Smart Systems

Digital solutions for distribution network management

Technological advancements and innovations are transforming the way in which the electricity network and discom grids are managed. This is being driven mainly by the rapid expansion of decentralised generation and acceleration in the adoption of electric mobility, smart meters, data analytics via artificial intelligence/machine learning, real-time outage management, digitalisation of the grid, etc. Distribution networks are being pushed to digitalise and modernise their network management systems in order to facilitate a successful transition to a grid that carries mo­re renewable energy, which is intermittent and volatile in nature. More­over, several distribution utilities are looking at ways to upgrade their networks  and improve the quality and reliability of power supply.

Decentralisation and microgrids

The growth of net metering policies ac­ross states has given consumers the op­p­ortunity to become prosumers by feeding electricity generated from rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on their premises back to the grid. In addition, many discoms are offering fi­nancial and regulatory incentives to increa­se rooftop PV deployment in their grids, and are therefore expected to att­ract a large number of potential prosu­mers by facilitating investment, thereby tripling the deployment of distributed PV during 2022-27.

The growth of decentralisation and roof­top-based solar power will necessitate the transformation of the distribution grid to a more active grid system, as po­wer is now flowing in both directions and utilities need technologies to meter and manage the flow of electricity in real time. In addition, advanced load forecasting technologies are required to deal with the changing load profile as customers are becoming less dependent on central generation to meet their electricity demand. Discoms are also embracing data analytics and demand-side optimisation solutions to maximise the revenue yield of consumers by aiding them in selling electricity to the grid when the price is high, and buying it when it is low, on an automated basis.


Digitalisation allows equipment across the distribution grid to communicate with each other as well as the utility and/ or consumer, to facilitate better operati­on and maintenance of the grid, and en­hanced consumer services. Smart me­te­rs, intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), in­­­ternet of things sensors, and control and automation software are critical co­mponents of digital solutions. Further­more, utilities are deploying sensors to monitor voltage all along their feeders, along with new actuators that are able to regulate the voltage at different levels.

Intelligent substations based on the IEC 61850 protocol and smart transformers that can be controlled in real time are key emerging digital solutions. These solutions deploy intelligent switchgear, which can connect with the internet and provide comprehensive monitoring and protection, as well as measure all electrical parameters in real time to ensure remote monitoring. Further, they offer inbuilt protection and control IEDs. These new IEDs, combined with the latest information and communication te­chnologies, form a base for enhanced pro­tection, co­ntrol and monitoring. These systems, combined with advan­ced diagnostic systems based on digital twin technology and data analytics, are also able to detect and estimate outages as well as other system issues in advance, thus helping schedule repairs accordingly.

Smart meters

In the metering segment, smart meters are emerging in a big way, especially on the back of government schemes such as the Revamped Distribution Sector Sc­he­me and the National Smart Grid Mi­ssion (NSGM). These schemes provide discoms and power departments in­­­creased access to funds for prepaid smart metering, distribution infrastructure work, and systemwide metering for moderni­sati­on and loss reduction. These sche­m­es focus on facilitating the installation of prepaid smart meters for all consumers, along with the associated advanced me­tering infrastructure, as well as communicable meters for distribution transfor­mers and feeders, amo­ng other thin­gs. As of November 2022, around 11.27 million smart meters have been sanctioned across the country and 5.13 million have been installed. Addi­tion­ally, data from the NSGM indicates that around 6.14 million smart me­ters are yet to be installed.

EV charging

With increasing deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country, charging infrastructure development is also gaining momentum. Driven by central government programmes, particularly the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India scheme, as well as initiatives undertaken by public and private players, including oil marketing companies, the share of EVs will increa­se exponentially. The rise of EVs will correspondingly drive the demand for EV charging stations and battery storage solutions, and necessitate the optimisation of electricity consumption and grid balance. The standards and specifications for EV charging stations are still work-in-progress, and most discoms are currently setting up EV charging stations as pilot projects.

Smart charging entails the use of smart energy management software, which determines the best time to charge and the best energy source to use for charging EVs. Such software uses advan­c­ed al­gorithms and demand-side respon­se to provide near-real-time load balan­cing that dynamically distributes energy to and from the grid, helping prevent the demand from exceeding the grid capacity during peak usage times.

Smart energy management optimises energy consumption based on grid constraints, energy pricing, renewable energy availability, locally stored energy, preconfigured EV owner preferences and driver needs. Smart energy management optimises the charging infrastructure by efficiently delivering the available power to EVs, and shifting charging loads ac­ross energy sources to safely deliver el­ec­tricity without interfering with the po­wer needs of buildings, homes or other power consumers.

Outage management

Outage management refers to various software used by electric distribution ut­ilities to return power to the grid while ensuring its stability, as far as frequency and harmonics are concerned. An outage management system identifies outages in power grids and sends alerts, in addition to isolating the key components that are the root causes of outage so as to avoid a systemwide collapse.

The increasing demand for energy consumption due to the expanding population and rapid urbanisation rate as well as the rise of the distributed grid paradigm is driving the growth of outage ma­nagement systems. These systems ensure proper management and distribution of electricity and help avoid harmful hazar­ds or accidents, thereby augmenting the reliability and quality of power supply. Another benefit is that these systems proactively keep consumers in the loop be­fore scheduling repair and mainten­a­n­ce routines, while simultaneously try­ing to ensure seamless power supply via alternative lines. This level of contact is only possible due to the emergence of highly detailed mapping technology, integrating multichannel communication platforms such as notifications via messages and other social media. These systems can also inform consumers ab­out the time of restoration in a mostly accurate manner.

Another big trend in the outage management sector is the granularity and specificity of the information available. In the past, a single pin would be dropped on a map to represent 10,000 customers who were without power. With real-time outage mapping, the information available now is highly specific to the area that has been impacted, allowing customers to better understand how an outage affects them and their communities.

In essence, outage management systems are able to pinpoint failure locatio­ns and re-route around areas or segme­n­ts affected by outages, dramatically li­mi­ting the number of customers affected by it while simultaneously notifying consumers of it, along with repair times.

Energy storage and grid

The emergence of energy storage systems such as battery energy storage systems (BESSs) will also make the architecture of network management much more dynamic. It is highly probable that discoms will be early adopters of BESS and other energy storage systems at their substations, as these will help them manage outages and grid failure more successfully. Energy storage systems can interface with distribution management systems as well as end-consumers and restore supply automatically in case of grid failure or outage. Energy storage sy­stems will also help discoms in managing load volatility and other issu­es. Ba­sically, these systems will smooth­en hu­ge variations in electricity supply by storing electricity during peak hours and, conversely, by extending supply during off-peak hours.

Moreover, BESSs can eliminate the need to build new transmission and distribution systems or update existing distribution assets that lack capacity or have be­come obsolete. By storing excess energy and providing reserve capacity, a BESS can take the load off overloaded distribution lines and prevent congestion in transmission systems.

The way forward

Technology solutions such as demand ma­nagement systems, BESSs, outage mana­gement systems and smart metering systems will improve network management while increasing po­w­er availability, affordability and power quality. Hence, it is vital for all stakeholders, in­cluding the government, component ma­nufacturers, discoms and consumers, to develop a comprehensive plan envisaging the deployment of these technologies, so that future power generation ca­pacities based on variable renewable en­ergy are accommodated