Grid Modernisation: ISGW 2018 highlights emerging sector needs and challenges

ISGW 2018 highlights emerging sector needs and challenges

The India Smart Grid Week (ISGW), 2018, the fourth edition of the International Conference and Exhibition on Smart Grids and Smart Cities, witnessed the participation of delegates from over 50 countries. The inaugural session began with a welcome address by Reji Kumar Pillai, president, India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF). This was followed by special addresses by Richard Schomberg, EDF and IEC, and adviser, ISGF; N. Venu, president and head, Power Grids Division for South Asia, ABB; Matt Wakefield, director, Electric Power Research Institute, USA; Dr Ajay Mathur, director general, The Energy and Resources Institute; Mahesh Ramanujam, chief executive officer (CEO), US Green Building Council; Patrick Santillo, minister-counsellor for commercial affairs, US Embassy; HE Klas Molin, ambassador of Sweden to India; Christopher Jones, deputy director general energy, European Commission; Upendra Tripathy, interim director general, International Solar Alliance; and A.K. Bhalla, secretary, Ministry of Power.

The session concluded with a vote of thanks by Praveer Sinha, CEO and managing director, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL). There were discussions on the current state of the Indian power sector and the need for grid modernisation to meet the emerging demand.

State of the sector

The Indian power sector is the third largest in the world. The country’s installed capacity is around 335 GW and around 275 million consumers are connected to the power grid. The sector has grown significantly over the years, both in terms of installed capacity and power generation. Moreover, between 2015 and 2017, the country’s ranking on the ease of getting electricity index has improved from 99 to 26. A key trend in the Indian power sector is the growing share of renewable energy sources in the generation mix. By 2022, the share of renewable energy capacity is expected to reach 20 per cent (175 GW) of the total installed capacity. Another characteristic feature is the growing pace of electrification. Under the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, nearly 40 million households that are still not connected to the power grid will be provided electricity connections by March 2019. In addition, ensuring quality and reliable power supply to all the citizens of the country is the government’s key priority.

However, a cause of concern for the Indian power sector is the low per capita electricity consumption, which stands at around 1,122 units. This is extremely low compared to global standards. Further, the electricity consumption pattern in the country varies significantly across different consumer categories. Although overall electricity consumption is low in rural areas, it is high in the irrigation segment.

Meanwhile, electricity consumption in the commercial and industrial categories is varied and distributed. While the Indian power grid is advanced in some aspects, it needs to be upgraded in other areas. Another challenge facing the power sector is the high level of transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. India’s T&D losses at around 22 per cent are one of the highest in the world. In this regard, private players have managed to deliver good results. Private discoms in Delhi and Mumbai have recorded loss levels in single digits.

Grid management

Over the years, there has been a significant drop in the cost of setting up renewable energy plants, especially with the prices of solar panels and batteries plummeting, thereby making renewable energy competitive with coal-based power. This has increased the share of renewable energy in the energy mix and changed the way we generate, distribute and consume power in the country. There is a growing share of distributed power generation and the power grid has become multi-directional, with multiple feed-in and take-out points. The line between producers and consumers is fading as more and more consumers are becoming prosumers. With the growing renewable energy capacity, the discrepancy between the time of peak demand and the availability of renewable-based supply poses challenges to grid stability. Grid management is crucial to integrate renewable energy with coal-, gas-and hydro-based generation.

Apart from growing renewable energy capacity, another important aspect in the Indian power sector is the growing focus on the deployment of electric vehicles (EVs). By 2030, around 30 per cent of the automobile fleet is expected to operate in electric mode.

In order to meet the requirements of the  sector, the power grid needs to be more flexible, resilient and intelligent. Utilities countrywide have been focusing on integrating various systems to ensure the smooth incorporation of renewables and EVs. Modernising the grid through its digitisation is of paramount importance. The adoption of energy storage solutions is essential for the smooth integration of renewable energy sources into the grid. Further, leveraging artificial intelligence and structuring data helps in undertaking predictive fault analysis.

With growing grid interconnection, a diverse and broad communication network is essential. This helps in recording large quantum of data, which could be used to derive meaningful inferences about energy consumption patterns, outages, etc. However, maintaining cybersecurity to ensure data confidentiality and system integrity is imperative.

Under the National Smart Grid Mission started in 2015, a number of pilot projects are being implemented to modernise the grid. Since these projects entail large investments they are being conducted on a pilot basis. However, the downside is that by the time these projects are implemented on a large scale the technology becomes dated. Apart from this, smart meter projects are being executed at the utility level. Further, a number of grid modernisation projects are being implemented under the government’s Smart Cities Mission.

Overall, there are massive opportunities in terms of value creation in the near future, as the resources become more connected and controllable on a real-time basis. In the coming years, cheap energy and digital services will drive the global economy and considering India’s efforts in this space, the country is well positioned to grow rapidly.

International collaborations

The world today faces a collective challenge of ensuring long-term sustainability of energy, water, gas and other similar services. Customers have high expectations and there is a growing demand for an array of new services. Smart services will play a crucial role in meeting the constantly growing and varied demand. International partnerships are important in the areas of renewable energy integration, technology adoption, smart grids and energy storage.

India has undertaken a number of collaborative initiatives at the international level for research and development, and implementation of projects in the grid modernisation space. AES India, Mitsubishi Corporation and TPDDL are setting up the country’s first 10 MW utility-scale energy storage project for better peak load management.

India and Sweden have signed a joint statement for cooperation across 30 broad areas including several MoUs in the sustainable urban development and renewable energy sectors. Further, European Union (EU) and India, both with ambitious plans for energy transition for combating climate change, entered into the EU-India clean energy partnership in 2016. The EU aims to achieve a renewable energy share of 26 per cent in the total energy mix by 2030.

In sum, the Indian power sector has ambitious plans for large-scale deployment of renewable energy. Grid modernisation and digitisation of utility operations are essential to meet the requirements of the growing electricity market and to maintain a stable power grid.