The need for improving operational efficiency and consumer satisfaction continues to drive investments in information and operational technologies across power utilities in India. New challenges have emerged as the utilities have entered the second generation of IT deployment, necessitating upgrades in software and hardware systems. Utilities are also looking to integrate analytics and business intelligence into their systems in order to derive meaningful information. Senior IT professionals recently spoke at a recent Power Line conference to discuss their focus areas, issues and challenges, and future plans…
What are the company’s current focus areas in terms of IT initiatives?
We had implemented enterprise resource planning (ERP) in our organisation in January 2015. In order to improve customer and employee satisfaction, we have recently launched a number of mobile applications. These have helped us tremendously in data acquisition and managing back-end activity.
The mobile app focuses on self meter reading. It enables the customer to provide the meter reading to the utility, thereby helping avoid average or wrong billing. Other services on the app include payment, outage management, bill collection, and disconnections. We have also launched four mobile apps to manage our 65,000 strong employee base. These are Employee Mitra, New Connection, Meter Reading and Location Capture apps. These apps are helping employees in cross-checking of meter readings, feeder monitoring, asset management, and provision of new connections and on-the-spot information.
We are currently exploring smart meter deployment and smart grid development in Amaravati, Maharashtra because we already have supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and data management systems in place. The project is at the initial stage. In addition, we are currently self-handling our data centre at Mumbai and our disaster recovery (DR) centre at Nagpur.
Currently, our focus is on aligning our business challenges with information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) initiatives. Given this, one of the key drivers for such initiatives is the need for attaining and sustaining reasonable levels of transmission and distribution losses. The second key driver is the need to meet customer expectations that have increased significantly in recent years, given the emergence of IT and OT technologies in other sectors. The third major challenge we wish to address through IT and OT initiatives is the management of our power portfolio. We are operating in a very weather-sensitive area, which makes it difficult to forecast and meet short-term demand.
Another major challenge is upgrading the IT infrastructure. BSES, like most utilities, has entered the second generation of IT evaluation. The servers, storage systems, switches and routers that we purchased 10-12 years ago will not suffice in dealing with new challenges.
Going forward, we will be focusing on the deployment of smart meters, given that BSES Rajdhani Power Limited continues to manually download data for almost 2.2 million customers. On the asset side, we are looking at monitoring and managing assets through smart sensors. We also plan to develop our communication network backbone, for which we are evaluating various solutions. Further, given the growing demand for rooftop solar installations, we are looking at solutions both for grid integration and back-end integration. Net metering is an emerging solution and we are exploring ways to deal with it. We are also looking at modifying our processes, such as back-end billing, to align with open access. Another key focus area is meeting customers’ mobility expectations by providing mobile apps.
We have installed 11i Oracle EPR and our biggest challenge is to upgrade it to the R12 version. The support ends in November 2017 and we would then have to install Fusion, the latest version of Oracle. The second issue we are facing is with respect to hardware upgradation. The current hardware systems were installed eight to nine years ago and have insufficient capacity. The upgradation project is currently being executed through Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited (GUVNL), our holding company. Once the hardware upgrades are completed, we will take a decision on ERP roll-out.
Going forward, we wish to integrate analytics and business intelligence into our systems. We already have an upgraded distributed control system in most of our plants’ control room.
Currently, at NTPC Limited, we have implemented ERP and a PI server for real-time data access. We are in the process of integrating IT and OT, which was started three to four years back. We are now focusing on mobility by placing various services on mobile apps. For instance, we have recently moved some employee-oriented applications to mobile apps. Another area we are exploring is internet of things (IoT) so that the data from our upcoming solar power plants can be easily transferred to the PI server.
Also, we are now moving into the analytics phase as a significant amount of data has been generated over the past eight to nine years by the ERP system. We already have the SAP business intelligence platform installed. We could in the near future go into data mining using available technologies like Hadoop. We are also planning to develop weather forecasting methods, given the increasing share of solar in our generation asset base.
Power Grid Corporation of India Limited has connected all its 212 substations to the control centre located in Manesar through optical fibre. We are currently monitoring 120 of these. This has led to a significant reduction in manpower requirement. We have also implemented ERP for maintenance and planning. Activities such as health monitoring of the equipment, monitoring of test results and benchmarking are all carried out with the help of the ERP system. We are using various platforms including Google for identifying the coordinates of transmission lines. Whenever a problem arises in a particular line, these platforms help us single out the location of the fault.
Apart from these, we are using helicopter patrolling and light detection and ranging systems to monitor transmission lines. For the wide area management system, we are planning to integrate online and offline data that is generated through systems like SCADA and ERP to enable health indexing of assets.
What are the biggest issues and challenges?
Earlier, IT meant gathering of data along with management information system (MIS) reporting. In the last decade, the emphasis on the operational aspects and emergence of mobile technology have led to a renewed interest in IT. Today, the ultimate aim of utilities is to provide customer satisfaction. Customers have become very well aware of their rights and demand information related to availability, stability and quality of power on their mobile app, without wanting to access the website. Even the regulatory commissions expect utilities to deliver results on this front. So, IT and OT need to develop accordingly.
The biggest focus areas for any utility today are customer satisfaction and its own sustainability. From the customer satisfaction point of view, peak demand management is the biggest issue. With growing customer demand for information on outages, consumption and billing, there is a lot of pressure on utilities to manage networks, fulfil customer expectations and align back-end systems to meet the new requirements. This implies that the outage management system and the distribution management system, or a combination of both, have become a necessity. Moreover, the regulators have tightened the rules and introduced penalties for non-performance, which adds to the pressure on utilities.
Rajendrasinh M. Parmar
Managing manpower is a key challenge for us. We have younger employees working alongside the older generation, so acceptability of ideas and working methodologies become an issue. We also need to focus on formulating an IT roadmap for PSUs in order to learn from the achievements and initiatives of other utilities. For instance, Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Limited has completed an IT project through which it is now able to monitor all the parameters of all systems installed from its control room in Mumbai. Collective deliberations by the senior management of all utilities would help in successful implementation of IT systems. Apart from these, fuel management, asset visibility, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance are some of the key challenges that we face.
From an IT perspective, migrating from old to new hardware following the implementation of SAP was a big challenge for us. It would have been easier for us to approach the existing vendor. However, we decided to go in for a total revamp through an open tender. On the OT side, extracting insights from the data collected was a challenge. We have PI servers installed and a lot of data has been accumulated over a period of time. For actualising the value of this data, we have set up a fleet monitoring centre at our Noida office that receives data from all units. We have identified critical parameters and tried to predict faults in advance in order to reduce breakdowns, improve heat rates, and reduce operations and maintenance costs.
Integration of multiple technologies provided by various vendors is a major challenge that we are facing. We need to explore ways to integrate all inputs into one software, irrespective of the manufacturer. Second, there is a need for greater interaction between our asset management teams and software engineers, and the IT system handlers in order to understand the other’s requirements and needs. We need professionals in the IT sector who have a good knowledge of core electrical engineering. Further, we need to develop systems that utilise analytics for monitoring equipment health.
What are your investment plans for the next two to three years?
There are a lot of business opportunities available as we are exploring technology options for smart grid deployment including infrared and radio frequency metering. Pilot projects are already under way. In addition, a lot of IT equipment is being upgraded. We have recently implemented SAP HANA to get useful information from the data currently being collected in silos. Similarly, we have implemented solutions provided by Oracle apps such as ERP for human resource management. Going forward, we plan to upgrade the existing hardware as well as install new hardware.
There is a huge opportunity in smart metering that will go hand-in-hand with setting up an associated communication network. From the data centre perspective, we are exploring HANA and analytics over SAP. We are in the process of setting up a disaster recovery centre in Delhi, besides our main data centre in Mumbai. Moreover, the complete data centre infrastructure is under review including uninterruptible power source (UPS) systems and infrastructure related to building redundancy and virtualisation. Further, we are getting ready for IT-OT convergence.
Rajendrasinh M. Parmar
GUVNL will soon decide on the ERP solution to be adopted in consultation with all its subsidiary companies. We have to decide whether to upgrade hardware or SAP, taking into consideration issues such as stable connectivity. We are open to pilot studies being undertaken at our power stations, which can suggest some value additions.
We have already implemented a fleet monitoring system and are now looking to integrate it with advanced pattern recognition application to predict failures. We are also in the process of developing an enterprise content management system. Apart from this, projects related to the central government’s e-office initiative will be undertaken in the near future.
With the integration of IT and OT, ERP and SCADA, reliability centre maintenance has assumed significance and there are opportunities for the industry in this regard. We are working on the use of barcode for equipment to make maintenance records readily available. Through this, data on the equipment is automatically transferred to the ERP and to our asset management software. This will ensure speedy fault recognition and resolution. We are also exploring drone technology options for substations and transmission lines.
While there are some reservations regarding the use of these technologies, we would like to use them at least for videography and thermo-vision scanning.