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Smart Grid Deployment in India: Challenges & Solutions

Anil Kadam ,  Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 11:14 Hrs  [IST]

Anil Kadam-Anil Kadam is Smart Grid Senior Manager, Telvent

Implementing Smart Grid in India will take time, but it is an absolute necessity if we expect to continue competing in the global economy.

A smart electrical grid is a necessity in India. With 1.2 billion people and approximately one-third who do not have access to power, there is an urgent social and economic need for efficient, reliable and affordable infrastructure. The future of the country depends on it.

The rapid growth of our economy has left our utilities struggling to keep up with demand: Industrial customers account for nearly 40 per cent of the total electricity sold, and the residential and agriculture sectors make up the remaining major users of power. Each of these sectors are growing, as is the per capita energy consumption. Electricity shortages during peak demand times are commonplace, with demand exceeding supply by as much as 7-11 per cent at times, according to Zpryme Research.

The government and regional utilities are currently implementing many smart grid pilot projects across the country. India has also launched Smart Grid Task Force (ISGTF) and Smart Grid Forum (ISGF) to tackle the planning and implementation of smart grid technologies, along with dedicating billions for funding electric generation, transmission, distribution and power quality.

Despite these projects and investments, the world’s second most-populous nation still faces several major hurdles that it must overcome before a large-scale smart grid can become a reality.

From issues with fundamental infrastructure, to reliability, to a lack of knowledge among business and political leaders, India must quickly meet the challenges of creating a basic electricity infrastructure as well as the challenges of implementing the latest, innovative power technology.

Significant line losses, electrical theft, a patchwork of regulations, the inconsistency of grid operations, and the imprecise monitoring and tracking of electricity all lend to an unstable network. Utilities are interested in participating in pilot projects, but are often too cash-strapped to put up money for smart grid improvements. Furthermore, the lack of a regulatory framework for adopting smart grid technologies has left utilities feeling somewhat in the dark and without a clear path to testing, adoption and implementation. Progress is being made with groups like ISGF and ISGTF making efforts to align all stakeholders to educate others on smart grid initiatives.

There is also a need for more education among utilities (generation, transmission and distribution) and government leaders about the smart grid’s benefits, as there are some who fear it will take away jobs. On the contrary, implementing an infrastructure of this size and scale will require huge numbers of skilled workers and improve the quality of jobs available.

This leads to another significant challenge, which is a rather ironic one. Although the world knows India for our stellar engineering and technical expertise, we lack a sizeable workforce to tackle the smart grid challenges within the utilities generation, transmission and distribution sectors. Software development is often the career of choice among our best and brightest, but working abroad or in the corporate sector is typically more appealing (and lucrative). Building the infrastructure that will make India a sustainable global superpower must also be an attractive prospect to our scientists and engineers. In order to help both utilities and users recognize the benefits of smart grids, India must invest in and apply a systematic methodology on smart grid knowledge and capacity building among the stakeholders.

The government is supporting several supply-side efforts, including more advanced electrical systems, SCADA in major cities and towns, and distribution solutions for companies to better handle demand response. Specifically, endload shedding with a combination of direct control and differential pricing will increase the reliability of power through robust systems with selfhealing capabilities. These solutions will help operators better understand where every kilowatt hour is going in real-time. There is also a push for integrating renewable energy on a massive scale to decrease carbon dioxide pollutions, as well as India’s considerable dependence on outside energy sources.

The smart grid is made up of many components and technologies, but in India there is a particularly strong drive for ADMS (Advanced Distribution Management System) & AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) projects. With ADMS utilities can better manage supply side asset efficiency, and with AMI huge volumes of demand-side data are gathered from multiple networks that help track more accurate measurements of electricity usage. Utilities use this data to better plan capacity, demand peaks and to ensure more reliable power. The Indian government is on-board with plans to significantly invest in both ADMS and AMI, and large consumers from the commercial and industrial sectors are anxiously awaiting the technology to alleviate their inconsistent access to power. Suppliers from around the world are actively working on ADMS and AMI technology that addresses the unique national and local needs in the country.

On the demand side, consumers also need to be more involved. Beyond using energy efficiency technologies, their participation in advanced metering pilot projects will help bring more awareness to the broader public of how the smart grid can improve their daily lives. Most of these pilot projects should begin in 2013, with completion and analysis starting in 2015. There is already a predicted sharp increase in the number of smart meters deployed in India over the next several years, so these projects will provide valuable lessons on how best to plan, integrate and maintain AMI systems. This technology stands to be one of the first great leaps to bridging the gap between ensuring basic infrastructure and launching a smart grid.

Implementing a smart grid in India will take time, but it is an absolute necessity if we expect to continue competing in the global economy. Its implementation will likely move rapidly as pilot projects are completed and the economic and social benefits are widely realized. Although there are many challenges to overcome, India’s hunger for power is only surpassed by the capacity of our people’s innovation and determination to see the smart grid become a reality.

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