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Smart grid: An ultimate solution to India’s power crisis

An analysis on how smart grid can minimise power losses and latest offerings

Smart grid is expected to play an important role in Indian power sector to meet the power crises because it will provide information in both ways that is from generation to consumer and vice versa. It will provide more reliable and efficient power to all. Smart grid can offer a lot of potential economic and environmental benefits and significance such as: Improved reliability of power quality and transmission, increased power distribution efficiency and conservation, reduced costs for electric utilities, reduced expenditures on electricity by households and businesses, lower greenhouse gas (GHG) and other gas emissions. “While smart grid deployments world over have seen mixed responses, it is important that while choosing technology; reliability and scalability of the solution proposed must be given due importance,” states Jaideep Mukherjee, Head of India, South East Asia & Africa (ISEAA).

He adds “It may become a win-win solution if all the stake holders’ benefits have been taken care while designing the solution. However, for any technology implementation each aspect of people, policy and processes needs to be reviewed and necessary changes and amendments should be done to make it a success.”

Energy efficiency is the biggest concern of Indian power sector. The transmission and distribution losses are estimated to be in the range of 25 per cent. Losses due to theft further add to this number. A smarter and more resilient grid is a necessity, believes Chander Goel, System Applications Lead (MCU), Texas Instruments. He observes, “The talks for implementation of smart grids have been going on for a long times. A lot of investment has been made over running the pilots. It is now time to come out with the final plan and the corresponding standards so that all the investment and efforts may start giving positive results.”

Speaking about how smart grid can be ultimate solution for India’s power crises S. C. Bhargava, Senior VP & Head of L&T Electrical & Automation says, “Now that India has reached a situation where the demand – supply gap has narrowed, if not reversed, the focus is on efficient evacuation, distribution and usage of electricity. Implementation of an effective demand response system is a dream of all utilities. The entire value chain of power is dependent on this consumption demand-response curve. Therefore, once the smart grid solution is successfully implemented for distribution utilities, among the other benefits, it will help them to make more accurate forecast for the demand which will eventually make the generators operate in a more predictable and optimised environment. The overall grid management will be more intelligent.”

As per Dhananjay Kulkarni, COO, Maven Systems Pvt. Ltd to optimise anything, first step is measurement. Smart grid allows measuring the usage and associating it with usage patterns. It allows to identify tasks needed to fix the distribution and transmission losses. Smart grid installations elsewhere in the world show conclusive proof of huge savings.

On the other hand Vinod Raphael, Country Business Head- Omron Electronic & Mechanical Components Business, India believes that smart grid is not ultimate solution but can play major role is solving India’s power crises. He says, “It is not the ultimate solution but could definitely play a great role in solving the issue. India ranks 5th in the world in terms of installed capacity, however more than 300 million people do not have access to electricity. This indicates a deep mismatch between demand and supply. A smart grid not only helps in narrowing down this mismatch by allowing real time management of the distribution and usage of electricity but also helps to curb power losses which are one of most ungovernable challenges faced by the utilities affecting sustainable availability of electricity round the clock at the right cost.”

The losses are actually causing a much deeper impact than what it appears. They give rise to a vicious cycle – utilities running into losses leading to increased power tariff leading to more burden on the end user which ultimately results into more unscrupulous ways to steal power. The utilities cannot manage this gap by increasing the supply.

On the other hand, howsoever one makes the meter safe and tamper proof; there still exist a chance of tampering it. There are innumerable kinds of tampering which cannot be accurately tracked. So the utilities feel at loss to identify the real threats and gauge the situation to come up with preventive mechanisms and take corrective actions.

Hence, a smart meter enabled grid with advanced technology based solutions can detect various types of tampering accurately and can empower the utilities to curb the menace permanently which is a big step towards managing the crisis.
Raphael adds, “A grid providing the utilities clear and accurate real –time information is a much needed resource to manage the situation by following a much comprehensive approach.”

Minimising power losses
Power losses are caused due to variety of reasons. Main ones being theft, outdated equipment, imbalance between demand and supply.

Explaining how smart grid can minimise power losses Kulkarni says, “Smart grid solutions are expected to collect power consumption data at different points – individual houses, industries and commercial establishments, transformers, and other infrastructure switching points. This creates a first necessary step of identifying location of losses.”

Once the location is identified, the field staff of electricity company can visit the location and identify root cause theft or equipment or wiring and fix it.

He adds, “Similarly by aggregating the demand of all the locations, the power generation can be planned in a better manner thus avoiding waste.”

Mukherjee believes in general, losses are estimated from the discrepancy between power produced and power consumed is that the difference between what is produced and what is consumed constitute transmission and distribution losses, assuming no theft of utility occurs. However, the characteristic of smart grid together with technologies required to build a smart grid will provide an efficient transmission system with low power loss in electric power transmission system. As the meters are connected online hence the information of tamper or theft occurrence can be available to the utility. Utilities need to have a strong data analytics system and take corrective action on issues reported/analysed. “Smart grid will be an outcome of an evolutionary development of the existing electricity networks with an optimised and sustainable energy system,” he adds.

Smart grid refers to the capability of a power grid to provide end to end bidirectional communication of information. The bygone grids were incapable of reporting faults or thefts instantaneously to the generation and distribution system. This caused massive power losses over long periods of time. “The smarter grids are more resilient in nature by the fact that they can run on-the-go diagnostics and update the results instantaneously and in further advanced implementations can run self-correction mechanisms. All these capabilities help minimise the power losses to a great extent,” informs Goel.
The objective of the implementation of smart grid is to reduce AT&C losses for the utilities and provide them with necessary information required for planning their operation towards enhancing efficiency, believes Bhargava. He adds, “At the same time, it aims to empower consumers to take informed decision regarding their energy consumption like shifting usage from peak to off-peak hours etc. Ultimately, it will make the utility – consumer interaction transparent.”

The near-time availability of information from energy meters regarding tamper or malfunction and the facility to remotely disconnect / curtail / connect loads based on defaults / peak loads will help smoothen the demand curve as well as plug losses. “The analysis of data on energy consumption and networks will bring out important insight like the loading of individual DTs and, thereby will help prevent overloading of DTs and eventual failure of them, he adds.

Meters strengthening smart grid
Smart meters are the heart of the smart grid. Since all decision making will happen on the basis of data captured by the meters, it is extremely important that the meters are reliable, robust and compliant to the latest standard. “Once the meters are able to record and provide accurate data through a communication backbone, the rest of the solution suite will use this data and create the necessary decision support system. Hence, in this sense, meters are the key to a successful smart grid,” states Bhargava.

Meters are the ultimate measuring points of the energy consumed, believes Kulkarni. He says, “When meters are part of smart grid, one can easily monitor real transmission and distribution losses, geographical areas where thefts are more rampant, areas where maintenance is needed, and in case of overload, the areas which are causing it.”

Smart meters has the ability to communicate believes Raphael. He says “They can do it in many ways. The ability of smart meters to ‘communicate’ is one the key factors that makes a grid smarter and sturdier. They digitally send signals to the energy suppliers to ensure more accuracy in energy bills. They give the consumers a real time insight into their energy usage which helps them to efficiently manage their electricity consumption and also the flexibility to switch over from non-renewable to renewable sources of electricity.”

Agreeing upon Raphael’s views Mukherjee also says, “Meter is a critical component in smart grid. In order to have two-way communication or two ways information flows between generations to consumer there is a need to have a device which is communicable and should also have controlling mechanism. This type of meters are called smart meters, which beside measuring the electrical parameters it also provides consumer as well as utility to have control on various things like demand / load management, choice to use or not to use, connect / disconnect, consumption information etc. This will also have major role in doing demand side management or load control applications. Also emphasis on system metering to monitor and analyse should be done so that information available from the meters can be used for taking corrective measures. Therefore, smart meters will play an important role in smart grid.”

As per Goel the smart energy meters provide last mile connectivity to the smart grid. They are also the interface between the consumer and the utility. With the smart meters together with the newer technologies in data analytics a more efficient system can be put in place to enable dynamic tariffing, load segregation, instantaneous detection of faults, thefts and tampers and prepayment systems. A more aware consumer can leverage the capabilities of smart meters to analyse his/her consumption profile and then optimise it which will benefit both the consumer and the utility.

Offerings from the players
Successful smart grid solutions hinge on three pivots. First is the selection of robust, reliable and compliant smart meters. L&T is the largest manufacturer of high-end energy meters for over 2 decades and has in-house technology to design and manufacture such meters.

The second success factor is the capability to design, integrate and deploy communication, automation and the IT layers over these smart meters for information management and analytics of various smart grid functionalities. “L&T, through its more than 2 decades of experience and capability of automation and systems integration is best positioned to design and deploy the most optimum solution,” claims Bhargava.
He adds, “In fact, L&T is ready with an end-to-end solution for the integration of smart meters with various application layers and, ultimately with a mobile app for the management of energy flow. Other than the review of consumption pattern and real time energy data, the mobile app has the capability to provide even operation features like connection or disconnection status details.”

The third success factor is the capability of Implementation Agency (SGIA) in terms of project management as well as the financial lever.

Therefore, L&T is uniquely positioned to address the smart grid projects in the country, where its core competencies will be fully leveraged.

Maven Systems
Maven Systems offers solutions for last mile connectivity for data gathering, making periodic data available on the cloud for analytics. The alerts based on analytics include sudden spike in demand or losses indicating possible theft, demand beyond expected thresholds if left unattended may result in to outage and various tampers. Long
term trend analytics is used for demand forecasting by season of the year (summer / festivals), day of the week (weekday vs weekends), and time of the day (morning / evening / night) and so on.

OMRON’s endeavours to enable utilities with varied advanced ‘Sensing & Control + THINK’ solutions so
that they are able to manage perennial issues affecting the availability and distribution of electricity in the following ways:

• Solutions making the smart meters tamper evident: Omron tamper detection sensor and AC latching relay underline the pressing need of finding a long term solution to the perpetual challenge of power theft caused by tampering in the electricity meters. The company’s solutions enable the utilities to not only detect and track all key types of tampering, in homes and commercial buildings, but also disconnect the power supply remotely and appropriately if tampering or non-payment is observed.
• Technology to efficiently manage the behaviour of distribution lines: This is a new product concept under development. Omron has wireless power sensor for the distribution companies facing the issue of power theft at the distribution lines. The sensor detects hooking and other means of tampering as well as harmonics and load balancing on the distribution lines.
• Smart solutions for asset management at the sub-stations: In this category, the company has Omron photo electric and fence sensors depicting their ability to detect and indicate unauthorised access to sensitive areas to manage and monitor the safety and security of valuable assets.

Texas Instruments
Texas Instruments offers semiconductor solutions for each and every component of the smart grid right from generation to distribution. These involve solutions for circuit breakers, smart meters, electric vehicle charging stations, grid automation and communications as well as for renewable energy generation and storage. TI has a vast portfolio of semiconductor products ranging from micro-controllers and processors, analog front-ends, wired and wireless communications chipsets, high-speed ADCs, power conversion solutions, interface and isolation products that can become the ideal building blocks for the smart grid systems.

Informing about the company’s offering for smart grid solutions Mukherjee says, “We have numerous smart grid solution starting from consumer’s house for controlling load namely programmable temperature controllers, in-home display devices for consumer to see energy consumption and load pattern, smart meters with switch and modular communication (RF Mesh / GPRS / etc), head-end system and other applications which can help in executing smart grid project in distribution segment. Beside this we also have products and solution for transmission and distribution. The meters have multiple communication options.”

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