as technologies related to power sector are currently evolving and distribution infrastructure should be fit enough to adapt to these changes at the generation level, concludes Meenu Singhal.

Technologies are evolving rapidly, leading to the rise of advanced automation concepts
Ninad Deshpande, Head – Marketing, B&R Automation

The IoT-based approach facilitates transition from traditional reactive and periodic maintenance strategies to proactive strategies
Meenu Singhal, Vice President, Industry Business, Schneider Electric

Predictive maintenance of wide variety of assets is needed, especially, for the power generation and T&D grid assets
Ajey Phatak, Marketing Manager, Beckhoff Automation Pvt Ltd

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