Automation in power distribution needs to catch up faster

Automation in power distribution needs to catch up faster
“Volume wise, India would be figured in the list of first five or six countries, whereas when it is compared to leveraging automation for power distribution, we are far behind.” – Partha Bhaumik, Industry Sales Manager-Power, Rockwell Automation India
High aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses in power distribution and slow rate of reform continue to be a few of the key challenges amazing the Indian power minds. Such losses will force financial bleeding of distribution companies which is very predominant with SEB segment. Mr Bhaumik shares his views on automation in power distribution sector.
Power distribution sector in IndiaA great percentage of Indian rural population is not yet connected to the grid. There are industrial and urban pockets which rely on expensive local generation due to inadequacies in the distribution network. Growth in key elements of distribution network has barely kept pace with generation capacity increase. Accelerated distribution infrastructure modernisation and achieving fast improvements in this value chain is extremely important for sustainable growth of Indian power sector.
Revenue management is an important aspect of healthy operation for a distribution company.  Lack of information on loading and status of distribution transformers and associated feeders has been one primary cause of inefficient power distribution. Due to absence of monitoring, overloading occurs resulting in low voltage at consumer end and fallout could be frequent breakdown of transformers and feeders. Finer load management, intelligent load-shedding, precise fault finding, fault isolation and quick restoration are the necessities for revenue maximisation. 
Leveraging automation and information technology better monitoring and control of distribution assets can be enabled. Energy distributed and consumed with power quality data history and losses can be tracked with finer management and distribution of energy. Electricity theft which is a great percentage of energy loss in India can be tracked by deploying appropriate automation infrastructure. Automation technology contributes significantly in bringing down the distribution losses thus facilitating revenue protection for a distribution company.
Leveraging automation technologiesPower generation sector has been fully leveraging the value proposition of automation technology for process control, BOP systems and remote monitoring. Whether a coal-fired boiler, turbine, hydro turbine or nuclear power plant, automation has been deployed to control the core generation process. This sector, however, needs to fully leverage the benefits of energy efficiency technology or start implementing the benefits of intelligent motor control solution which maximises the protection of rotating assets by bringing in proactive intelligence in monitoring, preventing unscheduled downtime.
Penetration of automation technologyPenetration of automation technology in power distribution segment needs to catch up much faster. Volume wise, India would be figured in the list of first five or six countries, whereas when it is compared to leveraging automation for power distribution, India is far behind. There have been initiatives as well as few implementation examples of cutting-edge automation technology in distribution, these needs to be accelerated on a massive scale.
Facing distribution challengesThere are initiatives declared to support overcoming the current challenges in the distribution segment. It’s well known that PFC has been identified as the nodal agency to support automation and IT implementation under RAPDRP to bail out this sector from high AT&C losses. There needs to be policy level reforms to support the health of the SEBs and garner financial support to help them implement distribution infrastructure modernization. To make the generation side more energy efficient, there is the PAT scheme by BEE. However, directives have been issued to bring the energy consumption to an acceptable level. These need to be monitored on a regular basis with a clear mandate and result-oriented inspection points.
Opportunities for smart gridsIn a power deficit country like India where demand-supply gap is widening continually, accelerated generation capacity addition, system efficiency enhancement and reduction of system losses are priorities. Quality, reliable power at lowest cost, peak load shifting through a combination of direct control and differential pricing while ensuring better asset utilisation would be necessary.
This requires an integrated, collaborative improvement of our generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure making each of them intelligent and exchangeable information repository. Need for a fully automated power delivery network from point of generation to point of consumption with two-way information flow exists. A reliable, financially secure digital grid technology can eliminate fundamental problems with our grid.
Major barriers for smart gridsIndian power sector has been plagued by a number of issues such as high T&D losses, inadequate evacuation infrastructure, electricity pilferage and low metering efficiency. AT&C losses in our distribution system are very high, and we need to know real time where every kWh is going. Smart grid is surely an answer to this. This unfortunately is being perceived as the complex up gradation task in the existing infrastructure; thereby, developing a mindset against this technology adoption. Phase-wise adoption of smart grid may need basic upgrade of the electrical infrastructure. This could lead to some extra stress on the already strained Demand Supply equation within the country. Discom reforms have been slow and long-drawn affair decelerating the debottlenecking process. Grid digitisation would call for some financial investments and availability of fund could also be challenge for implementing smart grids in India. With digital infrastructure, security may become a key issue to be addressed. Smart grid success, hence, would depend on successful handling of all the above issues in a phased manner in the larger interest of our power-starved country.
Importance of automation technologyFinite natural resources and other associated issues have made renewable energy a necessity for ensuring energy sustainability and long-term energy security. Our main stream conventional power generation segment has been impacted due to fuel availability, linkage and other issues.  Large capacity coal-fired power projects have been delayed and currently about 29 GW of installed capacity is stranded due to coal unavailability. An alternate energy source with minimal environmental impact and accelerated generation with less lead time needs to be a thrust area. We have seen wind power assets mushroomed here. With about 300 clear, sunny days in a year, India is one of the preferred solar power generation countries. Apart from NVVN PV solar projects, there are PV solar programmes of various states to expedite generation capacity building. All these initiatives have been here, considering the enormous significance of renewable energy source in parlance of sustainable power generation in India.
Automation technology supports faster time to produce and facilitates optimal power generation under safe operating conditions and lifecycle operation of renewable energy plants. Whether it is automation for Core Sun Tracking Technology, a SCADA system in PV solar plant with remote monitoring and performance dashboards or a blade pitch control in wind electric generator, automation technology is a key element of plant operation.
Rockwell Automation in the Indian marketRockwell Automation has been one of the leading global suppliers of control, automation and information solution. The company has been extensively supporting the automation need of Indian power sector with its differentiated technology. Its information-enabled “integrated architecture” with its intrinsic open system and inherent scalability has been accepted by its customers for achieving seamless control and integration of plant assets while rendering optimised total ownership cost.

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