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Home » Cover Story » Smart Electricity in India: The Road Ahead

Smart Electricity in India: The Road Ahead

June 26, 2021 5:05 pm

Smart Electricity in India: The Road Ahead
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We require smart grids, smart meters and smart systems that can monitor and effectively manage the complexities of electricity and its future needs. Power experts discuss the road ahead for smart electricity in India

Smart electricity encompasses the smart operation of the entire power system right from power generation to transmission and distribution ensuring optimised operations. Various monitoring and control technologies and automation solutions help in achieving the optimum performance of the power system.

In the current scenario, the grids in India are being stretched to their capacities with the ever-increasing demand for power transmission and distribution. So, to deal with it, we require smart grids, smart meters and smart systems that can monitor and effectively manage the complexities of the electricity and its future needs. 

Where do we stand? 

The concept of smart electricity deals with reliable supply of quality power, monitoring losses and record the real time data of the energy provided to various institutions like residential buildings, industries and commercial spaces. According to Sunil Singhvi, CEO (Energy SBU), Secure Meters Limited, smart electricity is about efficient and safe amalgamation of conventional T&D system with IT equipment and internet of things (IoT) which would focus towards sustainable and comprehensive development of electrical ecosystem including behind the meter generation in consumer premises. 

India’s energy sector has undergone a sea of changes. The traditional centralised model is now no longer viable to meet the demands of modern energy landscape. According to Animesh Mishra, Chief General Manager, Head (Sales & PR), Energy Efficiency Services Limited, with rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the nature of energy demand has changed. “The rise of renewable energy and electric mobility has also necessitated the need for smart electricity and a smarter, more flexible grid,” he adds. 

According to Nilesh Kane, Chief – Distribution (Mumbai Operation), Tata Power, In the power generation, transmission and distribution, there are a lot of plans to move towards smart solutions. He adds, “For example, smart metering is being rolled out in all the distribution companies. Battery storage and its integration and creating the stability and the discipline in the network are also being rolled out. We at Tata power also have done the grid-level battery storage, community battery storage and its integration.” In addition, the microgrids are coming up in a big way, because there are still a lot of villages in India where they are not connected with electricity, according to Nilesh. “By using solar and battery storages and then non-electrical energy sources and that integration on the cloud, I could see a lot of technology, implementation, integration and real-time monitoring will happen in time to come,” he adds.

From a state-discom perspective, Sabyasachi Majumdar, Senior Vice President & Group Head, Corporate Sector ratings, ICRA, says, “Many state-discoms are in challenge where the smart meters are not in place and even when they are in place, they are not being extensively utilised. In many of these states, we see that the real AT&C losses are much higher than in a scenario where smart metering was being done. So, on one hand, it shows why these discoms are at a loss, but it also gives us a roadmap as to how we could reduce the losses by using the whole gamut of smart electricity activities.” According to him, now, the challenge is that substantial funding would be required in smart metering, as many of these discoms are financially not in a very healthy position. 

According to Vivek Sarwate, Head – Distribution Systems, Smart Infrastructure, Siemens India, there are a lot of policies coming in and definitely, there is a move towards becoming more and more smarter. However, the key question is the pace of implementation. “A change is needed in the speed of implementation of these technologies. The second thing, which is also important is to start looking at the total cost of ownership,” he adds.

Sabyasachi says, “In contrast to the weak performance of the state-owned discoms, the performance of the distribution utilities owned by private corporates remains healthy over the years. This is supported by superior operating efficiencies as reflected from the lower-than normative distribution losses and healthy collection efficiencies. However, one must note that these utilities primarily operate in the urban areas, thus, benefiting from a favourable customer profile comprising domestic, commercial and industrial consumers.”

Making power economical 

According to Sabyasachi, a one percent reduction in distribution losses would lead to a savings of `50 billion per annum on an all-India basis on a marginal cost basis. The savings would further increase over the long term. Technology helps to make the entire power system economical and the path towards smart electricity will lead to efficiency and economy.

Animesh says, “Our Hon’ble Prime Minister had laid a special emphasis on the overhaul of India’s energy ecosystem. He has previously delineated seven levers of change in the sector, which will act as the pillars upon which the new energy system shall be built. These pillars are – accelerating efforts to move towards a gas-based economy, electric mobility to decarbonise the transport sector, exploration of fuels like Hydrogen, cleaner use of existing fossil fuels, increased focus on domestic fuels to drive biofuels, achieving the renewable energy target of 450 GW by 2030 and most importantly the permeation of digital innovation across all energy systems.

The creation of a digitalised and interconnected energy ecosystem is a key imperative. We have already begun moving in this direction, with the advent of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Smart metering is the first step towards the creation of a smart grid and great progress has been made in this regard.” 

Technology support 

According to Animesh, delicensing, decentralisation, digitalisation and decarbonisation are the key game-changing disruptions that can modernise the power sector and help overcome the existing loopholes in the country’s power system. These trends are paving the way for new models for improving customer service, based on digital disruption and customer-centricity.

Nilesh says, “Technology will be judged based on the reliability and the cost what we are spending. We have to identify the suitable technology at the best available cost.” 

Vivek says, “The choice of a technology will completely depend on what the problem is and we have to ensure whether the technology works.” According to him, Indian energy requirements are poised to grow at a rapid pace and the awareness on the need for smarter electricity and optimisation is also improving. 

Role of smart meters 

Animesh says, “Smart metering is one of the most comprehensive tools in the Indian distribution sector’s arsenal to usher in a new milieu of energy measurability. The Smart Meter National Programme, has seen over 16 lakh smart meters installed across the country, resulting in a large-scale reform of the sector. These smart meter deployments have already borne fruit. DISCOMs using AMI have seen a marked increase in monthly revenue. Smart meters are also making DISCOMs agile by offering lead indicators on demand and mitigating the need for manual checking. They enable auto collection of meters read over the air, reducing the need for manual intervention, remote connect/disconnect and enabling digital payments of bills. What we need now is an increased appetite from DISCOMs in adopting new and innovative measures such as smart metering.”

According to Sunil, smart metering will be the fundamental technology piece which will help to collate data from all the new nodes getting introduced in the electrical system along with the older nodes. Therefore, when we are indicating ‘smart’, it means the technology which is helping us to efficiently utilise our resource to the maximum benefit of the society as a whole in the least cost.

Nilesh says, “So far as the future of the smart meter and its technology and implementation in concerned, we are very positive on our experience in Delhi and Mumbai. And rather that is why we are going ahead in Odisha because every utility has its own challenges.” According to Sabyasachi, installation of prepaid smart meters, feeder separation in rural areas, upgrading distribution systems and improving billing and collection mechanism, are some measures needed. 

According to Harmanjit Nagi, Managing Director, EDF India, smart meters can help manage electricity more efficiently by preventing data entry errors and lowering the cost of manual metering. 

Vinit Mishra, Director – Technology Consulting, Ernst & Young LLP, says that modernising India’s grid system by investing in smart metering promises to mitigate several strains placed on the grid due to growing demand for electricity. In particular, AMI will improve these key features of India’s grid system in many ways. 

The road ahead

According to Animesh, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that US$13tn will be needed to bolster power transmission and distribution networks across the globe through 2050. This will require a collaborative effort from governments, private players and financial institutions. 

“The National Electricity Policy 2021 seeks to make electricity available to all households in the next five years. It is also focused on facilitating the supply of reliable and quality power of specified standards in an efficient manner and at reasonable rates. The policy covers a gamut of areas such as grid operation, power markets, regulatory process, energy efficiency, optimal generation mix, transmission, distribution among others. There is also a clear focus on making India’s energy system smarter and more agile, as it seeks to provide a fillip to interventions such as Electric Vehicle charging stations and smart meters,” he adds. 

Nilesh says, “It is important to make the power equipment smarter and communicable. For this the use of sensors is inevitable. In time to come, we need to have the sensors which give the information before doing a wrong operation.” 

Sabyasachi adds, “While smart electricity measures are a positive for the sector, timely implementation remains very crucial. Along with policy and regulatory changes, political will and support from states remains important.” 

According to Vivek, battery energy storage will pick up in upcoming years that will be very important to remove peaks and e-charging will happen more and more, as electricity is the cleanest form of energy. A lot of regulation is also happening with the government pushing the FAME scheme. These are the trends which are going to happen in the coming days, months and years. And they are going to really drive how we make electricity smarter,” Vivek concludes

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