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…
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.
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.
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 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.