Growth Engine: Building smart grids for smart cities

Building smart grids for smart cities

Simarpreet Singh, Director, Strategy, Hartek Group

According to the 2011 Census, 31 per cent of India’s population lives in urban areas and contributes 63 per cent to the country’s GDP. By 2030, urban India is projected to house 40 per cent of the population with a contribution of 75 per cent towards the GDP. To cope with the pressures of a fast growing population and increasing urbanisation on the available resources, the central government is developing 100 cities as “smart cities”, which will involve the development of a sustainable urban ecosystem that drives economic growth and enhances the quality of life through technological applications, infrastructure development and improved services.

An engine of growth for the economy, smart cities involve a comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure that caters to the futuristic requirements of rapidly growing urban hubs through reliable and efficient operations. While a smart city is characterised by features like assured electricity and water supply, proper sanitation, solid waste management, information and communication technology (ICT) applications, efficient public transport, robust IT connectivity and digitalisation, efficient power supply is a prerequisite for all the processes of a smart city, its very backbone. Efficient electricity supply, in turn, depends on an efficient transmission infrastructure, which is characterised by smart grid applications.

Although smart electricity in a typical smart city is marked by features like sustainability, affordability and smart and automated metering, it all starts with making a grid smart and responsive. Smart grids have a crucial role to play in any smart city by ensuring reliable and efficient power supply through the adoption of technological applications like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). So, it is smart grids that make smart cities. The automated and computerised applications used under SCADA to detect faults and identify faulty equipment not only reduce the need for manpower but also bring down costs, aided by lower operations and maintenance expenses, and ensure a faster response. Besides, outages are fewer and the time taken to rectify faults is considerably reduced.

An integral part of a smart grid technology, SCADA systems are equipped with a self-correcting mechanism, enabling collection and storage of information relating to any indications for troubleshooting and maintenance, thus making the power systems smart and robust. Acquiring real-time data and controlling signals at the same time are extremely crucial for any state discom so that the power system network is well equipped to deal with any major or minor fault. Turning all the grids into smart grids by replacing the conventional relays with SCADA relays will enable discoms to control the grids, and hence create a robust power system. ICT in smart grids will help them improve their analysis in areas like customer load patterns and tariffs, which will further result in better services to consumers.

To put it simply, a smart grid is an electrical grid that includes a variety of operational and energy measures, including smart meters, smart appliances, renewable energy resources and energy efficient technologies. It involves increased use of digital information and technology to improve the reliability, security and efficiency of the grid, dynamic optimisation of grid operations and resources, deployment and integration of distributed resources and generation, introduction of real-time, automated and interactive technologies that optimise the functioning of appliances, and integration of smart appliances and consumer devices. A smart city can optimise electricity consumption by recording real-time data pertaining to residential, commercial and industrial spaces through hassle-free smart grids, which modernise power systems through automation, remote monitoring and microgrids, making the power infrastructure more sustainable and resilient.

The other features of a typical smart grid that can help reduce losses and bring more efficiency are distribution management system, distribution automation system, energy management system, automated meter reading, outage management system, enterprise resource planning and geographic information system. A robust smart grid also requires the introduction of a wide area measurement system (WAMS)-based technology for optimising grid performance. The installation of phasor measurement units (PMUs) is a prerequisite for WAMS. In fact, the existing interface involving SCADA/EMS-based grid operations can give the desired results through the introduction of PMU-based technologies.

Taking decisive steps to come up with more comprehensive and scalable digital-age electricity grids, the central government has embarked on the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) by committing a total outlay of Rs 9.80 billion, out of which Rs 3.38 billion will be spent during the Twelfth Plan period. The union power ministry has allocated more than 90 per cent of the outlay for the development of smart grids in smart cities. The NSGM has launched 14 smart grid pilot projects under the guidance of the Power Grid Corporation of India and the Central Power Research Institute to develop advanced metering infrastructure, demand response and charging infrastructure for electrical vehicles.

While smart grid technology is a necessary condition for making transmission and distribution infrastructure capable of handling large amounts of electricity being injected into the grid, it is also ideal for the integration of large-scale renewable energy systems. The sustainable development of smart cities is ideally supported by environment-friendly solar energy devices. In a country like India with abundant sunlight, solar energy can meet a substantial part of our future energy needs. Besides harnessing this clean energy in large solar plants and integrating the electricity produced with the national power grid, smart cities will also have integrated rooftop solar harvesting in all major buildings, railway and metro stations, schools, hospitals and residential complexes, thereby making efficient use of space. The decentralised solar energy thus produced will be integrated into smart grids to serve local communities.

It has been mandated that 10 per cent of the smart cities’ energy requirements will come from solar power. With a plan to develop 100 such cities, the rate of renewable energy usage will go up in the country in times to come. But for renewable energy to merge seamlessly into the main grid, the grid itself needs to have smarter systems and applications.

Smart grid technologies will throw open more opportunities for solar power by providing a new energy value chain through the linking of renewable and conventional power generation, so as to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Smart grids will help streamline distributed solar power generation, using rooftop solar arrays to feed electricity into the grid during the day to meet peak demand. As this happens, individual house owners and business units will be encouraged to invest in solar power generation as it will allow them to sell the surplus solar energy to local power utilities and earn from it.

With the advent of solar-powered smart cities, India is poised for exponential growth in the rooftop solar segment. Smart cities can go a long way in promoting solar energy applications on a large and sustainable scale. Solar applications like street lights, water heaters and rooftop solar can, in turn, be a game changer in not only developing cleaner and greener cities but also creating more employment opportunities. All we need to do is smarten up our act and keep at it to get things going.