The power system value chain has undergone significant changes globally. Today, consumers are looking for a digital-grade power supply that is secure, reliable and affordable. For India’s developing economy, the emergence of IT and intelligent devices created several opportunities for the integration of communication and computational advancements, laying the foundation for smart grids in the country’s power sector. In view of the need for transitioning to smart grids, a visionary smart grid roadmap India was approved by the Ministry of Power (MoP) in August 2013. The National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) became a reality in 2015, aiming to plan and monitor the implementation of policies and programmes related to smart grid activities in India.
Under the mission, there have been several achievements, especially when it comes to smart grid pilot projects. Today, there are nearly 20 state-level project management units (SLPMUs) on board and one of the key objectives of the mission is to deliver effective training and capacity-building facilities for all SLPMUs.
Objectives and achievements
NSGM support for the implementation of smart grid projects primarily consists of activities (indicative) such as pre-feasibility studies, technology selection, cost-benefit analysis and selection of financing models; funding to these projects, together with state discoms and other financing agencies; training and capacity building for SLPMUs and project implementation teams; consumer awareness initiatives; and project appraisal post implementation. Under NSGM, there are four ongoing projects worth Rs 4.64 billion catering to the needs of around 725,000 consumers. The advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) ecosystem has also developed significantly. Apart from this, various model smart grid regulations have been released by the Forum of Regulators and a Smart Grid Training Programme has been developed for utility professionals.
In the AMI space, the Smart Meter Roll-out Plan has been laid out and the Model Standard Bidding Document has been prepared for the appointment of an implementing agency for AMI. With the successful go-live of 11 smart grid pilot projects, a demonstration of AMI, net metering, outage management system and rooftop solar integration has been observed. The Government of India released funds worth around Rs 1,193.7 million for these pilots and 156,000 smart meters were installed under these smart grid pilots. Also, all types of communication technologies viz. radio, PLC and GPRS have been tested successfully for the first time in India. The legacy metering billing and collection system has been integrated with AMI/smart metering in these pilots. The Smart Grid Knowledge Centre (SGKC), Manesar, has been developed as a resource centre with functionalities of AMI, OMS, microgrid/distributed generation, the home energy management system and training infrastructure. Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has started the deployment of smart meters through bulk procurement on the opex model in 2018. Till date, approximately 2.50 million smart meters have been installed and around 8.10 million smart meters are under deployment.
Milestones in smart metering
Various cost-effective smart metering solutions to suit the Indian context were mooted in early 2011 and draft functional requirements were released by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in March 2012 for suggestions. In August 2016, the functional requirements of AMI were released by the CEA and in March 2017, the smart meter standard IS 16444 Part-2 (transformer operated) was published by the Bureau of Indian Standards. In 2018, EESL started the deployment of smart meters in states through bulk procurement on the opex model.
At the World Utility Summit 2020, the smart grid readiness self-assessment tool (final version to be launched shortly) was showcased. It is not a ranking tool and plays a pivotal role in assisting utilities in their smart grid journey. The cost-benefit analysis tool focuses on investment analysis for utility modernisation projects. Its focus is also on enabling power distribution utilities in India to perform a holistic analysis of utility modernisation projects. The seven asset types are mapped to 10 functionalities to enable 29 benefits to utilities, consumers, environmental and societal categories.
The project at Chandigarh (Subdivision 5) was sanctioned and awarded in April 2016 and October 2018, respectively. A total of 10,700 smart meters have been installed under the project. MPLS connectivity has been established in two substations. Further, 44 bay control and protection units have been installed on motorised feeders. The integrated smart grid project in Rajasthan (six towns) was awarded in June 2020. A total of 31,971 smart meters have been installed under the project, and the balance meter installation is in progress. In September 2018, the project in Ranchi was sanctioned, at an outlay of Rs 2,286.8 million. It is currently under tendering.
In the beginning, there were no standards or specifications (legacy and nonperforming systems). In terms of communication, PLC was not so reliable, radio frequency (RF) had very little market penetration and GPRS had higher charges. There was no availability of data and there was only a one-way flow of power – from the grid to the consumer. Today, there is IS 16444 along with companion standards for smart meters. There are newer IT solutions and integration facilities. In terms of communication, PLC can now give dependable results, the RF system is now canopy and mesh-based, and GPRS is functional and provides limited interoperability. There is data available for analytics and services and more options like opex, franchisee and JV exist now.
Key findings and recommendations
The utilities observed a reduction in AT&C losses and six pilots exceeded their targets. The integration of the smart grid system with RAPDRP was successfully achieved in the Tripura, Assam and West Bengal pilots. Consumer portals were developed at CESC, HPSEB, IIT Kanpur, PED, TSECL, TSSPDCL, UGVCL and WBSEDCL. The demand response/peak load management functionality was successfully tested at all pilots for time-of-day tariffs. The smart city R&D platform at IIT Kanpur is a showcase model with R&D potential to test integration with smart cities. It is leading UI-ASSIST activities.
Initially, consumer resistance was observed, but they were later sensitised to the benefits of smart grid deployments through pamphlets, news articles and meetings. Overall, there is limited consumer awareness on smart grids. The discoms need to adopt transformational processes and active internal teams (SLPMUs) are crucial for bringing out the change. The project timelines are to be rationalised and the opex model is to be adopted for AMI implementation. There is also a need to improve the skill sets of discom personnel by continuous training and capacity building. Also, the grant releases may be linked with operational performance, that is, fund release based on performance assessment against key performance indicators. The next focus should be on standardisation in areas like data centres on the cloud, RF interoperability, and plug-n-play communication modules. Analysis-based projects involving integration aspects and consumer engagement for large-scale rollouts should also be implemented. Lastly, continuous project monitoring and decision-making by discoms will play a key role in proper management.
The way forward
Various sanctioned and ongoing smart grid projects under NSGM have been completed. With the development of pilot/demonstration projects, focusing on areas like demand response, reliability improvement, microgrid and data analytics, there are plans of handholding state discoms through SLPMUs for the development of state-specific smart grid roadmaps, adoption of the smart grid readiness-self assessment tool (SGR-SAT), and the adoption of cost-benefit analysis tool. The development of SGKC as a centre of excellence and capacity building through dedicated training programmes for discoms/state utilities, etc. is also crucial.
Technological advancements have led to the development of equipment like the cost-benefit analysis tool and the smart grid readiness self-assessment tool as part of pilot and demonstration projects that will play a major role in the coming years, reshaping the ecosystem for various utilities. With the shift towards cloud-based technologies from physical data centres, the interoperability of communication modules will be one of the key focus areas. Net, net, the smart grid initiatives aimed at grid modernisation hold the potential to improve the overall performance of the discoms and enhance consumer services and satisfaction.