Technology Makeover

New solutions help the sector improve its operational performance

The emergence of information and operational technology solutions has transformed the power sector. Internet of things (IoT) solutions have transformed network and plant monitoring and asset management resulting in better operational performance. Traditional transmission and distribution networks are being replaced by smarter grids, and utilities are adopting newer technologies such as digital substations and real-time data acquisition systems. Utilities are also exploring new digital tools such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) as they look to reap the benefits of advanced technologies.

Digitalisation of power generation

The digitalisation of power plant equipment entails the deployment of sensors, actuators, digital controllers and supervisory computers. Through feedback control loops, plant processes and performance can be monitored. One of the key uses of digitalisation in power generation is for asset management. The use of industrial internet of things (IIoT)  including permanently mounted wireless vibration and skin temperature sensors on critical equipment have helped in  condition monitoring.

Another emerging technology solution for power plants is the digital twin. It is a digital replica of a plant asset that uses algorithms and models based on AI and ML to predict the future performance of the plant. Besides this, 3D printing is another cost-effective digital solution that is used in the power generation segment for maintaining spare readiness.

Notably, digital solutions are fast gaining traction in the power generation segment. A case in point is NTPC Limited, which is implementing various technology solutions at its Simhadri super thermal power project  on a proof of concept basis. Through advanced process control technologies, including combustion and soot blowing optimisation and model predictive closed loop pressure control, NTPC aims to improve the heat rate, maintain reliable power operations and ensure stable minimum load operations. For advanced management of the coal stockyard, the genco is undertaking 3D profiling for volumetric analysis and hotspot detection. Following the successful execution of the pilot project, NTPC plans to deploy these solutions across all its plants.

Emerging power transmission technologies

One of the key emerging technologies in the power transmission segment is digital substation. A digital substation entails the implementation of a process bus based on the IEC 61850 protocol. The process bus replaces hard-wired connections with communication lines, which allows the deployment of the optical fibre network (Ethernet based) in place of copper wiring between intelligent electronic devices. In August 2019, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid) set up the first new digital substation in Chandigarh.

Powergrid is the pioneer in the adoption of new and emerging technology solutions in the transmission segment. In 2019, the company completed the geographic information system mapping of transmission lines. It has developed a tablet-based tower patrolling software as well as an automatic fault analysis system, which offers auto analysis in case of tripping. The transco is currently developing an asset health index based on online equipment data and historical offline data, and expects to complete it by 2020. In another development, Sterlite Power plans to take the assistance of robots for the installation of optical ground wire on high voltage power transmission lines. Earlier, the installation of such high sensitive equipment was carried out by humans.

Smart grid

Five smart grid projects are being developed under the National Smart Grid Mission at a total investment of Rs 6.86 billion. They are located in Chandigarh (two projects), Ranchi, Rourkela and Kochi. Expected to cover over 750,000 consumers, these projects are at various stages of execution.

Apart from this, 11 smart grid pilot projects developed under the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) have achieved go-live status. A Smart Grid Knowledge Centre has been set up at Manesar, which serves as a unique set-up for showcasing live working models of smart grid functionalities and imparting training and capacity building skills.

Power distribution

In the power distribution segment, the deployment of smart meters is gaining traction. The power ministry’s Smart Meter National Programme envisages the installation of 250 million smart meters. The programme is being executed across Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation area. As many as 567,343 meters have been installed so far.

At the sub-transmission and distribution levels, under the IPDS, discoms are implementing enterprise resource planning through modules such as human resource management, finance and accounts, and purchase and stores. Real-time data acquisition systems, which entails the setting up of mini field remote terminal units at substations, standardisation protocols for communication, and cybersecurity compliance, are being set up across 2,435 towns.

Besides this, in the power distribution segment, utilities are adopting various other initiatives for improving operational efficiency, enhancing consumer satisfaction and network strengthening. For instance, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited is managing the load across its feeders by online monitoring of the load loss factor of the feeders. This has helped the discom in reducing technical losses.

Electric vehicles

On the back of recent policy developments, the deployment of EVs is expected to gain traction. The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India Phase II (FAME India Phase II) scheme has wider scope as well as higher financial outlay in comparison to its predecessor. Further, the MoP has issued guidelines allowing the setting up of public charging stations as a delicensed activity. Besides this, a significant shot in the arm for the segment was the goods and services tax on EVs being reduced from 12 per cent to 5 per cent while that on EV chargers has been reduced from 18 per cent to 5 per cent on EVs and chargers effective August 1, 2019. To promote the assembly of EVs in India, the government reduced tariffs on imported parts of EVs in January 2019. With these initiatives, new and established industry players in the automotive, charging infrastructure, battery and mobility service segments are making investments and forging partnerships to develop and test new products and business models. A recent NITI Aayog report, prepared jointly with the Rocky Mountain Institute, India’s Electric Mobility Transformation: Progress to Date and Future Opportunities, noted that India could realise EV sales penetration of 30 per cent of private cars, 70 per cent of commercial cars, 40 per cent of buses and 80 per cent of two- and three-wheelers by 2030.

Battery storage solutions

The deployment of energy storage solutions (ESS) is another emerging technology solution in the power sector. ESS plays a key role in grid balancing especially with large-scale renewable energy integration and EV penetration into the grid. In the ESS space, the deployment of batteries is gaining momentum due to fast response time. In the Union Budget 2019, the government has proposed to launch a competitive bidding scheme to set up mega-manufacturing plants based on sunrise and advanced technologies such as lithium storage batteries.

New digital tools

Blockchain is a distributed data processing technology, which enables all users participating in the network to distribute and store data. Applying blockchain technology to the smart grid will ensure secure management of energy data, and contribute to the development of the future smart energy industry. It could pave the way for sophisticated decentralised networks that manage the entire distributed energy value chain in a more disintermediated and efficient way. This includes the management of power generation and distribution, sales, billing, payments, innovative financing mechanisms, contract management, and trading and incentives. In the renewable energy segment, blockchain could enable local generators such as rooftop solar plant owners to sell power through peer-to-peer transactions. Although application of blockchain is yet to be taken up in the country, various preliminary studies are under way to study its impact on the Indian power sector.

Other new emerging technologies are AI and ML, which hold the potential to significantly transform the way power is generated and distributed. These can be used across the value chain, based on the needs and requirements of utilities as well as desired outcome. AI and ML modules could be developed based on the analytics of the data collected by the sensors installed in the system. For greater cost efficiency and network reliability, predictive maintenance will require algorithms based on large amounts of data available through IoT, SCADA, outage management system, static meters/advance metering infrastructure for the prediction of faults, and timely and targeted maintenance. Another critical application of digital and analytics is fraud detection and revenue assurance. Further, the roll-out of smart grids has resulted in a variety of structured and unstructured data being generated from multiple sources.

Conclusion

Net, net, although a host of technology solutions are available in the power sector for enhancing operational performance and improving reliability, the best-suited technology must be adopted based on utility requirements and cost-benefit analysis. Besides this, the emergence of digital technologies is posing cybersecurity threats, which need to be managed with well defined security standards. Furthermore, addressing the issue of interoperability and formulating standard and benchmarks would go a long way in the swifter adoption of new technology solutions in the power sector.

Priyanka Kwatra

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