Guest Column

Energy Internet: Disruption for Smarter Grid System

Derek Hao, President, Enterprise Business Group, Huawei India highlights how smart grids have the opportunity to leverage the emerging technological innovations in the energy systems.

We are living in an era of disruption, where technology has transformed every industrial vertical by leveraging a plethora of innovative applications. Indeed, there is a technological revolution underway, with cloud computing, robotics and IoT among others changing the way business operations are conducted. Owing to digital enablement, there is a fundamental shift in trade, wherein consumer empowerment has gained prominence. This presents a competitive landscape allowing for developments in the most basic yet crucial infrastructural including the energy vertical. The recent developments in energy utilities sector reflect a series of functional disruptions at various fronts. These are acceleration in renewables, digital grid installations and optimum utilisation of technological advancements in the transmission and distribution system across the country.

Utilities like the smart grid have the opportunity to leverage the emerging technological innovations in the energy systems. The application of information technology, tools and techniques makes the grid run more efficiently, balancing electrical consumption with supply as it possesses demand response capacity. Cloud computing especially has the ability to fortify the smart grid structure in India and other infrastructural efficacies.

India can become an emblematic case in point here. Given, that the national electricity generation is still dominated by the coal-based thermal power plants, there exists a gap between the increasing demand and limited supply of power. Some of the ways suggested to mitigate this are- increasing the number of power plants or increasing the efficiency of existing plants and connecting them in a mesh system- as Huawei calls it “Energy Internet”. Connecting power utilities, grids and customers through the new-age networking systems powered by cloud computing and Big Data solutions, makes energy distribution to become a two-way process. Here, the demand data from end-users can be fed back to providers, with capacity and services adjusted in real-time. All faults in the transmission line can be flagged off instantly and routing shifted consequently.

A major technology solution that can be utilised by power companies can be PLC-IoT solution which creates a power line communication channel transmission model that can select the best signal transmission frequency. In addition, based on tests and analysis, the solution obtains the characteristics of power line communication channels, such as signal attenuation, impedance, and noises. Accordingly, the solution provides effective anti-noise and anti-attenuation technologies which greatly improves power line communication performance and realises high-speed, reliable, and real-time long-distance communication.

Another solution that can be applied is the innovative IP hard pipe technology offers SDH-like performance. IP hard pipe divides the bandwidth of a physical interface into two logical parts, one for soft pipe and the other for hard pipe. The soft pipe is suitable for transmitting normal services like office automation and video. The hard pipe is suitable for transmitting mission-critical services like tele-protection.
When setting up new plants, special care should be taken to install the above mentioned supercritical technologies, which will help increase the plant productivity significantly. Ensuring that the plants, old or new, are equipped with latest technology and infrastructure- like the variable frequency drive, so that the plant uses less electricity while running on half-capacity mode-then becomes paramount. Lastly, there needs to be a reduction in the maintenance time and volume by leveraging IT modules catering to various functional requirements. These can be computerised maintenance management system, operation plant performance management system, and business planning module or finance and accounting modules as well.

A smarter grid is also essentially a prerequisite for large-scale power generation from renewable sources such as solar and wind, which are subject to variable geographic conditions. Thus, smart grid installation enhances the credibility and capability of the power sector over all:

  • It ensures a secure and ubiquitous communication network, where a two-way communication from source to end point is possible.
  • Enables real-time response delivery owing to embedded system of supply, automation and control.
  • Enables real-time automatic load optimisation.
  • Predictive model- wherein it can monitor, anticipate and pre-empt line failures.
  • Ensures periodic tracking of demand-supply and peak hour energy consumption.
  • Analytics to manage load and detect any theft.

Understandably, implementation of the smart grid technology will enhance efficiency and reduce transmission and distribution losses significantly. Additionally, given the rise in consumer awareness, there is need for the power utility sector to reduce costs, streamline operations and meet stringent regulations. Digital disruption comes to aid here as well. Bolstering the ICT infrastructures within the electric power grid is one way to improve most of the rigorous operational functions and meeting the environmental goals. Cloud Computing, Big Data and analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) and mobility are leading the ICT industry into a new era. These tech-innovations when integrated with the Power Grid system allow for reliability, energy efficiency and security. They, further, help manage and deliver power in a more flexible and responsive way, thereby conserving cost and time.

The transformation into the smart grid then holds a lot of potential to revolutionise the electricity supply system. As a platform, it integrates, operates and monitors the electrical system and has the ability to provide a better use of existing networks, post upgradation. However, India faces challenges in implementation of smart grid, without mitigating which- a successful grid system will only remain out of bounds. These essentially are high transmission & distribution (T&D) losses, inadequate and outdated grid infrastructure, power theft, low metering efficiency and lack of awareness. The adoption of smart grid in India is a necessity not a luxury; and thus it’s important to incorporate sustainable alternative power resources, develop an indigenous smart grid model, supply power to rural areas and lastly control power pilferage, which calls for good governance infrastructure.

New innovations indeed have created a watershed moment for the power sector, which is here and now. With the rapid evolution of IT capabilities, one can expect an explosion of tech-based solutions for the implementation of the smart grid program. Whether through a wide range of software platforms or energy network, deploying devises and applications – IT in general and cloud computing among other platforms have the ability to bring about an overhaul in the industry. In fact, most of the IoT platforms can be categorised as connectivity-management, device-management, or application-enablement platforms. Enabling the new IoT applications indeed can help the power sector reach beyond connections and truly unleash the power of artificial intelligence to field-level devices.

A recent World Energy Forum report suggests a worldwide water shortage by 2030 which might impact 98 per cent of the total global electric power generation. This makes it all the more important to win the slug-fest between efficiency and power grids. And this is possible only when the utilities build upon the infrastructure with innovative technologies. Globally, many electric power utilities are in a position to leverage these capabilities. However India is yet to integrate the distributed intelligence and analytics in entirety, along with grid modernisation strategies. Eventually, these tactics will help bridge the gap of the power sector with the larger opportunities beyond operational competence like that of smart city.

With a technologically sound energy sector, India will fast track to the global growth levels, since it will support the infrastructural development of the country. Backed by flexible and reliable IT platforms, like the cloud, AI, Data Analytics etc. the existing power grid systems when upgraded, will provide a robust energy infrastructure. This is critical against the background of depleting natural resources and influx of renewables. Also, given the implementation of the various key government schemes such as UDAY DISCOM Yojana and Smart City, a positive intervention of the power industry is then the need of the hour. Thus, all in all disruption- though initially hard, in the long run will give benefits- boosting the smart grid project of the nation.

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