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Energy efficiency and Smart Grid need to be a India’s key focus areas

Srikanth Chandrasekaran ,  Monday, December 17, 2012, 15:55 Hrs  [IST]

Srikanth ChandrasekaranAs India continues on its path of healthy GDP growth, the elasticity of energy to GDP growth is increasingly going to become less. The rise in economic growth and increasing demand for energy is forcing the planning commission to come up with better ideas for ensuring energy security. It is no wonder then that energy concerns occupy center stage in the 12th Five year plan of the country.

With the existing electrical grid, India loses money for every unit of electricity sold because it has one of the weakest electric grids in the world. For India to continue along its path of aggressive economic growth, it needs to build a modern, intelligent grid. It is only with a reliable, financially secure Smart Grid that India can provide a stable environment for investments in electric infrastructure, a prerequisite to fixing the fundamental problems with the grid. Without this, India will not be able to keep pace with the growing electricity needs of its cornerstone industries, such as high tech and telecommunications sectors.

Smart Grid helps address this by tracking where energy is going and where the pockets of consumption are and act like a petrol car for the electricity grid. For instance, during peak hours, the utilities currently engage in load shedding which essentially implies rotating power blackouts area-wise for a fixed pre-announced period daily or weekly. By allowing balance of power usage smartly and intelligently, the peak can be spread thus negating the need for power shut downs in total.

To be effective, Smart Grid needs standards and practices that integrate intelligent equipment across not just a network, but across multiple diverse industries. Many of the benefits that India hopes to achieve through Smart-Grid development for energy concerns such as empowering greater consumer choice in energy use, improving the reliability of power generation and distribution and more efficiently meeting skyrocketing power demand—are dependent on integrating significantly more robust systems for communications and distribution automation.

The Government of India has already identified distribution reforms as a key area to bring efficiency and commercial viability into the power sector. In short, favorable Government policies/investments along with leveraging global standards and the expertise from around the world allow for viable solutions to help optimize the development of Smart Grid in India. With a growing portfolio of more than 100 active Smart Grid standards, with a long-term commitment to the India, IEEE SA is playing an active role in the Indian Smart Grid Space.

Long-term planning is all about setting priorities and allocating resources accordingly. Considering the strategic importance of Smart Grid in the Indian context and the key role played by standards in ensuring an effective implementation, it is ideal that India's smart grid industry participate in global standards development to not only allow for cost effective implementation of technology, but also to allow for global growth of their markets.

AMI: A solution for today’s power scenario
For many Indians, having electricity to light their homes is still a dream. Many are still dependent on fire wood or oil lamps. The situation of those who have power is only slightly better, since due to load shedding, many have spent hours in the dark. There are yet larger problems dogging the country's energy sector like meter tampering, use of tampered meters, electricity theft by industrial enterprises, poorly planned distribution networks, overloading of system components, lack of reactive power support and regulation services, low metering efficiency and bill collection. The answer for all these problems lies in Smart Grid, specifically with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). At one level, a smart meter does perform basic metrology functions, but it’s the larger relationships with that metrology data that make a smart meter smart. Advanced Metering Infrastructure is not about the gas, water or power register under glass, but about everything around that register.

Smart meters will help provide automated real time meter reading and billing information, two way communications between the utility and the smart meter, delivery of voltage and power quality data to the utility and automated alarms to alert the utilities to operational issues and attempted power theft. Many large utilities are now rolling out AMI systems across the country in an effort to handle electricity theft by industrial enterprises, poorly planned distribution networks, overloading of system components, lack of reactive power support and regulation services, low metering efficiency and bill collection and also tampered meter. The benefits for smaller utilities will be as same as large power suppliers. And there are a few areas where smart metering could provide unique benefits to smaller utilities, especially those serving rural areas.

Today’s electricity distribution systems are designed to operate near capacity. Utilities don’t typically design power grids with 50 per cent more storage capacity; margins of 10 to 15 percent are common. So, the issue of dealing with power supply for electric vehicles comes up. In an unmanaged metering infrastructure, consumers plugging in several electric vehicles, each charging at six kilowatt hours, could quickly consume (or even exceed) the total available capacity of the local transformer or feeder, with unpleasant consequences.

Behind the Meter: Smart Grid seems to be one of those catch-all terms that can be defined in myriad ways. But, when it comes to AMI, it is more concrete. It can be useful to imagine AMI as a tree with many branches, with the majority of meters as the leaves on those branches, and a few meters as the joints of the branches. Today, however, many in the industry think about AMI as a tree growing out from a leaf—where the leaf is the most important element for the utility or manufacturer to consider, not the trunk or branches.

While no one questions the importance of the meter’s role in measuring consumption, it’s problematic when trying to apply AMI standards. As the industry has focused so intently on the meter—or rather, this technology under glass that we call a meter—we have often missed the bigger picture.

To successfully implement AMI, it is essential to understand the roles of each element in the metering solution and the lines of demarcation separating their respective functions. By taking a closer look at what a smart meter really encompasses—and at what the AMI standards really intended the term to mean—we can gain a better understanding of the steps that industry must take to mitigate risks and improve outcomes in AMI implementations.

A close examination of the IEEE 1377™ or IEEE 1703™ standards reveals that AMI is envisioned as a larger architecture, not just a single, monolithic solution. The recent update to the IEEE 1377 standard aims to provide forward-looking guidance.

IEEE 1703 provides common structures for encoding data in communication between End Devices (meters, home appliances, IEEE 1703 Nodes) and Utility enterprise collection and control systems using binary codes and XML content. The standard addresses the AMI and Smart Grid requirements. The Abstract of the companion IEEE P1703 communication standard provides additional insight by stating that the “application layer messaging services that are applicable for the enterprise and End Device ends of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure,” therefore hinting that in the new paradigm of a smart grid, AMI is no longer meter-centric, as was the Automated Meter Reading (AMR) paradigm.

If utilities, consumers and technology producers do not pay attention along the way, this architectural perspective will be lost. Meters built today may be mechanically conforming to the standards. Across the industry, however, our understanding of the AMI concept is often not consistent with the architecture prescribed in those standards and not consistent with the needs of real-world AMI implementations.

Before AMI can truly succeed—and the promise of the Smart Grid can truly be realized—we need to gain a better appreciation of the different relationships and interdependencies under the glass, and the interfaces that bridge components. Only then can we start asking the right questions of the technology, and demanding the right answers from those providing it.

Standards such as IEEE 1377, IEEE 1703 and others bring forth the aggregate knowledge of the best there is in expertise from the industry. By embracing the standards, working with standards, testing in reference to standards and deploying according to the architecture proposed by the standard, we will harvest the best knowledge and realize the best AMI for the Smart Grid.

(Srikanth Chandrasekaran, Senior Regional Program Manager, Standards (India), IEEE Standards Association)
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