Reducing Losses: Technology options for power distribution utilities

Technology options for power distribution utilities

The prevalence of high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses is one of the major problems faced by power distribution utilities in the country. The key reasons for these losses are electricity theft and network losses.

To address these issues and reduce losses, distribution utilities are taking several initiatives. These include elimination of human intervention in system operation and consumer data collection, regular updation of the consumer and asset database, and undertaking of proper energy audits and accounting. In addition, smart grid solutions like substation automation, distribution management system (DMS), geographic information systems (GIS), outage management system (OMS), advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), and field force automation (FFA) can go a long way in reducing AT&C losses, optimising operations and ensuring customer satisfaction.

Grid substation automation system

One of the measures being undertaken by the utilities is automation of their substations through the grid substation automation system (GSAS). This entails equipping the substation with intelligent electronic devices, and control and automation capabilities in order to allow remote users to control the functioning of the substation. GSAS significantly reduces the manpower requirement for managing the substation. GSAS deployment involves replacement of old equipment and control devices with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)-compatible equipment. This enables centralised control and monitoring of substations, which reduces installation and maintenance costs, diminishes the chances of manual errors and improves equipment reliability. It also enables utilities to expand their network in remote locations. A typical utility with a customer base of 1 million and AT&C losses of over 30 per cent can yield benefits of up to Rs 430 million per annum through substation automation. These savings accrue through the redeployment of manpower in strategic functions, controlled load shedding, reduction in electricity overdrawal from the grid, and reduction in the time required for fault detection and correction.

Distribution management system

DMS is an IT system capable of collecting, organising, displaying and analysing real-time or near-real-time information pertaining to the functioning of the distribution network. DMS accesses real-time data and provides all the information on a single console at the control centre in an integrated manner. It helps in improving the reliability and quality of service by reducing outages, minimising outage time and maintaining appropriate frequency and voltage levels. DMS can lead to several benefits in the form of reduced load shedding as well as easier identification and correction of faults, translating into annual cost savings of up to Rs 58 million for a typical utility.

Geographic information system

The development of a georeferenced consumer and network database has become a necessity for power distribution applications like customer information system, asset management, billing system, energy audit and load flow studies. GIS plays an important role in mapping consumer and electrical assets on a geographical base map. Using GIS, the entire electrical network can be overlaid on a satellite image or a vector base map, with a facility for zooming, resizing and scrolling.

Since GIS acts as a centralised repository for all electrical and non-electrical assets, it helps in network operation and connection management, reduces the time for energisation of new connections, and facilitates network planning and identification of fault areas. Further, GIS serves as a base for several other technological interventions and applications to support commercial, operational and network functions.

Establishing a robust GIS includes conducting global positioning system (GPS) surveys of electrical consumers and network assets; digitising electrical network assets including substations, feeders, transformers and poles; undertaking GIS mapping, indexing and codification of electrical consumers and network assets with defined electrical relationships; and establishing interoperability and data portability.

Outage management system

OMS allows utilities to manage unscheduled and scheduled outages and ensures reliable operation of the grid. OMS integrates with call centres to provide timely, accurate and customer-specific outage information, as well as with SCADA systems for real-time confirmed switching and breaker operations. These systems track, group and display outages to safely and efficiently manage service restoration activities. Distribution utilities can thereby conveniently make the customer aware of the reason for outage and estimated time of restoration. Also, it enables utilities to be prepared for all planned shutdowns for preventive maintenance. This translates into a reduction in the mean time to repair for each customer and the total number of complaints.

Advanced metering infrastructure

AMI is an important component of any smart grid initiative. It facilitates automated, two-way communication between a smart utility meter and a utility. It provides distribution utilities with real-time data on power consumption and allows customers to make informed choices about energy usage based on the price at the time of use. AMI deployment entails several benefits for utilities, which may translate into a loss reduction of up to Rs 186.2 million for a typical utility. The benefits of AMI include better theft detection, reduction in capex as network planning can be improved with accurate load and voltage modelling using AMI data, reduction in losses through load balancing and improved network modelling, and improvement in service restoration time.

Business analytics

Business analytics is emerging as a potential tool to reduce losses. Utilities are now working to become more proactive in decision-making and adjusting their strategies based on reasonable predictive views into the future by deploying business analytics methods, which allows them to tackle problems more efficiently. The deployment of efficient analytics techniques can help a typical utility to achieve annual cost savings of up to Rs 104.5 million. One of the key benefits is an increase in revenues due to commercial loss reduction owing to better detection of power diversion through advanced logics and correlated data. Moreover, the utility can reduce its transformer losses by using advanced analytics to deploy appropriately sized transformers. Some of the other advantages are a reduction in transformer outages with proactive transformer replacements using transformer life-cycle management and lower capex due to advanced analysis logics.

Field force automation

FFA is another smart technique being increasingly deployed by utilities to improve their operational performance and enhance customer satisfaction. FFA involves the use of technology, typically hand-held personal digital assistants, wireless devices, tablets or mobile phones to capture field sales or service information in real time. The captured data is transferred immediately to back-end systems like enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management or accounting systems through wireless connectivity. This instant capture of information reduces time delays, avoids manual double-entry data errors and enhances field force productivity. A typical utility can achieve cost savings of up to Rs 72.9 million per annum through FFA. Some of the benefits derived are optimisation of manpower, a reduction in complaint handling time and improvement in planning and scheduling.

Summing up

The distribution segment is considered to be one of the weakest links in the power sector owing to mounting AT&C losses and the associated fiscal implications. The ill-health of this segment significantly affects the generation and transmission segments as well. Therefore, it is imperative for distribution utilities to reduce losses and improve their operational and financial performance through the deployment of the aforementioned smart technologies. Although the initial cost of some of these technologies can be quite high, the benefits that accrue to the utility in the long run can ensure favourable returns on investments. Overall, these measures have the potential to not only improve utilities’ performance but also ensure consumer satisfaction and lead to healthy expansion of the segment. n

Based on a presentation by Parveen Verma, Head, Outage Management, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited, at a Power Line conference