The power sector is witnessing significant growth, both in electricity generation, especially renewables, as well as in transmission and distribution (T&D). This necessitates the development of a robust network and adoption of adequate testing and measurement (T&M) solutions. The T&M of power equipment is essential for maintaining efficient and optimal operation of equipment and ensuring 24×7 power supply in the country. Power systems need to be tested and maintained at regular intervals as the breakdown of any one of their components can trigger a grid collapse. In the power generation segment, T&M solutions are useful for complying with the revised emission norms as well as for efficient combustion. Apart from this, the T&M of smart meters is an emerging focus area in the distribution segment. With the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan promoting domestic manufacturing of power equipment, testing facilities are expected to expand in the coming years.
New and emerging trends
Since the electricity network is moving towards digitalisation, it is also important for T&M equipment to undergo changes to cater to the changed scenario effectively. Power plant operations are now driven by concepts such as smart devices, digitalisation and internet of things (IoT). T&M instruments are also required to be smart and intuitive. They should be able to meet the requirements with a single click, making the process easy, accurate, fast and reliable. With digitalisation, T&M technologies can shift from wired communication to IEC protocol-based communication. For inaccessible locations, testing and checking can be undertaken through thermal inspection as a predictive maintenance tool.
The major demand drivers for T&M are increasing demand for reliable and quality power supply; T&M of power generation equipment; optimisation of power plant operation, maintenance and safety; shift to high voltages in transmission; growing renewable energy and testing of solar equipment; smart metering; and underground cabling. In addition, the T&M of electric vehicle chargers and batteries, and microgrids is likely to drive T&M uptake in the coming years.
The supply of quality and reliable power depends on the efficient functioning of T&D assets. Hence, the T&M of T&D equipment such as towers, transformers, conductors and electricity meters is necessary. For transformers, testing helps identify faults and reduces the chances of failure. Type tests, routine tests and special tests are performed at the manufacturing facility while certain pre-commissioning tests such as periodic/condition monitoring tests and emergency tests are carried out at the consumer’s site. T&M is also crucial for transmission utilities as they move to higher voltages and deploy high-value equipment such as transformers, rectifiers and high voltage direct current systems.
Moreover, the T&M of smart meters is a key focus area in the distribution segment as accurate measurement of energy is crucial both for consumers and service providers. The central government has recently approved the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme and one of its key features is consumer empowerment through prepaid smart metering, to be implemented in public-private partnership mode. Overall, 250 million smart meters have been planned to be installed during the scheme period. With such a mandate, the need for laboratories to test smart meters is expected to increase significantly.
T&M is critical for improving operational efficiency and extending the life of power plant assets. Further, T&M can help in lowering the emission levels of thermal power plants, and are hence, in high demand given the tight emission norms notified by the environment ministry for power plants. Sensors and analysers are deployed to keep track of the desired plant parameters. These solutions help in maintaining efficient combustion by regulating the air-fuel mix and boiler conditions. Moreover, the central government’s target of 500 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 is expected to create significant demand in the coming years for the T&M of renewable energy equipment including solar cells, solar photovoltaic (PV) modules and wind turbine generators.
The T&M market comprises original equipment manufacturers, vendors and third-party testing agencies. Many equipment manufacturers and utilities have set up advanced testing facilities for ultra-high voltage/extra high voltage systems, transmission towers, cables, meters and advanced switchgear. The National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)-accredited labs such as the Central Power Research Institute (CPRI) and the Electrical Research and Development Association (ERDA) regularly conduct testing and certification of T&D equipment.
CPRI has its head office and major laboratories at Bengaluru, and other units at Bhopal, Hyderabad, Koradi, Noida and Kolkata. The establishment of a new unit at Nashik is also under progress, which will greatly benefit manufacturers in the western region as it will enable them to test their products close to their manufacturing units. Apart from this, last year, ERDA expanded its switchgear temperature rise facility to cater to the growing pool of customers as well as enhanced testing requirements.
For the testing of high voltage equipment, NTPC Limited, NHPC Limited, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, the Damodar Valley Corporation and CPRI have together set up the National High Power Test Laboratory at Bina, Madhya Pradesh. As the laboratory provides transformer testing (short-circuit testing) facilities within the country, these companies no longer have to send large power transformers (especially 100 MVA and above) to overseas testing laboratories. Further, an independent hydraulic turbine model testing laboratory at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee has been established to carry out scale model tests of hydraulic machinery based on IEC 60193 international standards.
With respect to renewables, the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials has set up a concentrated solar thermal-based test rig facility at Hyderabad. The facility will help the solar industry test the capability and performance of solar thermal components such as solar receiver tubes, heat transfer fluids and concentrating mirrors. Moreover, as part of manufacturing zones under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Package, the MoP has launched a domestic manufacturing programme for critical power and renewable energy equipment with an outlay of Rs 15 billion. In these manufacturing zones, the equipment testing facility will be set up by CPRI for power equipment, and by the National Institute of Solar Energy and National Institute of Wind Energy for renewable equipment.
Recently, in June 2021, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) issued specifications and testing procedures for various solar off-grid applications covered under its schemes. The MNRE has proposed to update specifications for solar street lights, solar PV micropumps and solar study lamps; and both specifications and the testing procedure for solar PV water pumping systems and universal solar pump controllers. These specifications have been updated by the ministry in view of improvement in performance parameters.
In view of the increasing grievances of manufacturers regarding the validity of type tests mandated by the utilities, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), in May 2020, notified the validity period of type tests conducted on major electrical equipment of the power transmission system. Meanwhile, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the type test reports that could not be revalidated since March 23, 2020 were given an extension and will be treated as valid up to September 30, 2022. Apart from this, on July 2020, the MoP issued an order, stating that all equipment, components and parts imported for use in the power supply system and network will be tested in the country to check for any kind of embedded malwa-re/trojans/cyberthreats, as well as for adherence to Indian standards.
The MoP has also notified meter testing norms under the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020. The rules state that the testing of meters will be done by the distribution licensee within a period, as may be specified by the state electricity regulatory commission, not exceeding 30 days of the receipt of a complaint from a consumer. At the time of reporting, there are no provisions for charging consumers any fees for the tests. However, if a meter is found to be defective or burnt due to reasons attributable to the consumer, the consumer will bear the cost of the new meter as well as the test fee.
Issues and the way forward
Some of the key challenges in T&M are long testing time and limited availability of laboratories. Besides, there have been instances of errors at NABL-accredited testing laboratories. To resolve this issue, utilities need to upgrade the testing systems with state-of-the-art technology, and secure NABL accreditation for their labs. Furthermore, technology sharing with foreign players can help establish reliable and world-class T&M facilities in the country. The T&M sector will see many changes in the coming years due to the path-breaking innovations in artificial intelligence and IoT. A star rating system can also be developed for independent test laboratories as independent testing further validates quality, safety and reliability. Going forward, the demand for power infrastructure/network is expected to increase. This will, in turn, increase the need for T&M, creating a significant market opportunity for testing equipment manufacturers in the coming years.