Technology Trends

Growing digitalisation and design innovations in the sector

The Indian power sector is witnessing the installation and integration of emerging technologies such as rene­wable energy, 5G, IoT, battery storage, hybrid solar, smart grid, electric vehicles (EVs), green hydrogen and high temperature superconductors for transmission. The demand for these technologies ac­ro­ss the generation, transmission and dis­tribution segments is driven by the ob­jectives of transition to green energy, en­ergy efficiency improvement, emission re­duction, AT&C loss reduction, etc.

A look at some of the key technology tre­n­ds shaping the power sector and no­ta­ble developments in the past year…

Generation

Renewables

According to studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there is potential for developing 49 GW of wind and 32 GW of solar power capacity in India using the solar-wind hybrid paradigm with a levellised cost of energy lower than the cost of standalone soalr or wind capacity. Recently, Adani Green Energy Limited commissioned a solar wind hybrid plant of 390 MW capacity in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, at a reasonable tariff of Rs 2.69 per kWh under a power purchase agreement with the Solar En­ergy Corporation of India (SECI). Also, India is set to witness a growth in off­sh­o­re wind power installations. This year, the MNRE released a strategy paper outlining the development model for the establishment of offshore wind energy projects.

In the green hydrogen market, which is currently at a nascent stage, several im­portant commitments are being made. Recently, RIL, as part of its commitment to invest $10 billion in new energy businesses, announced plans to build a giga-factory to manufacture electrolysers. Earlier this year, NTPC Limited invited expressions of interest from Indian and global companies for setting up a pilot project for the production of hydrogen us­ing electrolysers. It also awarded Am­ara Raja Power Systems a project for sett­ing up India’s first green hydrogen fuell­ing station in Leh, Ladakh.

Floating solar is taking off in India as it has the twin benefits of reducing the cost incurred on cooling panels and re­ducing the evaporation of water. India will commission around 1 GW over the next year against a potential to install 280 GW of floating solar capacity.

Coal-based power

As power plants faced a coal shortage scenario last year, biomass ga­in­ed traction as a supplementary fuel for co-firing in coal-based thermal power plants. As of July 2022, about 80,525 million tonnes of biomass was co-fired in 35 thermal power plants with a cumulative capacity of 55,335 MW. The number of plants co-firing biomass has quadrupled in the span of one year.

Further, ammonia is being considered for co-firing in existing coal-based power plants in order to reduce the amount of soot and coal powder particles in the furnace, leading to lower radiative heat transfer and ash deposits on heat transfer surfaces and improved boiler performance. In March 2022, Adani Power sig­ned an MoU with IHI Corporation and Kowa for conducting a feasibility study for deploying 20 per cent ammonia-co firing technology at its Mundra power plant in Gujarat. The trio will also investigate increasing this co-firing percentage all the way up to 100 per cent ammonia fuel. Meanwhile, efforts are being made to support flexibilisation of existing coal-based thermal power plants.

Transmission

In the efforts towards grid modernisation, several new advanced technologies such as static synchronous compensato­rs (STATCOMs), wireless networks, intelligent devices, advanced grid modelling applications and cybersecurity protection are being deployed.

STATCOM is one of the most sophisticated technologies under the umbrella of flexible AC transmission systems. Ad­a­ni Transmission Limited witnessed a reduction of 15 per cent in load profile variation as well as a significant reduction in auxiliary power consumption after deploying STATCOM technology at its Mahendragarh substation.

Utilities have made changes in transmission tower designs in a bid to improve sp­a­ce usage and reduce RoW issues. Con­­ventional lattice-type towers are being replaced by monopoles and compact towers. Monopoles consist of poly­gonal tubular sections with a tubular crossarm arrangement for fixing tension and suspension clamps on it. The structure can be in a single tubular form or an H-form. Their advantages are that they require about one-sixteenth of the space used by lattice-type towers and therefore have fewer RoW requirements.

Several new innovations are taking place in tra­ns­mission cables. Some examples inclu­de high tension low sag conductors, su­per­conducting cables in transmission lines and cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) cables. Superconducting cables have close to zero resistance to the flow of electricity aiding in long distance transmission of DC electricity, which has close to zero technical power losses.

Distribution

Distribution utilities continue to focus on deploying equipment with lower RoW re­quirements and the ability to ensure greater safety in operations. For instance, underground cables and covered overhead conductors such as XLPE conductors and aerial bun­ched cables are being preferred to conventional cables. In addition, the uptake of dry-type and K-Class fluid-filled transformers, which are associated with lower failure rates, has inc­reased. The use of dry-type transformers and ester fluid-filled transformers is on the rise as they offer better protection ag­a­in­st fire hazards, have reduced/no risk of leakage of insulation fluids, and entail minimal maintenance.

Battery energy storage systems (BESS) are another emerging technology that will help the power sector in storing el­ectricity generated by VRE and reduce intermittency issues. BESS installed on the distribution side of the business is called load support BESS as it helps in balancing the load, and improving reliability and quality. In April 2022, SECI awarded the tender for setting up 500 MW/1,000 MWh of standalone BESSs to JSW Energy. The project will provide discoms with storage facilities to be used on an “on-demand” basis. There will be two projects of 500 MWh (250 MW x 2 hours) capacity each. The projects will be installed in the vicinity of the Fateh­garh-III grid substation of the ISTS network in Rajasthan.

Another promising trend has been the scale-up of EV charging stations to cater to the electricity demand of EVs. In rece­nt months, several discoms have pursued EV charging projects across India. According to a report by ICRA, India is li­kely to witness investment in the development of 48,000 EV chargers at an estimated investment cost of Rs 140 billion.

IoT, digital twins, smart metering and digitalisation

Digitalisation technologies are all the more useful in VRE plants, which have lower capacity utilisation and efficienci­es compared to coal power plants. These embedded ICT components synchronise generation to the grid, adjust rotation speed or torque, and control reactive power via software algorithms situated in the converter connecting the wi­nd po­wer plant to the grid. Mean­while, so­lar power plants utilise IT systems for increasing solar irradiation by controlling and automating panel movement and rotation.

Similarly, many thermal power-based gencos are overlaying advanced stockyard management systems (AMSs) in the­ir units to develop a data lake that can monitor and visualise the unit for further decision-making through data analytics. The systems enable 3D profiling of the stockyard and its inventory levels, drone-based inspection and hot­spot detection in case of extreme temperature rise. All this information is fed into the system in real time with solutions offered in case of anomalies being detected by the AMS. It is also supplemented by a data analytics and visualisation platform to conduct real-time monitoring, video analytics, predictive analytics of equipment usage, etc.

Distribution companies are also investing on an unprecedented scale in the re­pla­cement of existing meters with smart meters. The smart metering systems facilitate real-time communication with the utility helping it detect any anomalies and fraud in real time. As of Sep­tem­­ber 2022, India has installed around 4.9 million smart meters and is on track to deploy another 5.7 million smart me­ters. Moreover, according to Energy Effi­ciency Services Limited, which has dep­loyed 1.44 million smart meters, the dep­loyment of smart meters has led to a de­c­rease of 5 per cent in AT&C losses while raising the revenue of discoms by 20 per cent. Many discoms are also laun­ching chatbots to improve their custo­mer service. Several discoms are incorporating dashboards that track multiple operational and financial parameters in order to improve their decision-making throu­gh better data acquisition and data visualisation capabilities.

Other digital technologies integrated by utilities in their system architecture in­clude AI for granular visibility at the ap­p­liance level and machine learning (ML) for distilling actionable patterns from the aggregation of data. Moreover, IoT is used for smart energy management and load management according to potential demand. The scope of data analytics and decision-making based on AI/ML, IoT, etc. is enhanced by using predictive analytics such as digital twins.

In recent years, several plants have been incorporating digital twins in their plant systems to optimise operations, and estimate and diagnose potential issues in ad­vance. For example, a combined cycle gas turbine digital twin can prevent catastro­phic failures through early fault detection and dynamic root cause analysis. In addition, digital twins replicate the behaviour of real-time physical systems while communicating with the actual system in real time and making recommendations to improve plant operations.

The way forward

Net, net, digitalisation, decarbonisation and decentralisation are the three focal trends determining the future structure of the power sector. These trends will drive operational efficiency, reduce em­issions, lower maintenance costs and en­able the transition to a clean and gre­en energy future. Therefore, utilities, eq­uipment manufacturers and the government need to chart a path to upgrade the ageing power sector assets, digitalise the­ir processes and equipment, and in­vest in renewable energy.

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