Spotlight on IT

Power utilities focus on technology solutions for upgrading systems

The new government’s $1.2 billion smart cities initiative announced in the Union Budget 2014-15 has emphasised on the deployment of IT and smart solutions by Indian power utilities. The 100 new smart cities proposed under the initiative are envisaged to have reliable utility services, 24×7 power supply, low-cost smart meters and smart distribution systems, etc., among other facilities. Even as the contours of the smart cities scheme are being finalised, a host of measures have already been taken by discoms in India to upgrade their infrastructure, reduce aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses and, most importantly, modernise distribution systems.

The ambitious Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) has paved the way for the adoption of these best practices. The Rs 515 billion programme has been under implementation since the Eleventh Plan period and focuses on the actual demonstrable performance in loss reduction. The programme has made steady progress with several utilities now being able to generate energy audit reports. It is targeted for completion by 2016-17.

Apart from the R-APDRP, the efforts of the India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF) and the India Smart Grid Task Force (ISGTF) formulated under the Ministry of Power (MoP) are providing the necessary policy support for the deployment of new technologies. Having already released the India Smart Grid Roadmap in September last year, plans are now under way to launch a National Smart Grid Mission for achieving the goals envisaged in the roadmap.

A smart grid framework is also being simultaneously implemented for distribution utilities. Fourteen smart grid pilot projects have been approved by the MoP, which entail a total investment of around Rs 4 billion and are expected to be completed by mid-2015. These would help test key smart grid functionalities for pan-Indian deployment.

Smart Utilities presents a brief round-up of the status of IT deployment in the power distribution segment under various programmes, new and emerging areas for IT deployment by distribution utilities, and the challenges faced by them…

R-APDRP

Part A of the R-APDRP, aimed at the preparation of baseline data for project areas, is now nearing completion in many towns. Several states have already started benefiting from the completion of these activities. Of the 1,412 towns sanctioned under Part A, 600 have gone live across eight states, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. Energy audit reports are being generated for these states.

With this information, states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have started taking measures to reduce distribution transformer failure rates and load balancing, flatten the load curve, identify loss pockets, and improve collections.

An extension has been granted for the completion of Part A activities by another two years (i.e., up to five years from their sanction) because of challenges in implementation, such as lack of IT domain knowledge on the part of discoms, manpower issues and network constraints in remote locations. Under Part B of the R-APDRP, which covers distribution strengthening projects, work has been completed in 139 of the 1,254 towns sanctioned, while it is in progress in 913 towns.

Meanwhile, under the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) component of Part A, all 72 schemes have been sanctioned and data centres and customer care centres set up in 15 states. Capacity building exercises are also being undertaken for over 30,000 personnel under Part C of the programme.

Pilot projects

The smart grid pilot projects which are being implemented in 14 locations across the country will enable advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), smart metering, and also improve the quality of distribution management system applications. These have been selected on the basis of factors like per capita power consumption (high), scope for loss reduction (high) and the area’s prevailing distribution network (modern).

Across the pilot projects, the Puducherry project has made the most significant progress. Functionalities such as AMI, virtual demand-response systems at both consumer and utility levels, outage management systems (OMS) including fault passage indicators and distribution transformer monitoring units, and net metering by renewable integration are already operational.

This has allowed the billing of consumers on the basis of online metering data compiled through smart meters, distribution of transformer-wise energy auditing, improvement in voltage profiles, and reduction in AT&C losses, leading to better quality of power supply.

In the remaining pilot projects, requests for proposal have been released by distribution utilities in Telangana, Assam, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat (as of July 2014). In Karnataka, meanwhile, the bidding process has been completed. The appointed IT implementation agency has conducted a network survey in the state under the pilot project.

New and emerging technologies

For critical, up-to-date and accurate asset mapping, the geographic information system (GIS) is an important technology tool which is gaining prominence. Globally, GIS deployment is being driven by the demand for transparency and security of financial performance as well as customer satisfaction. Locational information is also becoming increasingly important for regulatory compliance requirements. For Indian utilities, the application of enterprise GIS integrated with other systems like SAP, customer relationship management, SCADA, demand management system, OMS, etc. holds immense potential in allowing complete network management and faster and better decision-making. However, there are certain challenges related to the high costs of surveys, system integration issues, difficulties in mapping rural assets and consumers, etc. that have hampered its uptake.

Driven by cost and performance efficiencies, the concept of cloud computing is fast drawing the attention of Indian utilities. Cloud computing, which is an internet-based facility for sharing technological resources, software and digital information, is currently at a nascent stage for power utilities. However, it has attracted wide interest globally owing to the fact that this technology can allow the conversion of large upfront capital investments in IT infrastructure into smaller, manageable pay-per-use annuity payments. Applications for utilities which have high demand for cloud computing are AMI, analytics, customer care, etc. These are exploring options for private, public and a hybrid cloud depending on several parameters such as capex, opex, customisation, privacy, scaling and security.

Meanwhile, increasing automation in the distribution sector has also led to an enhanced focus on addressing cybersecurity threats in communications infrastructure. Steps are being taken at both the utility and policy levels to improve telecom infrastructure, cyber audits and the mitigation of physical attacks, among other concerns. Guidelines and standards for a cybersecurity framework are being prepared by the Bureau of Indian Standards in association with the Central Power Research Institute (CPRI). Two subgroups have been constituted within the ISGTF and ISGF, namely, Working Group 5 on physical security and cybersecurity standards and spectrum issues, and Working Group 10 on cybersecurity for tackling these issues.

Policy and regulatory support

A key infrastructural measure being taken at the policy level is the setting up of a test laboratory for smart grid technologies. A smart grid test bed is being set up at CPRI’s main campus, for which a United States Trade Development Agency grant of $692,000 was obtained in 2013. The test bed, which will consist of an integrated interoperability laboratory and smart grid technology demonstration centre, will allow CPRI to research and perform controlled evaluations of integrated smart grid technologies. A smart grid knowledge centre is also being set up with a funding support of Rs 100 million from the MoP. These steps are expected to create the necessary conditions for the deployment of advanced technologies for utilities in India.

Regulatory efforts are also being undertaken in areas like automatic demand management, restricted free governor mode of operations, renewable energy integration, special protection schemes, and specifications of smart meters and operational standards. Going forward, enabling actions will be required for spreading awareness about smart grids to utilities and consumers as well as methods of cost-benefit analyses.

Conclusion

Driven by needs like energy consumption monitoring, detection of tampering, reduction of AT&C losses, load curtailment, prepayment options, demand forecasting, time-of-day tariffs, outage management, and renewable energy integration, Indian power utilities have been deploying IT solutions and automating their networks over the years. However, some of the key challenges that they face pertain to platform integration, vendor support, financial risks, organisation transition, equipment availability, etc. The R-APDRP has led the deployment of new solutions and, more importantly, helped lay the foundation for smart grids. In the future, initiatives like the National Smart Grid Mission and smart cities are expected to pave the way for the nationwide deployment of smart grid technology in India.

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