Technology Roadmap: IT-OT experience of leading power utilities

IT-OT experience of leading power utilities

Power utilities across the generation, transmission and distribution (T&D) segments are embracing IT-OT technologies for enhancing consumer services, increasing process efficiency and streamlining operations. As traditional T&D networks become smarter, and decentralised generation, prosumers, renewables, intelligent devices and adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) increase, utilities need to prepare and implement clear technology roadmaps. Of late, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data analytics, cloud computing and predictive maintenance tools are emerging as key trends in the technology space. As utilities reinvent and revise their technology strategies, cybersecurity and data protection have assumed greater significance. With this background, Smart Utilities presents a review of the IT-OT journeys of three leading utilities – CESC Limited, CLP India Private Limited and Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (Tata Power-DDL)…

CESC Limited

CESC Limited covers 567 square km in Kolkata and Howrah, serving about 2.9 million consumers. It is an integrated generation-cum-distribution utility with thermal power plants (TPPs) at Haldia (West Bengal) and Chandrapur (Maharashtra) as well as various renewable energy projects. CESC has also ventured into the distribution franchise business in select circles in Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

The utility has been operating since 1899 and its IT journey has evolved significantly over the years. With the use of IT across the sectors such as banking, telecom and finance, the aspirations of consumers have changed and, therefore, distribution utilities too need to keep evolving their IT-OT practices. Today, all supply and commercial issues faced by CESC’s consumers are handled online; any difficulty faced by a consumer is routed to CESC through a customer relationship management system.

Over the past year, CESC has taken several new IT-OT initiatives. It has introduced a chatbot on its website for common consumer queries and interactions. The solution, called ebuddy, encourages consumers to report power cuts, enquire about AC connection or post other queries without having to dial the call centre. Equipped with AI, ML and natural language processing capabilities, the chatbot can transfer the consumers to a live agent.

CESC has a strong business intelligence (BI) team, which uses analytics on the data mine that has been accumulated over the years. Various visualisation and analytics tools help the utility make predictive and informed decisions for a variety of distribution-related issues including high tension faults. Further, over the past one year, CESC has installed a smart signal system connected to sensors in its generation plants. The plant performance data from the sensors is captured through an ML tool and sent to the smart signal system, which sends alerts if the plant performance deviates from normal/healthy values. Any deviations are flagged to the maintenance team, which takes predictive/preventive action rather than a remedial one, thereby saving time and costs. CESC has also integrated the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system with its mobile app so that engineers can access system operation parameters and resolve breakdown issues quickly.

In addition, the utility has been using cloud computing for over a year now. Though it has an advanced data centre (ISO 27000 certified) and a rudimentary disaster recovery centre, there are costs of maintaining them, especially with the uncertainty in the amount of data to be handled in the coming years. For instance, the utility is receiving humongous data from smart meters and given the rate of data increase, it needs to take a call whether it needs to expand its data centre infrastructure or reap the benefits of cloud computing.

CESC is also focusing on capacity building, data democratisation, robotic process automation as well as digital tools to monitor power plant emissions. In terms of challenges, cybersecurity and data protection are key areas that need strengthening.

CLP India

CLP India, part of the Hong Kong-headquartered CLP Holdings, operates in the generation and transmission segment. The company has TPPs in Gujarat and Haryana as well as renewable energy plants in various states. It has also recently forayed into the transmission segment with the acquisition of Kalpataru Power Transmission Limited’s transmission assets. Besides, it is looking for growth opportunities in the distribution segment.

CLP India’s digital transformation strategy is centred on supporting business growth and becoming more agile so that future business opportunities (like distribution) can be integrated with the existing platforms. The company is focusing on operational efficiency improvement though IT and OT practices and has prepared a comprehensive three-year plan for it.

Over the past one year, CLP India has taken initiatives for enabling IT infrastructure in terms of network growth and cybersecurity as well as set up the Office 365 platform to empower employees. The company has also set up a centralised monitoring centre at its corporate office in Mumbai, where it receives data from various renewable and conventional generating stations.

At the same time, the company is laying emphasis on cybersecurity and data protection. It has opted for technologies that enable internet browsing and connection security, that is, employees can access resources in a secure manner from anywhere. The company is also implementing SCADA network monitoring through an Israel-based technology provider, which picks up anomalies in performance and sends 24×7 alerts. The company’s security services take complete care of its end points and the perimeter. Further, CLP India is looking at process automation. It will be leveraging technology for improving business processes, that are not covered in its current enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The company has been using SAP-ERP for almost 10 years and now it intends to revisit its ERP strategy. Currently, it is conducting an external study for mapping business objectives and strategies. Simultaneously, CLP India is working towards automating its data analytics platform. The solar sites are already covered by the platform in terms of visualisation and data acquisition, and monitoring is done by a centralised station. The next step is to include wind sites and TPPs in the same platform.

For CLP India, change management is critical for the success of IT-OT initiatives. Digital transformation in a company is required to be driven from the top and often it takes time to educate the leadership and take employees on board to enable the adoption of digital technologies.

Tata Power-DDL

Tata Power-DDL started distribution operations in Delhi in 2002 following the privatisation of the erstwhile Delhi Vidyut Board. The company, therefore, had an opportunity to create greenfield IT-OT infrastructure. Tata Power-DDL’s IT-OT strategy has always been driven by clear objectives. In 2002-03, the challenges in the distribution network included over eight hours of load shedding, numerous pending connections, ethical issues and high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of 57 per cent.

Tata Power-DDL drafted a technology roadmap for the period 2003-12 driven by the objective of loss reduction. The roadmap included technologies such as optic fibre communication networks, geographic information system (GIS), substation automation system, outage management system (OMS) and automated meter reading, among others. The discom implemented SAP-ERP in 2004-05 and OMS in 2009-10 after integrating the IT and OT verticals. The next technology roadmap prepared by the discom was based on performance parameters (such as reliability and asset utilisation) and not sustenance parameters (like AT&C losses). Technologies such as smart metering, meter data management system, BI, advanced metering infrastructure, big data analytics, field force automation (FFA), and upgraded SCADA and GIS are being implemented as part of the roadmap.

Tata Power-DDL started deploying smart meters from 2013 onwards and today it has over 150,000 smart meters in its network. Also, FFA is being used for over 1,200 field crew. Besides data analytics, platforms such as Hadoop have also been implemented.

Going forward, Tata Power-DDL’s technology roadmap focuses on renewable energy integration, given that about 400 MW of rooftop solar is estimated to be added to its network by 2025. Further, predictive analytics and quality optimisation of IT services is on its radar. At the same time, cybersecurity is an area of focus. The utility has in place security information and event management tools, perimeter intrusion detection system as well as a cybersecurity control room. As Tata Power-DDL is now deploying IoT for distribution automation, different kinds of cybersecurity measures are required.

For employee engagement, Tata Power-DDL started doing business outside discoms, in other countries for external clients so that its workforce is skilled in diverse technologies. Tata Power-DDL also derives resources from other Tata Group companies such as TCS. However, getting and retaining talent skilled in IT-OT practices is a challenge.

(Based on a panel discussion among Nimesh Mehta, General Manager-IT, CLP India; Sanghamitra Pyne, Head-IT, Haldia Energy Limited, CESC; and Santadyuti Samanta, Head of IT, Tata Power-DDL at a recent Smart Utilities Conference)