Stepping into a Digital Future

Utilities adapt to changing business needs

At the fifth edition of the India Smart Utility Week 2019, an international conference and exhibition on smart grids and smart cities organised by the India Smart Grid Forum, industry experts and government heads came together to discuss the future of the country’s power utility segment. The following are the highlights of the panel discussion during the inaugural session…

Smart utilities are critical components of low-carbon economies. The key to achieving the goals of a smart utility-based economy is combining new technology with the existing infrastructure while ensuring that essential services are provided to the masses at affordable prices. It is important to find more sustainable and alternative options of energy. It is also important to use decentralised forms of energy for better allocation of resources. India’s ambitious renewable energy target of 175 GW by 2022 will need support from smart technologies. To this end, EDF was recently awarded a major contract by Energy Efficiency Services Limited to deploy 5 million smart meters, which will help India achieve the smart grid mission.

Digital growth

It is important to understand the collective global challenge of ensuring long-term sustainability of resources while reducing emission intensity and addressing climate change issues. A smart metering system is needed to lower costs, enhance cybersecurity, monetise data, and ensure data privacy. Smart metering helps leverage the benefits of digitalisation and enables the centralisation of systems. Given its benefits, smart metering technology is gaining traction. Systematic engineering has also gained importance in this context.

The quality of power still remains a critical issue. Currently, there are only four discoms with positive cash flows. In such a scenario, cybersecurity, utility transformation and provision of cheap and reliable power will turn around the performance of discoms. Key issues in ramping up the smart grid system include high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of Indian utilities. It has been observed that the reduction in human intervention helps bring down AT&C losses of several utilities. Thus, it is important that utilities adopt these methods to reduce their AT&C losses.

In view of the growing climate and environmental concerns, renewable energy generation has become necessary. To this end, adopting new and innovative business models based on digital solutions is vital. Digital solutions are essential for sustainable smart grids and smart cities as well as successful business operations. Data storage, artificial intelligence, predictive maintenance, etc. are needed for operating businesses digitally. Their deployment is expected to gain further momentum in the coming years.

Key challenges

While Indian masses are aware of digitalisation, they lack access to power, which is required to drive digital technology. While consumers are pushing to improve their lives with technological advancements, new digital technologies are gaining traction, creating a favourable ecosystem for a digital future. Three key elements of the digital future are advanced technologies, cybersecurity and privacy around sensitive data, and enhanced consumer experience. A large amount of power will need to be generated and transported to all consumers in order to shape the digital future. With the electrification schemes reaching almost all cities, the coming years will see an increased rate of development and urbanisation in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. About 200 million rural inhabitants are expected to be urbanised over the next 15 years. With this, the per capita consumption is also expected to increase, from 1,200 units per year at present to 4,500 units per year in the next few years.

In the transport sector, two/three/four-wheelers have started moving towards electric vehicles. Going forward, the challenge for utilities is to bridge the gap between the baseload and peak load. Smart devices and meters will help resolve such issues. For utilities, the emphasis should be on data analytics, preventive maintenance and transforming into an end-to-end digital utilities.

Key initiatives

NEDO smart grid project

The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO)-funded smart grid project in Panipat, Haryana, has been successful on various fronts. About 10,000 smart meters have been installed in the area and the number of load breaking switches has also increased. The project has reduced power outages by 75 per cent while losses have reduced by 50 per cent. Further, the communication network for smart meters has achieved a success rate of 100 per cent. These technologies can boost profit levels, reduce power outages and improve electricity supply.

Powergrid

The country is close to achieving 100 per cent household electrification, with only a few households left to be electrified. This has resulted in higher electricity consumption, while the share of electricity in energy consumption is also expected to go up. Apart from this, reliable power supply is needed to support the Make in India and e-mobility initiatives. Further, setting up a transmission network to evacuate renewable energy generation is challenging given the variable power supply and shorter project gestation periods associated with renewable energy sources. Renewable energy currently accounts for 21 per cent of the total installed capacity. In order to manage the variability of power supply from renewable energy sources, dynamic compensation devices are being installed. To minimise the right-of-way requirement for transmission network expansion, Powergrid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid) is deploying extra-high voltage systems, high temperature low sag technology and gas-insulated switchgear substations. For asset management, the company is using technology solutions such as hotline maintenance and thermovision scanning.

ISGAN

The International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN)  aims to support the accelerated deployment of smarter grid technologies and enable various knowledge transfer projects involving all stakeholders. These projects explore emerging subjects, such as microgrids and regulatory interventions. It is important to recognise that smart energy systems require policy transformation as they have significant cost implications.

ISGAN works on the themes of flexibility and digitalisation linked to the increasing penetration of variable renewable energy. Smart grids can help reduce variability and its impact with the help of flexible systems, thus ensuring the smooth integration of renewable energy.

EU-India partnership

Since the EU-India Summit in 2016, various stakeholders have come together to discuss the needs, expectations and challenges in businesses. The aim of related agreements is to come up with business solutions to enable the integration of different business dimensions. All issues related to smart cities, smart grids, etc. are ranked high on the business and political agendas. The current challenge for countries is to find new solutions for smart grids. India has an important advantage, that is, the opportunity to build smart cities equipped with modern technology. To this end, the European Union (EU) has been collaborating with India in areas like energy efficiency, regulations and smart infrastructure.

Conclusion

Ajay Kumar Bhalla, secretary, Ministry of Power, highlighted that the generation and transmission segments have improved manyfold since the implementation of the Electricity Act, 2003. The generation segment has seen increased private participation and large-scale integration of renewables into the grid. Transmission, too, has seen the augmentation of interregional capacities. However, a lot needs to be done in distribution segment, where the losses are still high. While utilities have implemented financial restructuring schemes, various structural issues are yet to be addressed. Therefore, there is a need to expand distribution infrastructure, primarily in rural areas, to ensure 24×7 electricity supply. Further, once power reliability improves, it would set the ball rolling for greater economic development. India’s efforts on the energy efficiency front have also been internationally acclaimed. The LED programme has reduced LED prices, while other initiatives such as the Energy Conservation Building Code and the Perform, Achieve and Trade scheme are ensuring that the commitments under the Paris Agreement are met on time.

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