Towards a Resilient Grid: Need for critical information infrastructure in the power sector

Need for critical information infrastructure in the power sector

Over the past year, two major events have changed the face of the Indian power sector – the achievement of 100 per cent village electrification through on-grid and off-grid solutions, and the near completion of the Saubhagya scheme (only 200,000 households are left to be electrified).

Meanwhile, the target to achieve 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022 will help in building a green future. Of this, the country has already installed around 80 GW. With large-scale penetration of renewable energy into the grid, the deployment of smart grids and smart meters has become crucial. At the recently concluded India Smart Utility Week 2019, top experts of the power sector discussed the evolution of a strong and robust grid network in the face of critical challenges arising from increasing demand, higher penetration of renewable energy, and access to better power quality.

There are issues that still hinder the growth of the power sector. Primary among these is a common practice of “post-paid service” in the power sector. The government understands the seriousness of this issue and efforts are being undertaken to address the problem. India has sufficient installed capacity and a seamless grid, but it requires robust technologies to create a smart grid ecosystem.

Critical challenges

There is a strong need for critical information infrastructure in the power sector to handle resources that have an impact on the national security, economy and safety. Power is the only sector that affects them all simultaneously. To safeguard this critical information, the results of a cybersecurity survey in 2015 were translated into a manual of recommendations, some of which have been taken into account by the Government of India. While the cybersecurity landscape has evolved over the years, there is an urgent need to be prepared for the next set of challenges that come our way. India has the largest single grid in the world with approximately 35 control centres and any breach in the hierarchical structure can have a cascading effect on its operations.

The 2012 blackout in the northern region was triggered by the overdrawal of power from the grid by one state, affecting 60 million people. The biggest challenge facing the Indian power sector, therefore, is the resiliency and future-proofing of the grid. The country has since learned the need to make the power sector more robust. To this end, a national grid was formed by integrating the regional grids, and a commercial mechanism was devised to prevent overdrawal. The power system is the prime mover of the modern economy, and hence, it is essential to create a resilient infrastructure. However, much work needs to be done for developing the physical infrastructure to complement smart technologies. While the utilities have started deploying Advanced metering infrastructure systems that generate terabytes of data, not even 10 per cent of it is being gainfully utilised. The use of big data analytics  can help predict failures and enable utilities to take timely corrective action.

Mitigation measures

Flexibility of the grid is essential, as every event, at the grid level, has an impact on utilities. According to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) regulations, utilities have to supply the demand they forecast. Over the past few years, the CERC has become strict in levying penalties for deviations from the forecast. A study to understand the impact of renewable energy penetration on distribution transformers showed that even at 25 per cent penetration, the grid code is violated. Further increasing it to 50 per cent leads to an increase in technical losses. Therefore, utilities can no longer plan their demand curve on a yearly basis. Another study on the impact of solar penetration and electric vehicles on the grid showed a shift in peak demand in the summer and winter months. Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL), to this end, has deployed a 10 MW storage plant to understand the impact on the demand requirement. This experiment has been successful and once the costs associated with energy storage reduce, it will be one of the key solutions for grid management. Besides this, complete control of the network and inclusion of consumers through smart meters will help utilities manage their demand and supply better.

Around 1.1 million smart meters are expected to be installed by 2022 in India. The adoption of various other smart devices is also expected to gain momentum. The cloud offers a number of solutions that reduce the costs and expenses associated with system integration, data generation, transfer and analysis. The core applications of the cloud include SAP, and supervisory control and data acquisition. Currently, several alternative sources of energy are available. The effectiveness of these sources will, however, depend on the flexibility of assets. Further, undertaking demand-side management is critical to mitigate the risks of poor grid management. With multiple consumer segments in the country, it becomes difficult to identify beneficiary consumers for the roll-out of these initiatives in a well-defined time frame. Meanwhile, cybersecurity solutions need to go beyond academic understanding to deal with real-time threats of the grid. Further, for greater grid resilience, the entire sector has to be looked at as a single ecosystem. Some of the assets lie in the remotest of regions and are a gateway to the nerve centre of the grid. For this, cloud technology has emerged as a game changer that can help integrate these remote assets.


The most essential component of a smart grid ecosystem is communication network. Companies such as Nokia have been working with power majors like Powergrid and Tata Power, and are involved in providing communication infrastructure to utilities. Nokia is undertaking innovations such as light generators with remote monitoring systems, which are currently at the testing stage.

There needs to be an increased focus on asset risk management as well. A proper methodology is required to identify failure modes given the high voltage failure of assets. For instance, General Electric has developed risk models for determining the failure of assets such as transformers deployed in the field. Components such as main tank, tap changer, and brushing and cooling systems have failure rates of 30 per cent, 35 per cent, 15 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. To reduce these rates, sensors are attached to the equipment to provide data, which enables the creation of a risk index. When multiple risk indices are obtained, they are aggregated to get a risk score for the asset. These risk scores from different assets can then be ranked from best to worst to understand failure modes and asset performance.

Meanwhile, demand reception poses a considerable challenge, in part due to stand-alone microgrids, which reduce the revenue capabilities of utilities. In many countries, utilities have started restructuring themselves in line with the emerging business models such as wire business, transaction business and electron business. It is time Indian utilities start thinking about innovative and inclusive business models. Digitalisation and automation are examples of two new business models that have gained popularity. It is crucial to achieve complete control of the network along with ensuring that sensors across all assets, including renewable energy assets, are connected to the system.