Advantage IoT: Enabling discom efficiency and automation

Enabling discom efficiency and automation

High transmission and distribution losses in the power sector have put discoms in a vulnerable financial position. The power sector is gradually transforming from being a producer monopoly in a localised market with unidirectional flow of power to a more consumer-centric market with decentralised generation and bidirectional flow of power. Also, a new category of prosumers is emerging in the power market, blurring the line between consumers and producers.

To enable decision-making in such a dynamic environment, it is important to have a network wherein information and data can be procured from the consumer end. Further, this data, which is complex, voluminous, high velocity and varied, needs to be analysed to produce precise results. Internet of things (IoT) is an emerging technology that is helping discoms in real-time monitoring and enabling situational awareness, intelligence, control and security to transform the grid into an intelligent cyber-enabled grid, which is more efficient, secure, reliable, resilient and sustainable.

IoT applicability and benefits

IoT enables the collection, processing and use of acquired information for better decision-making. It is about making devices interact smartly. IoT is finding varied applicability in the power distribution segment, in terms of substation automation, distribution automation, asset performance management, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)/advanced distribution management system/distribution management system, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), etc. For instance, earlier, breakdown or preventive maintenance was done predominantlyafter a certain time frequency. Now, utilities are moving towards predictive maintenance. Identifying the equipment suffering the maximum number of interruptions can lead to substantial savings in operations and maintenance expenditure.

Further, operational optimisation has overtaken manual intervention in controls and is narrowing the gap between information technology and operational technology. Consumer-oriented applications are being developed for tracking energy consumption to make decisions in terms of network planning, maintenance, capex planning, etc.

All in all, IoT implementation across discoms can improve the reliability of diagnostics by predicting faults and informing the utility to take timely preventive action.

TPDDL’s initiatives

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited’s (TPDDL) 33 kV and 66 kV grid substations are automated with SCADA being installed and all breakers having centralised control. At the 11 kV level, around 20 per cent of the breakers are automated and controlled by a centralised control room. Meanwhile, for low tension (LT) network automation, certain pilots are being carried out. Further, the discom is replacing conventional meters with smart meters for consumers with electricity consumption of more than 200 units per month. The utility will use an RF mesh network for communication to support not just smart metering but also distribution automation, demand response, and net metering requirements. In addition, TPDDL has implemented back-end data analytics.

The utility is also using automation for reducing voltage sags, swells, overvoltage, undervoltage and harmonics to enhance power quality. Further, to improve energy audit, better consumer indexing is being made possible at the LT air circuit breaker level.

TPDDL is working at the distribution transformer level for better load management. This will help in continuously evaluating the transformer load against nameplate ratings and initiating alarms at predetermined thresholds. This can also be used to generate targeted demand response actions, and monitor maintenance and replacement programmes. Similarly, load balancing in the LT network can help identify load imbalances in LT feeders. Recommendations can be made to rectify load imbalances, thus reducing operational losses.

Key challenges

There is a lack of understanding among utilities about the core aspects of IoT and its implementation as an innovative business model in the power sector. Cybersecurity standards are not developed in the distribution system. Since utilities own, operate and generate revenue by operating power resources, they should seek and fund cybersecurity solutions for ensuring equipment and electricity availability. The IoT ecosystem requires interoperability for creating seamless programmability in the devices or sensors that enhance the experience. However, seamless connectivity will be a major challenge in the future since IoT is still at a nascent stage.

In sum, although there have been encouraging developments in data analytics and other digital infrastructure to monitor distribution networks, there is still a long way to go in terms of usage and adaptability. With new technologies such as IoT, it is imperative for utilities to rethink not just their technology strategy but also their operational strategy.