A smart grid is an electric grid equipped with automation, communication and information technology systems that can monitor power flow from the points of generation to the points of consumption, and control it or curtail the load to match generation in real time. Smart grids have assumed significance in light of the Government of India’s commitment to ensure 24×7 quality, reliable and affordable power for all. Going forward, electric vehicle (EV) penetration, renewable energy integration and energy storage are expected to be scaled up. Hence, the adoption of new and emerging smart grid technologies is inevitable. Ecosystem development and knowledge dissemination by the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) has already facilitated the adoption of such technologies. Sustained intervention will also remain essential for the successful implementation of the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS).
Smart grid projects update
NSGM envisages the transformation of last-mile connectivity ecosystems through measures such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), microgrids, distributed generation, outage management, power quality improvement, peak load management and EV charging infrastructure. The mission encourages self-sustenance for discoms with respect to smart grid interventions, through the adoption of innovative financing models. Notably, nine smart grid projects with a total cost of over Rs 12.12 billion were sanctioned under the NSGM in seven states – Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha and Jharkhand. Of these, seven have been cancelled due to constraints related to counterpart funding, very high bid prices, inordinate delays, and privatisation of power departments in Odisha and Chandigarh.
Currently, two smart grid projects are being implemented under the NSGM, to cater to 179,433 consumers at a cost of Rs 1.16 billion. These projects are being implemented at Subdivision 5 of the Chandigarh Electricity Division (CED), and the six urban towns of Baran, Bharatpur, Bundi, Dholpur, Jhalawar and Karauli under Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited (JVVNL). The key functionalities to be implemented by these projects are AMI, distribution transformer monitoring units, and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. As of January 2023, a total of 156,512 smart meters have been installed under these projects, including 24,214 at CED’s Subdivision 5 and 132,298 under JVVNL.
The NSGM has developed a smart grid readiness self-assessment tool to assess the readiness of utilities for adopting smart grid technologies, and assist them in their smart grid roadmaps. It has also developed a cost-benefit analysis tool for utility modernisation projects to assess the benefits of smart meters/grids. Furthermore, there is a focus on the development of pilot/demonstration projects in areas such as demand response, reliability improvement, microgrids and data analytics.
Smart grid pilot projects
Eleven smart grid pilot projects sanctioned by the Ministry of Power in 2013 have been completed across Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab, Telangana, Tripura, Puducherry, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, at a total cost of Rs 2.47 billion. Overall, around 156,000 smart meters have been installed under the pilot smart grid projects. These projects have demonstrated AMI, net metering, outage management system (OMS) and rooftop solar integration, among others. Smart grid pilots have showcased the successful integration of the legacy metering, billing and collection systems with AMI/smart metering. On the communication technology front, all types of communication technologies – radio, power line communication and GPRS – have been tested successfully for smart grid projects. Further, the Smart Grid Knowledge Centre at Manesar has developed a resource centre with AMI, OMS, microgrid/distributed generation and home energy management system functionalities, which also imparts training through capacity building activities for utility professionals.
Smart grid technologies
By utilising renewable energy sources more often and reducing the usage of fossil fuels, smart grids help protect the environment, reduce carbon emissions and assist utilities by enhancing distributed generation and demand response. Additionally, they can cope with ageing infrastructure, enhance asset utilisation and improve dependability.
Smart meters, which are powered by AMI, enable two-way communication between the utility and customers, as well as the collection and transfer of information about energy use almost in real time. AMIs have a variety of features, including load management, outage handling, remote meter reading, remote connection and disconnection, self-diagnosis, automatic and timely invoicing, and a prepayment option. Communication technologies also play a crucial role. A specialised network controlled by utilities, such as SCADA systems, can now be used for communication. By optimising network operations, a SCADA system enhances system safety, increases process efficiency and enables energy savings. Additionally, it helps utilities supply power to their customers consistently and safely. A well-planned and managed SCADA system also helps reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction and retention.
New and emerging technologies
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can significantly transform the operations and performance of power distribution utilities. Depending on the requirements of the utilities, they can be applied across the value chain. Insights gained from the use of AI and ML may, in turn be used to forecast network failures, schedule early interventions and prevent disruptions. AI and ML applications can also be used for demand forecasting and time-of-day predictive analysis. To tackle frequent consumer queries and interactions, several discoms nowadays use mobile applications and chatbots on their websites.
The efficiency of distribution networks can be increased considerably by implementing internet of things (IoT)-based solutions. IoT devices enable seamless data interaction by using sensors and actuators to gather data in real time and store it in the cloud. Such a system can detect flaws immediately and take suitable action, thereby minimising human intervention. Another technology that is gaining traction among distribution utilities is the advanced distribution management system (ADMS). ADMS automates outage restoration and improves distribution grid performance, and it supports the complete chain of distribution, management and optimisation. In addition to fault identification, isolation and restoration, peak demand management, volt/ volt ampere reactive optimisation, conservation through voltage reduction, and support for microgrids and electric cars are all features of ADMS. IEC 61850-compliant relays and sensors for distribution automation also need to be developed for future smart grids.
The management and control of a highly complex transmission system will also require the implementation of advanced smart grid and digital technologies. There will be a need for greater automation to enable real-time control for load management and power despatch. Some of the key smart grid initiatives and digital technologies being implemented in the transmission segment are digital substations, wide area monitoring system (WAMS) and remote monitoring of substations.
As the adoption of smart grid technologies continues in the power sector, utilities need to focus on cybersecurity as well. After the pandemic, with the migration of communications, operations and data to the cloud and the rise of remote operations, cybersecurity risks have increased manyfold. Enhancing the cyber resilience of power systems is thus becoming a key priority for all stakeholders.
Taking cognisance of cyberthreats that can hamper the power system’s functioning, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) released cybersecurity guidelines for the power sector in October 2021. The guidelines are meant to propose a cyber assurance framework; strengthen the regulatory framework; and put in place mechanisms for early warning and response to security threats, vulnerability management, and secure remote operations and services. As per the guidelines, a product will have to be tested for malware/hardware trojans before deployment for use in the power supply system network. The guidelines mandate ICT-based procurement of trusted products from identified, trusted sources. Further, products imported from “prior reference” countries would need to undergo type testing. These guidelines lay emphasis on establishing cyber hygiene, training all information technology and operational technology personnel on cybersecurity, and establishing designated cybersecurity training institutes and cyber testing labs in the country. The CEA is also working on cybersecurity regulations.
The success of these smart grid projects has formed the basis for large-scale roll-out of smart metering under the RDSS. Some of the focus areas for smoother implementation of smart grid projects are active state-level PMUs/smart grid cells, technology-agnostic and interoperable systems, regulatory support and sandboxing experimentation. In addition to this, consumer awareness and capacity building remain crucial for the success of smart grid projects in the country. Continuous training and capacity building in smart grids through dedicated training programmes for discoms/ state utilities are equally important. With the uptake of smart grid projects, cybersecurity is expected to take centre stage going forward.