The power sector is experiencing a growing adoption of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) solutions aimed at improving system efficiency and resilience, optimising costs and accelerating clean energy transition. Technological advancements, declining costs and improved connectivity have accelerated the rate of digital transformation in recent years.
The intermittency, variability and unpredictability of renewable energy pose technical challenges when integrating a significant renewable energy capacity. These issues are expected to create difficulties for thermal power plants (TPPs) and grid operators in anticipating and meeting the load. Therefore, the power sector requires IT-OT measures that incorporate cutting-edge digital solutions into the system. The key drivers for this technological advancement include various internal and external factors, such as the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), the increasing capacity of renewable energy capacity and the transition towards cleaner fuels.
The intermittent nature of renewable energy projects requires the adoption of flexibility measures by power plants. Further, the increased use of renewable energy has led to lower plant load factors, making it necessary to balance the grid. In order to maintain power plant performance under flexible operations, there is a need to adopt IT and OT solutions for advanced process control, including combustion optimisation, temperature control, ramp rate improvement, frequency control and soot blowing optimisation; condition monitoring solutions such as boiler fatigue monitoring and turbine life monitoring; and frequency support through condensate throttling and automatic generation control.
In addition, digital power plant solutions improve operations and maintenance, facilitating the collection of data on plant performance for condition monitoring, predictive asset analytics and asset performance management. These measures increase the longevity and performance of assets and enable developers to optimise returns on their investments. Further, the introduction of IT-OT can assist in the reduction of emissions by enabling fuel analysis and improving combustion performance in TPPs. This helps power plants comply with strict emission standards set by the environment ministry.
Digital technology is being increasingly used by generation companies to facilitate remote work, automate processes, monitor power plants round the clock, enhance their performance and reliability, and perform diagnostics on essential components of machinery and plant systems. In order to achieve this, utilities are adopting IoT and digital twins. Digital twins help power plants use big data to increase efficiency by building a digital model that provides feedback on plant features. In addition to preventing interruptions and maximising daily power production, integrating the physical asset with the digital twin enables improved preventive measures, and condition and predictive maintenance. Further, the digital twin enables a comprehensive analysis of the oxygen content on a TPP’s wall surfaces, coal particle combustion and burners. Digital twins are also beneficial for streamlining reservoir management in hydropower plants. In addition to digital twins, IT-OT supports automated plant control, remote operational monitoring and asset health monitoring.
The adoption of new technologies in the transmission sector is being driven by several factors. A significant issue for developers is the duration of time it takes to obtain right-of-way and forest approvals. To address this, utilities are rapidly implementing innovative technologies. Further, new technologies can assist developers in overcoming execution difficulties and finishing projects sooner given the advantages of competitive transmission charges and rapid execution.
The deployment of digital substations is becoming more popular in the transmission segment as these integrate real-time data into the system, thus lowering downtime and improving diagnostics. They also include non-conventional instrument transformers, merging units, phasor measurement units, intelligent electronic devices with integrated information and communication technologies, and intelligent electronic devices. The wide area monitoring system has helped address reliability and operational issues with power supply in recent years.
Additionally, as more renewable energy sources are introduced in the grid, flexible AC transmission system components including static VAR compensators (SVCs) and static synchronous compensators (STATCOMs) are anticipated to play a crucial role in grid operations. These power electrical devices support dynamic voltage, maintaining the stability and resilience of the grid. SVC technology, which is being used at a number of substations in addition to STATCOM, improves the capacity, security and flexibility of power transmission networks.
Over time, patrolling and other transmission line and tower maintenance techniques have become more popular. While high resolution cameras and GPS-enabled software are used on the ground, GIS mapping, helicopters, and drones are preferred for aerial work.
The use of smart metering technologies, smart grid infrastructure and digital solutions has increased recently in the power distribution sector in an effort to improve the operational and financial performance of discoms. Grid-related investments in digital technologies are rising rapidly in the power distribution segment to enable distribution companies to achieve network improvement, loss minimisation and improved power supply. A major driver for technology adoption is the power ministry’s Rs 3 trillion Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS), which aims to achieve 100 per cent smart prepaid metering as well as system metering at feeder and distribution transformer levels. RDSS also supports the deployment artificial intelligence and machine learning-based solutions, unified billing and collection systems, and technologies such as SCADA, DMS, ERP, GIS-enabled applications, and advanced demand management systems (ADMSs). Smart meters can help discoms deliver better financial and operational performance, automatically generate bills, eliminate late payments using the remote disconnections feature, and lower aggregate technical and commercial losses. The two-way connection between the utility and the customer as well as the collection and transfer of information about energy use are made possible by smart meters that are powered by advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Load control, outage handling, remote meter reading, remote connection and disconnection, self-diagnosis, automatic and timely invoicing, and a prepayment option are some of the capabilities offered by AMI. Due to the rapidly evolving power industry and governmental initiatives to modernise and digitalise the grid, the installation of smart grids is gaining momentum. Smart grids support utilities by boosting distributed generation and demand response, which helps protect the environment by using renewable energy sources more frequently and using less fossil fuels. They can also manage ageing infrastructure, improve asset utilisation and increase reliability. Communication technologies also play a significant role. Now, communication can occur over a dedicated network managed by utilities such as SCADA systems. A SCADA system enhances system safety, improves process effectiveness and provides energy savings by optimising network operations. A well-planned and well-maintained SCADA system helps utilities supply power to their customers reliably and safely while simultaneously reducing costs and enhancing customer satisfaction and retention.
Further, EVs have gained popularity in the backdrop of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India (FAME) scheme. The adoption of EV charging infrastructure and battery storage options is growing in line with rising EV sales. Several discoms have explored EV charging schemes across India in recent months. In view of this, there is a need to balance the grid and optimise the consumption of electricity. Grid instability, power shortages and blackouts could result from failure to manage the network in accordance with these emerging requirements.
ADMS is an alternative technology that is prominent among distribution utilities. In addition to supporting the full spectrum of distribution, management and optimisation, ADMS automates outage restoration and enhances distribution grid performance. Along with fault identification, isolation and restoration, ADMS offers support for microgrids and EVs, peak demand management, volt/volt ampere reactive optimisation, conservation through voltage reduction, and fault identification, isolation and restoration.
Another cutting-edge technologies that may be helpful in overcoming the difficulties associated with incorporating intermittent generation sources into the grid is the battery energy storage system (BESS). A BESS deployed on the distribution side aids in load balancing and enhances quality and dependability.
The implementation of new technology will surely have benefits for utilities given that the country’s energy consumption is rising and is anticipated to soar in the coming years. The power sector will need to be upgraded with smart technologies in the coming years to incorporate the increasing renewable energy capacity and manage the erratic, intermittent and bidirectional flow of electricity.
The implementation of effective IT-OT methods, however, may be hampered by cybersecurity threats, a lack of interoperable digital equipment and weak supply chains for digital equipment. Therefore, it is essential that suppliers, gencos, governments, financiers and other sector stakeholders work together to develop a comprehensive roadmap for the implementation of IT-OT initiatives.
Net, net, technical advancements are ushering in a wave of new technologies for future operations, optimising revenue for stakeholders, and increasing efficiency, accessibility, security and sustainability.