“During smart meter deployment, it is important to keep the customer and the community at the heart of the design”

Interview with Robert HK Demann, Head – Smart Infrastructure, Siemens Limited

1.What are the new and emerging requirements in the power distribution segment, especially in light of the Covid pandemic?

The Covid19 pandemic gave us a massive opportunity to improve Grid Resilience and Flexibility; however, it did take a toll on the power distribution sector. While the reduced demand did result in revenue losses, the need for reliable power increased manifold with the growing demand from essential sectors like hospitals as well as residential demand.

The measures initiated by the Government of India such as the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme to modernize the power distribution infrastructure with a clear focus on reduction of AT&C losses, improvement in the quality, reliability, and affordability of power supply address this need.

The connectivity between Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS), Smart Metering and Asset Management Systems will help distribution utilities reduce outage times, improve grid resiliency, improve asset utilization, reduce costs and improve revenue collection, thus supporting the provision of 24×7 power.

Going ahead, the influx of renewables (proposed addition of 122 GW of renewables by 2022) will pose a challenge to grid stability. This will lead to the rise of micro grids and integration of storage solutions to balance the fluctuating nature and thus availability of different energy sources.

The increased use of digital technology inevitably requires diligent implementation of Cybersecurity solutions. Cyberattacks have become a serious risk factor. The risk of outages in energy networks due to malware attacks will not remain one-off incidents but rather increase in future. Safeguarding critical data and infrastructure from cyberthreats is a rapidly changing battlefield that requires awareness, continuous vigilance, and a consolidated response.

2.What are the key upcoming technologies in modernizing the Smart Grids?

India is expected to have one of the largest urban transformations in the 21st century. The scale of this is best visualized by imagining us adding 1 Mumbai to India every year for the next 10 years. This will result in building new infrastructure, modernization of existing infrastructure and, with a growing awareness of the impact of climate change, a transition from a fossil-based economy to an all-electric world based on renewable energy sources. This will ultimately increase the need for more electric power.

Historical power systems had evolved as highly centralized top-down systems, connecting large power stations to a passive demand side on the edge of this grid. Today, however, the Grid Edge is becoming active, and consumers are becoming prosumers by feeding power into the grid, thus increasing complexity. Today, the term ‘Grid Edge’ has an even broader meaning, referring to the many connected technologies that exist between the energy supply side (grid) and the energy demand side. These technologies include energy storage systems such as BESS, virtual power plants (VPP), distributed energy systems (DES) or distribution energy resources (DER) and e-Mobility Systems. This increasing complexity requires a comprehensive and secured network of information & communication technologies (ICT) such as sensors, smart meters, other intelligent edge devices and applications to ensure the security, resilience, and optimization of the energy grid.

Let’s use eMobility as an example to visualize these concepts. A growing number of EVs may pose a challenge to the grids as considerable load peaks can occur when charging take place simultaneously. At the same time, eMobility also offers enormous opportunities for the power grid such as if charged intelligently, electric cars turn into flexible consumers, and are consequently ideal for load management, which can reduce the cost of grid infrastructure expansion. In the future, electric vehicle batteries could serve as a power source when additional balancing power is needed in the grid. However, the development of the relevant technology (vehicle to grid) is still in an early stage. One technology that could be used for this between the EV and the grid could be blockchain. This cryptographically secured distributed database system ensures the integrity of the transactions that are recorded within the blockchain without an intermediary. This is achieved by creating tamper-proof blocks within the blockchain that are linked to the preceding block. This system allows EVs to trade their storage capacity directly with other grid players with so-called smart contracts.

3.How can AI, Machine Learning and Robotics support the new requirements for utilities?

Digital technologies involving Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML) are used from equipment to software in thermal as well as renewable energy installations, transmission & distribution grids. AI and ML will be key elements for the design of future energy systems, supporting the evolution of smart grids and improving the efficiency of the power landscape, along with interaction among customers and utilities.

Let’s look at some examples of how AI & ML can support utilities to improve reliability and optimize operations with regard to asset management. In switchgear panels, ML can be used to monitor & compare historical & real-time values of various switchgear parameters such as current, voltage, energy, etc. to predict abnormalities, health of the switchgear & need for its maintenance. In transformers with sensors, AI & ML help to continuously monitor oil levels and other parameters and predict maintenance requirements without interrupting the transformer operations. AI & ML applications can also connect to many other sensors and intelligent edge devices that may be used to monitor overhead lines as well as numerical relays in substations and make recommendations.

The use of AI and ML technologies on the data subsets collected over a sufficient period from the above-mentioned sensors, smart meters and other intelligent edge devices will help create a “digital twin of the grid” – to model, estimate and predict the eventuality of potential incidents over the long term. This can reduce AT&C losses by detecting sequential anomalies. Ultimately it will help improve the efficiency of the grid.

Beyond asset management, AI & ML in the form of neural networks can support load forecasting based on the above collected data and the present state situation (time of day, weather, metering values, etc.). This will help in the automatic ramp up & down of power plants or the execution of demand response programs. In a nutshell, the adoption of artificial intelligence, machine learning and other solutions is already increasing as it has huge potential for helping utilities optimize their operations and thus their costs, improve their reliability and thus their income.

4.What are some key strategies to enable utilities to smoothly roll out smart meters?

One of the initial steps for a smart grid implementation is the deployment of smart metering technology. The deployment of smart metering technology is a transformational change for many parts of a utility’s business and cannot be achieved without appropriate leadership and vision. Such initiatives often fail due to wrong technology selection, system integration issues and forgetting to engage with consumers early.

Success factors for a smart grid implementation & the deployment of smart metering technology are:

  1. Defining the vision & a clear road map with goals to achieve.
  2. The business case must be adapted to the technology selected and should cover financial and non-financial KPIs.
  3. Use pilots to evaluate technologies and their ability to scale.
  4. Set up customer engagement programs
  5. Define the risks, change management & cross-functional governance. This is a business transformation initiative

During smart meter deployment, it is important to keep the customer and the community at the heart of the design. Consumers need to feel the solution has been designed for their benefit. They want to be engaged with and be educated, and they expect providers to leverage the technology to offer a new personalized and proactive experience, particularly when it comes to saving money.

Newer business models that reduce the upfront capital expenditure are also gaining prominence. This area could be further explored by utilities, with challenges in facilitating large investments, as an alternative route to kickstart smart metering programs. The benefits that accrue from the potential savings (due to a reduction in losses and improved revenue collection) far outweigh the costs of implementing a solution.

 5.What are your future plans for the segment?

The scale of the previously mentioned transformation will present various opportunities for our business in India as it is in line with our businesses’ purpose of ‘creating environments that care’.

We will focus our growth along the following themes:

  1. Leading the energy transition: We will help drive energy intelligence and ensure that the grids are more resilient and flexible, while supporting sustainability objectives (decarbonization efforts to achieve net zero targets). This will also include future ready & efficient EV charging solutions and renewable integration.
  2. Resilient building services: Smart Building offerings will help buildings (owners and operators) reduce emissions and adjust to user needs, while transitioning to efficient and sustainable building operations.
  3. Innovative Electrical Products: The transition to resilient and flexible grids and the development of efficient and responsive buildings will be supported by our high-quality and reliable electrical products.
  4. Sustainability partner for customers on their ESG journey: While our customers continue to drive their core businesses, we support them as a ‘One-Stop-Shop’ Sustainability partner through our 3Ds initiative (Decarbonization, Decentralization and Digitalization).




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