Views of B.N. Sharma

“The smart grid action plan is aimed at 100 per cent electrification by 2017”

The need to reduce the power deficit and distribution losses, and increasing renewable energy generation are driving the adoption of smart grid technologies in the country. B.N. Sharma, joint secretary, Ministry of Power (MoP), spoke about the drivers for smart grid adoption, the road map for their future deployment and the associated challenges at a recent Power Line conference on “Smart Grids in India”…

Over the past decade, the global electricity generation, transmission and distribution landscape has changed significantly. In the traditional grid, there were relatively few points of power generation and millions of points of power consumption. The modern grid has several points of power generation as well due to rapid proliferation of distributed and renewable generation. There are more consumption points owing to new load points such as electric vehicles. Smarter automation and IT systems are required to manage a grid which handles intermittent supply from renewables and electric vehicles on the consumption side. As compared to the traditional grid, the smart grid is cost effective, responsive and better engineered for reliability.

Drivers for smart grid deployment

The MoP is currently implementing the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) for developing an IT-enabled distribution segment in 1,400 towns with a certain population norm. In the northeast, towns with a minimum population of 10,000 are being covered while for other areas the criterion is 30,000. For these towns, energy accounting and auditing is being undertaken to diagnose faulty systems. Once such systems are identified, the next step is treatment through system upgradation, system improvement and system strengthening. As of January 31, 2014, 450 of the 1,400 towns had been declared as “go-live”. Further, several towns that have taken energy accounting and energy auditing measures are following up with administrative initiatives. The lessons learnt from the R-APDRP have been a starting point for the development of smart grids. The MoP has also prepared a paper, “Post R-APDRP Strategy”, which highlights the measures to be taken if a town is declared go live. These include the steps to be taken by electricity managers for preparing the road map for developing the town into a smart city. Building on the R-APDRP initiative, the next step is transformation of the power distribution system into an information-driven process involving monitoring and control of medium- and low-voltage networks through smart grid networks.

The main focus of smart grid development involves reducing aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses and bringing them at par with the benchmark losses of the best utilities around the globe, ensuring there are no power cuts, converting blackouts into brownouts and managing and reducing the peak demand. Other important initiatives are harnessing the high renewable power potential by integrating renewables and distributed generation into the grid efficiently, and promoting rooftop solar PV generation.

All stakeholders including utilities, customers, governments and regulators have an important role in driving smart grid development. For utilities, smart grids offer the benefits of AT&C loss reduction, improved peak load and asset management, lower power purchase costs, renewable integration and increased grid visibility. Consumers’ appreciation for smart grids depends on the quality and quantity of the power supplied to them. Hence, steps such as ensuring that there are brownouts instead of blackouts, home automation and shifting loads from peak to off peak hours would enable consumers to become “prosumers”.

For the government and regulators, development of smart grids would involve designing innovative dynamic tariff and regulatory mechanisms. To this end, the MoP has constituted an interministerial group, the India Smart Grid Task Force (ISGTF), to evolve a road map for integration of smart grids in India. It has shortlisted 14 distribution utilities across the country for undertaking smart grid projects in the distribution segment. These pilots are aimed at integrating consumer operations and asset management in distribution, and increasing efficiency and reliability. The results of these pilots would enable the ministry to take a considered view on smart grids and develop a strategy to deploy smart grids in the country. Another group, the India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF), which is a PPP (public-private partnership) initiative, has been established to expedite the development of smart grid technology.

Smart grid road map

The action plan, as envisaged in the smart grid road map, involves the achievement of 100 per cent electrification by 2017. Programmes would need to be initiated to reduce AT&C losses below 10 per cent by 2027 and transmission losses to under 3.5 per cent by 2022. Further, indigenous low-cost smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure need to be rolled out for all consumers. The action plan also covers the involvement of IT and communication infrastructure under the National Optical Fibre Network project, under which 250,000 village panchayats are planned to be connected through optic fibre cables. Development of microgrids, rooftop solar integration, PV integration, deployment of wide area management systems and phasor management unit installation are targeted to be undertaken by 2017.

From the policy perspective, new tariff mechanisms need to be planned for driving energy efficiency programmes for lighting and installing HVAC networks in metros and state capitals. Further cost-benefit analysis of smart grid projects needs to be undertaken with inputs from the 14 pilot projects. The assessment of direct and indirect benefits to consumers and other stakeholders would help in finalisation of the framework for smart grid development and launch of the National Smart Grid Mission.

Therefore, the achievement of these goals effectively constitutes the road map for the development of smart cities. The policy support required would largely entail formulation of effective outreach programmes for consumer sensitisation and engagement. Going forward, development of state- and utility-specific road maps need to be incorporated with management and capacity building programmes. This would help in meeting the state-specific needs. Along with this, finalisation of the framework for cyber security assessment, audit and certification of power utilities, policies supporting dynamic tariffs and variable tariffs including demand response programmes also need to be undertaken to support smart grid deployment in India.

Challenges and the way forward

Smart grid implementation involves several challenges in terms of technology, preparedness, skill, regulatory awareness and knowledge related to cyber security of networks. These challenges can be overcome with the help of all stakeholders. The country is moving ahead in terms of deploying indigenous technology. However, the regulatory framework needs to be put in place for dynamic pricing mechanisms such as time-of-use and critical peak pricing. This would support the interest of smart grid functionalities like demand response and demand side management. The MoP is aiming at a scenario of no power cuts by converting blackouts to brownouts. This would be undertaken through load curtailment by providing functionalities like remote connect disconnect and load limiting. The states are putting in their best efforts to showcase smart grid technology and its cost benefit analysis through the successful deployment of pilots. The power ministry is working together with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy for successful deployment of renewable energy solutions in rural India.

All stakeholders as well as the MoP are cooperating to improve the capacity of discoms. Under the R-APDRP, some states have emerged as fast moving, while others are lagging behind. Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal, Uttakhand and Karnataka have emerged as the fast moving states. The power ministry’s efforts are, therefore, mainly focused on the laggard states – Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Goa and Kerala. The efforts are now concentrated on capacity building based on the needs specific to these states.

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