Smart grids – the relevance for Indian utilities


Vikram Gandotra 
By Vikram Gandotra

When one thinks of Indian power utilities the picture a layman has is that most are inefficient and unfriendly to the consumer. However, this is because the layman sees the distribution utility and in reality the situation is much better for the generation and transmission sectors.

Most power utilities today are public owned and work within constraints such as political interference, low motivation level of employees, poor management practices, and obsolete networks. On top of this most of the time they are rationing power due to shortage. However, the situation is much better for the private distribution utilities.

Under such circumstances one is tempted to question the relevance of smart grid applications for Indian utilities. What constitutes smart grid applications are debatable, but for the sake of this review let us take the IEC roadmap as the reference document and examine the relevance of the various applications in the Indian context.

1. Smart transmission systems and transmission level applications
This includes the newer technologies such as HVDC, FACTs and long transmission lines for bulk transfer of power. These technologies are not only very relevant for Indian utilities but are already being used by some, such as Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL), MSETCL, etc. in their networks.

2. Blackout prevention/EMS
This includes systems such as phasor measurement units, data concentrators and wide area measurements. The devices are available as standard from various manufacturers. The challenge is the analytics that will meaningfully utilize the avalanche of data collected by the devices and sent to the control center. These applications are also relevant in the Indian context and already PGCIL has gone in for pilot projects. Advances in data analysis and its user friendly visualization through applications such as Quickstab can help operators to react before a blackout situation occurs.

3. Advanced distribution management
Covered here are SCADA, fault management, switching procedure management, outage management, GIS, customer information management, workforce management, etc. The important point for these to be successfully implemented is the availability of a proper electrical network with automation ready elements such as circuit breakers, etc. Other requirements are stable high speed communication networks, and the availability of a mechanism to continuously update the network static data. These applications enhance the reliability of power supply for consumers and provide flexibility to the utilities to manage their networks efficiently. These applications are relevant in the Indian context and the private utilities that have already gone in for them are reaping benefits. The public utilities also need to go in for these in a planned manner, choosing experienced agencies, and they must have motivated project managers and engineers to ensure the success of the projects. Underestimation of the quantum of work required for proper execution of applications such as GIS are being seen in India.

4. Distribution automation
For the automation of distribution systems, telecontrol and supervision of secondary substation and transformer houses is crucial. Therefore information exchange between those components and DMS systems should be based on common protocols and be cyber-secure. The communication concepts should be flexible for the use of different communication media and technologies due to different geographic and infrastructural conditions. For proper utilization the electrical network must be properly planned, with the right equipment such as RMUs and FPIs placed at appropriate locations. The distribution network is continuously changing due to new consumers, faults being rectified through jumpers, cuts, etc. The data needs to be updated continuously in order to draw benefits from the applications. Hence it is important to highlight the human aspect, i.e. the managers and engineers of the utility who will operate the applications. This is also relevant for Indian distribution utilities.

5. Smart substation automation
Devices from different vendors need to be able to communicate. Interoperability is a major requirement, as is backward compatibility and sustainability. Interoperation of devices from different vendors would be an advantage to users of substation automation devices. A standard must support different operation methods and must allow an open configuration of functions. This is relevant in the Indian context as Indian utilities have to place orders on a tender L-1 basis and should not be tied to one vendor.

6. Distributed energy resources
With the introduction of wind energy sources in large number far from load centers and also from conventional generation sites this is relevant in the Indian context. As solar generation plays a larger part, this will lead to a need for applications to manage these distributed energy resources. Hence these applications are also relevant in the Indian context.

7. Advanced metering for billing and network management
These include distribution network monitoring, power quality monitoring, fraud detection, load leveling, demand response functions, minimization of down time, asset management, etc. This leads us to the area of smart metering infrastructure and meter data management systems. Due to the prevalence of inefficiencies in loss management, billing errors, etc. which need to be addressed on an urgent basis, this is relevant in the Indian context.

8. Demand response/load management
The main requirement for demand response is the active involvement of the consumer, which must be achieved through a transparent pricing mechanism. Also the information concerning current load and generation, forecast of these quantities and real time measurement are basic requirements for demand response. So for this to be successful not only the technology inputs but also the regulatory inputs are necessary.

9. Smart homes and building automation
One of the main objectives of building automation is to optimize overall energy costs by using energy optimization functions (to reduce the consumption of kWh) and by considering the best energy tariff and contractual power limitations by using a load management function (to reduce the cost per kWh). Relating to smart grid, these systems will get smarter tariff information as important input parameters for the load management function. On the other hand they must also handle the electrical resources as well as electrical and thermal storages as integrated components of the load management to optimize the cost per kWh and to reduce power consumption from the grid. What must not be neglected is the expected response from the most important cog in the wheel, the consumer. Unless proper research is done on the consumer response to such initiatives, wrong paths can be taken for the demand response journey. The relevance for these applications will come in the future.

10. Electric storage
The main areas are batteries and compressed air and stored hydro systems. Safe operation and handling is a key requirement for these storage systems. For batteries, cyclic consistency and robustness is important. Parameters for batteries, including self discharge, start up and required discharge time, lifetime, efficiency, etc. need to be benchmarked. The use of batteries is very prevalent in Indian homes with inverters as a source of back-up power in the event of utility failure. However, very large battery banks for bulk power are not used. There also have been a few pumped storage hydro projects. Compressed air has not been used in the Indian context.

11. E-mobility
Batteries and associated power electronics must fulfill minimum requirements for life cycle and cyclic stability in order to function as part of the power grid system. Safety requirements for application and design concepts must be fulfilled in an overall perspective. This is also true for low voltage installations for the charging infrastructure. Physical connector interface dimensions for vehicle and power supply side must be standardized. Although some utilities are examining the need for developing the infrastructure for E-mobility, its relevance needs to be studied in the context of a power shortage scenario in India for some years to come and the availability of suitable vehicles from the leading manufacturers.

12. Condition monitoring
Measuring and testing procedures must be available for all components. Uniform data models for the individual components are needed. These data must be transported through common communication channels. Calculation models for predictive diagnosis must be standardized to allow for uniform diagnosis across an environment characterized by multi-vendor equipment. This is a big challenge, but in view of the benefits this has good relevance for Indian power utilities.

13. Renewable energy generation
Technical standards for interconnecting different kinds of renewable energy generation to power systems need to be studied, in order to meet the requirements of the present and future development of renewable energy and power grids. Technical standards for renewable energy generation in different sizes and at different voltage levels should be studied. In particular, technical standards for large scale renewable energy generation plants should be studied as soon as possible. This will have relevance in the coming times in the Indian context.