Building Resilient Utilities

The fifth plenary session was on disaster (and pandemic) resilient utilities and cities. The session was moderated by Sanjeev S. Ahluwalia, Advisor, Observer Research Foundation. The session included presentations and addresses by Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs; Karuna Gopal, Founder President, Foundation for Futuristic Cities; Martin Hauske, Energy Segment Sales leader, APAC, Nokia; Akilur Rahman, Hitachi ABB Power Grids; Ashwani Aggarwal, Vice President, BSES Yamuna Power Limited; Mili Majumdar, Managing Director, GBCI; Ravikanth Giddalur, Fluentgrid Limited; and Andress Carvallo, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, CMG, USA.

   Sanjeev S. Ahluwalia, Advisor, Observer Research Foundation

Vaidya started with highlighting the extent of investments that are coming into the infrastructure sector of India. He emphasised the great magnitude of investments that will be directed towards building infrastructure to develop smart cities in the country. He also spoke about other city-wide initiatives such as metro rail projects that have attracted huge investments in the recent past. He pointed out that 49 out of 100 planned smart cities in India fall under the high disaster risk zone and how it would become imperative to keep disaster management a key focal point in the future.

Karuna Gopal, Founder President, Foundation for Futuristic Cities

Gopal began with how the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the world and how India managed to tide over the challenge without any major damage. She further highlighted that the next disaster might just be around the corner and disaster management in cities must be given due importance. She emphasised the need for urban local bodies and utilities to critically analyse technical reports that provide a framework on how to tackle different challenges posed by disasters. She concluded by stating that authorities must always prepare for the worst-case scenario when it comes to disaster management.

Aggarwal also noted that there is a need for urban local bodies and utilities to examine and properly analyse the technical reports provided by the country’s disaster management authorities. He further said that the pandemic has been an extraordinary challenge for power utilities in the country as it has hit their financial backbone. He concluded by stating that resilience to disasters is not only about overcoming the challenges posed by them, but ensuring that these challenges are avoided in the future.

Hauske began by emphasising the importance of communication and automation technology in times of disasters such as the Covid-19 pandemic. He stated that technological advancements can, to a great extent, mitigate the challenges posed by disasters. He cited the example of the California wildfire, where San Diego Gas and Electric did not report a single fire although fire had swept the entire state. This was because San Diego Gas and Electric used sensors that detected any issue on the line.

Rahman began by reiterating how technology can be used to address various challenges that are posed at the time of disasters. The various technological advancements include adoption of IoT; digitisation of operations; increase in cybersecurity; creation of command and control centres; and remote access for efficiency in response. He further highlighted how technological advancements will bring uniformity in operations and ensure an appropriate course of action at the time of disaster.

Majumdar started with highlighting the importance of investing in disaster management systems as each year $4.2 trillion can be saved globally by investing in more resilient infrastructure. She further spoke about GBCI’s PEER (Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal) system, which was modelled after the LEED green building rating system as the country’s first comprehensive, consumer-centric, data-driven system for evaluating power system performance. She concluded by stating that it is critical to build a resilient urban infrastructure both at city level and at the building and campus level in order to be prepared to face disasters in the future.

Giddalur noted that the two groups that have been severely hit by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic are frontline workers and utilities. He further stated that the utilities act as an auxiliary that enable the services from the frontline workers to reach the public. He also highlighted the role that technology and digitalisation of operations played during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how technology has become a critical aspect of utility operations. He concluded that in the future any disaster must be addressed by leveraging the lessons learnt from past experiences.

Carvallo began by speaking about the 2021 Texas power crisis wherein more than 4.5 million households and businesses in Texas were left without power. The power failure could be attributed to the lack of winterisation standards. He highlighted that Texas has an independent power grid, due to which it was amongst the worst hit states. The key solutions to the power crisis are weatherisation of all generation units; switching from rolling blackouts to smart meter disconnects; ensuring natural gas supply for backup generators and improving customer communication.

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