Get “Smart” with Smart Grid

Smart Grid deployment is essential for a secure, cost-effective and clean energy future. It is also envisioned as the only smart technique that can help achieve the full electrification of the country. India is too diverse geographically and climatically for centralised electrification policies to be entirely successful and sustainable. The idea of the Smart Grid is to use a two-way digital communication, in combination with digital control technology, to dispatch power with the aim of enhancing energy efficiency.  Power may be generated either centrally in large power stations operated by utilities by traditional means or by local, small generators using green and renewable energy resources. The “smart” digital components then communicate the status of generation and consumption to each other and collectively compute the path of least loss from the various generators to each consumer. This leads to enhanced efficiency in power utilisation and a better quality of supply to the consumer. In addition, the digital communication elements can notify all parts of the grid rapidly in case of breakdown or damage in any portion, following which computers can collectively, or in groups, compute and activate alternative routes or strategies for the dispatch of power. In this way, Smart Grids increase the connectivity, automation and coordination between the suppliers, consumers and networks that perform either long distance transmission or local distribution tasks.
The concept of Smart Grid can be visualised by the design of our hands. The performance and execution skills that can be achieved by using all five fingers of our hand can never be compensated by using just one very strong finger instead; since its structural limitations would enable it to perform a restricted range of tasks only.  Of course, the hand presents the brain and the nervous system with a significantly more difficult task in controlling and coordinating five fingers to work as a unified single entity.
As an analogy to human body, the Smart Grid relies on small local generators and large power stations, which are monitored and activated by the digital communication network, a parallel of the nervous system. These generators are controlled and coordinated by networks of computers, forming the brain. This combination of computation and communication is where the “Smartness” lies.
Why India requires Smart Grid
India is a fast emerging economy where the demand on electric power is increasing multiple folds. This can be visualised from the fact that currently India consumes around 3-4 per cent of worldwide electrical power consumption while more than 17 per cent of World population lives here. As India marches on it is developing economy journey, the demand and consumption of electrical energy is going to dramatically change. Although 70 per cent of Indian population lives in villages, still there are thousands of villages either with no electricity or inadequate electricity.  This scenario makes it very attractive if not mandatory to capitalise on these technologies like Smart Grids to leapfrog to next level. 
From our studies of Indian government policies, it seems that the focus would be on addition of generation capacity based on renewable resources like solar, wind, hydro-electric and biomass. The government is also formulating policies and standards for energy metering to eliminate pilferage and waste. On the load side, smart and energy-efficient loads like LED lights are being researched and standardised. 
India needs to build a modern, reliable and intelligent grid to be able to continue along its path of aggressive economic growth, which results in ever-increasing demands of electrical energy. With its current electrical grid, India loses money for every unit of electricity sold, due to inefficiencies in the distribution system. Being among the weakest electric grids in the world and considering the massive demand of the population, the necessity for building the Smart Grid in India becomes further apparent. Another driver behind the need for a smarter Grid in India is the country’s trend towards energy efficiency and increased use of renewable.
The Smart Grid, especially the smart mini/micro grid, should actually revolutionise lives in rural India. With the availability of low cost electricity, which would be generated from locally available renewable energy sources, the work hours of the day would be extended to well after sunset, which would improve the endeavours of housewives and have a positive impact on the education of children, who would be able to study at night. Power would be available for agriculture and animal husbandry, leading to increased productivity of farms. Electrical energy would be available for mobile communication, bringing the benefits of data connectivity to villages. Healthcare centres would be equipped with sophisticated electronic equipment and would be connected to remote consultancy centres to take advantage of telemedicine.
Success of Smart Grid across the World
Smart Grids are a key focus area all around the world including developed, developing and emerging economies. Whereas in the developed world, it can bring out efficiency and enable use of renewable energy sources, for the developing economies it can play an additional “leapfrog” step by bringing the power to energy starved areas including those where there is no electricity currently. This is possible as distributed energy sources are available almost everywhere e.g. Solar and Smart Grids can easily tap into these. There are active programs all around the world e.g.  in USA, European Union, China & India etc. to name a few.
Challenges in India and Role of the Government
A large percentage of India’s rural population is not in a position to pay more than a few rupees per day on energy. It would be unrealistic to expect them to pay for installation of Smart Grid equipment, given their current economic status. It seems impossible to expect deployment of Smart Grids in such rural areas outside the ambit of rural electrification drives by State Electricity Boards. A promising possibility lies in the building of Smart micro-Grids (self-contained energy grids based on renewable energy resources). The building of Smart micro-Grids, at village or taluka block level, would enable the country to move toward total rural electrification without incurring the cost and delay in extending the national or regional grids to remote rural areas. This would enable the country to leapfrog towards total rural electrification without incurring the cost and delay in extending the national grid to remote rural areas.
In developed countries, movement to Smart Grids has been achieved in part through incentives. For example, a consumer who has installed solar panels or micro-wind turbines on his premises is allowed to feed in the excess power generated to the regional grid, for which the utility pays special rates called “feed-in tariffs”. This, together with savings accruing from substitution of grid-fed power by self-generated power, allows the consumer to recover the cost of his installation within a shorter period.
Another example of such incentives is seen in some states of India, where the State Electricity Board provides consumers with CFL or LED lights free of cost or at discounted rates in exchange of conventional light bulbs.
Most of the authorities around the world pose stiff penalties on domestic and industrial consumers for low power factor. Consequently, consumers in these countries are obliged to install smart power-factor-correction equipment on their equipment.  Reinforcing such policies by Indian utilities would do much to mitigate the poor quality of power supply during summer, when the power factor is greatly degraded by air conditioners and irrigation pumpsets and as mentioned Smart Grids can play a good role here
Business Opportunities
This presents attractive business opportunities for providers and OEMs. However, practical implementation will require standardisation of many equipment blocks and operating procedures. We must participate in the formulation of these standards in a consultative role, so that feasible and practicable standards are written and vendors like us are not put at a disadvantage.
We need a great deal of research, development and industrialisation to obtain designs optimised for cost, efficiency, and reliability in our unique conditions.
Higher Power Quality and Reliability
For the average Indian city dweller, the development of the Smart Grid would mean an improved quality of electric power. Voltage and frequency fluctuations would be eliminated, especially the low voltage and frequency conditions that prevail during the summer season, when power demand increases greatly and power factor is severely degraded by air conditioning and irrigation equipment. As a consequence, power outages and load shedding should also become relics of a dark past. Industries which consume power in bulk should be able to reduce their energy costs, since they would themselves be generating some of the energy they consume. Transmission losses account for a significant percentage of power losses in India. By using smart solutions, the point of loss can be located so that the problem of theft of electricity, which is often the cause of loss, can be addressed.
At first glance, it seems that the exponential growth in India’s energy demand, which would be needed to support the high GDP growth rates predicted, can only be supported by aggressive electrification through large generating plants based on thermal, hydel or nuclear energy and distribution mechanisms. But recent experiences, like the accident in the Fukushima plant, have shown us the pitfalls and dangers associated with these technologies.  The Government of India has mandated generation and use of non-conventional green energy resources and formulated comprehensive policies in keeping with the mandate, so that our unique ecosystems are protected and marginalised populations in poverty stricken communities can avail of energy at low costs. Smart Grid technologies go a long way towards addressing the technical complexities introduced by localised generation-based green energy resources as well as increasing the efficiency of conventional generation and distribution systems.

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