IT for synergy in Indian power sector

“IT implementation will not only just address operational issues but also address the business process,” says Prakash Nayak, Chairman – Power Engineers Panel, Institution of Engineering and Technology
 The global IT market for the power distribution sector provides a range of technologies and solutions, which address the entire business value chain in power distribution. In an interview with EPR, Prakash Nayak shares his opinion about the importance of IT in power market.
Please highlight key growth opportunities for the application of IT in the power sector.With Indian Electricity Act 2003, the complexity and challenges of the power sector have increased manifold. The act focuses on unbundling, competition and commercial motive for revival of the power sector. This makes the process of balancing the commercial objectives vis-à-vis the social concerns even more challenging. In the present business environment, utilities have to re-engineer and automate their business processes for sustainable growth and survival with objectives, such as capacity building, business process efficiency, loss reduction, metering, billing and collection efficiency, customer relations, consumer satisfaction and so forth.
In order to meet the objectives, the adoption of latest and best-in-class technology is essential. Therefore, information technology is considered as the principal thrust area to spearhead our country’s agenda of power reforms. The challenges of IT in power sector are the enormous availability of IT options in the market today. It is important not to get carried away by the technology wave, but choose the appropriate technology, as per the industry needs, more so fit in to power domain.
What are the relevant trends and activities in the market?For implementing any hardware- or software-based solutions for the enterprise, it is extremely important and critical to have a robust, scalable, adaptive and open systems computing and communication architecture. Going by the information systems lifecycle, emergence of new technologies and technical obsolescence, the data network infrastructure, around which the enterprise applications are built, survives the longest. Therefore, the network infrastructure should be built around industry standards technology, conforming to IEC.
The enterprise software is the gateway to various integrated business applications — automated meter reading, SCADA, data logging, billing, collection and CRMS and Demand Side Management (DSM). The choice of hardware platform, operating system, database and front-end tools would depend upon the type and volume of transactions. Disaster recovery and continuity planning automated data backups are essential for the protection of vital data and their recovery during catastrophic failure. Also, early warning system like Wide Area Management System (WAMS) with stability threats to any nodes could help arresting failure and blackouts. Apart from instantaneous backups, it is essential to take cold backups on regular basis of the entire system. For mission-critical applications, it is better to have separate database and application servers along with RAID support for data redundancy. The integration of servers, RAID storage and backup devices through fibre optic channel architecture enhances efficiency and performance. Backups across multiple servers, preferably at remote locations, are healthy business practice.
What solutions can support the intricacy and diversity of the power sector?Globally IT is being used to enable operations at a transaction level thus providing advantages like inbuilt process controls, workflow enabled transactions, single point of data capture and support for timely strategic decision making. On the other hand, in India, the core operations are still manual and face issues like ad-hoc decision making, poor data quality, long decision making cycles and under utilisation of IT investments. Therefore, IT has to be selectively adopted as a business strategy to improve commercial and operational performance. The need is to develop a synergy between IT and the Indian power sector and emerging technologies can play a defining the role in profitability and quality of services. Consumer database indexing and electrical network mapping development of electrical consumer and network database is necessary for a host of power sector applications like asset management, revenue management, energy audit and load flow studies. Several distribution companies are using GIS technology to map their HT/ LT consumers and electrical network assets. This required a GPS survey of consumer households, the connected electrical feeders and distribution transformers. All the consumers are given the unique electrical address (or CIN, Consumer Index Number) so that it is possible to segregate the consumers feeder-wise or DT-wise for energy audit and accounting purposes. IVRS-based consumer call centre electrical consumer is the focus of an IVRS-based call centre where IT application can be adopted for consumer’s benefits. The IVRS-based system is aimed at improving customer services and increasing staff efficiency. At many places in India, IVRS-based system is operational for single window clearance of all types of customer complaints. The call centre addresses consumer complaints ranging from no power, billing, and payment related and connection related. What is needed is the integration at back-end from generation to distribution and consumers.
How can your solutions shape the future of power sector?The global IT market for the power distribution sector provides a wide range of technologies and solutions. These solutions address the entire business value chain in power distribution — from setting up distribution network and service connection to distribution load management, delivery of power and customer services. IT investments and implementation should be driven through a structured and comprehensive IT strategy, aligned with mission critical applications like SCADA, DMS and EMS, and WAMS and the business goals. The interfaces and integration among different software applications should be well defined. A synergy should be established to maximise benefits from IT investments to best serve the business needs. Effectiveness of IT investments should be monitored on an ongoing basis. Business process automation should aim at data capture at source to reduce transaction time, enable built-in process controls, enables audit trail, and provide appropriate and reliable information for decision support. Seamless business process integration accelerates transactions and optimises sharing of information across business processes.
Brief key issues affecting industries and markets.These solutions address the entire business value chain in power – from setting up last mile distribution network and service connection to distribution load management, delivery of power and customer services up to generation. Hence, it is essential to have seamless integration of IT solutions covering all the services. Unfortunately, there is expertise in each of these islands and only few of the companies have the complete knowledge of the IT requirements. For example, core engineering companies have tremendous knowledge and experience in handling the power system with both global and domestic experiences of managing the complete power system, whereas when it comes IT applications on top of their system, there are some weaknesses.
This applies similar way to IT companies. They have good knowledge and experience with IT application as well as limited experience and knowledge of working power systems. Thus in order to derive the benefits from IT implementation, there is need for IT team to know about the power system domain and similarly domain team should be able to understand the IT application. The joint understanding on the same will go long way in the successful IT implementation. Yet another issue is the basic willingness to have the IT, as there us myth that IT applications are not meant for mission critical application because of security threats. In my opinion these are manageable with proper study and building the system.
One thing is sure that IT implementation will not only just address operational issues but also address the business process and help one manage the system with minimal manual intervention. This requires a political mandate with concerned managing the system. In our country, smart grid pilots, a clear roadmap which is a part of 12th Plan (2012-2017), should have become an example of the IT implementation. However, we are yet to see the same implemented in large scale. The issue is not technology but the people who want to make a difference.

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