Digitalisation Initiatives: IT-OT solutions and strategies for the power sector

IT-OT solutions and strategies for the power sector

Digitalisation, decarbonisation and de­centralisation are key trends sha­ping the power sector today. Utili­ti­es across the generation, transmission and distribution (T&D) segments are em­bracing information technology/operati­onal technology (IT/OT) for enhancing consumer services, increasing process ef­f­i­­ci­en­cy and streamlining operations. In­dian utilities are implementing new technologies, en­co­uraged by gover­nment sc­hemes and driven by the need to up­grade their systems with sector dy­namics ch­an­ging. Further, the Covid-19 crisis has ac­celerated utilities’ move towards remote mo­nitoring, predictive maintenance and data analytics to facilitate decision-making.

While advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and smart metering are the focus area of utilities in the distribution seg­m­e­nt, those in transmission are looking at technologies that aid operations and ma­in­­tenance, while generation utilities are adopting technologies to enable flexibilisation and remote monitoring. Of late, artificial in­telligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data analytics 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 also assumed greater significance. An over­view of IT/OT and digitalis­ation initiatives in the power sector…

Update on government schemes

The government has been laying considerable focus on enhanced adoption of IT/OT in power, primarily distribution, for many years. IT/OT initiatives were a crucial component of older sche­mes such as the Accelerated Power Develop­me­nt and Reforms Programme (APDRP)/Restruc­tured-APDRP (R-APDRP),­ lau­nched nearly two decades ago, as well as new ones such as the Revamped Dis­tri­bution Sector Scheme (RDSS), launch­ed last year. The RDSS, which has an estimated outlay of Rs 3.04 trillion, will provide financial assistance to discoms on me­eting pre-qualifying criteria, as well as upon achievement of operational and financial performance benchmarks. Key interventions under the scheme in­clude 100 per cent system metering, prepaid sm­­art metering, energy accounting, and infrastr­ucture works for loss reduction and system modernisation, among others. The scheme also en­courages the im­plementation of advanced IT solutions such as AI, ML, big data and block­chain to help discoms in loss reduction, de­­ma­nd for­ecas­ting and asset mana­geme­nt. New te­ch­n­ologies will be 100 per cent fu­n­ded as grant under Part A of the sche­me. In addition, the sc­he­me envisa­ges distribution auto­ma­tion in urban ar­eas, SCADA/DMS in big cities (with populations of over 275,000), upgradation of bi­ll­ing and other IT/OT systems, and au­gmentation of the Smart Grid Know­ledge Centre. As of Dec­em­ber 2021, 39 out of 55 beneficiary discoms have submitted their draft proposals to the nodal agencies (REC and the Power Finance Cor­po­ra­tion). The state discoms of Meghalaya and As­s­am are the front runners in planning operational and financial reforms under the scheme.

Another centrally sponsored scheme, the In­tegrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), which was launched in 2014 and closed in Mar­ch 2022, laid emphasis on IT/OT initiatives such as enterprise re­so­urce planning (ERP), sm­art me­­tering, real-time data acquisition systems (RT-DAS) and IT enablement of towns in ad­dition to strengthening of sub-transmission and distribution systems. The erstwhile R-APDRP was al­so subsumed un­der the scheme. So far, government gran­ts have been released for 54 per cent of the total approved project cost of Rs 311 billion. Over 91.6 per cent of the project cost was for system strengthening, 2.5 per cent for IT Ph­a­se II works, 2.2 per cent for ERP, 0.7 per cent for smart metering, 0.4 per cent for RT-DAS and the rest for gas-insulated switchgear substations. As of February 2022, IT enablement of sm­aller towns and ERP has been compl­eted in 15 states, and RT-DAS implementation has been completed in 10 states.

AMI and smart metering

Several government schemes are also focusing on AMI and smart metering, sm­art grid pilots, and prepaid metering to automate the metering and billing pro­­cesses of discoms. These include the Smart Metering National Programme (SMNP), which has an ambitious goal of replacing 250 million conventional me­ters with smart meters across India; the IPDS; the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM); and the Ministry of Power’s smart grid pilots.

As of April 2022, 11.25 million smart me­te­rs have been sanctioned under various schemes and 4.14 million have been ins­talled (as per the NSGM dashboard). Of the total installations, 71 per cent have be­en installed by utilities on their own, 20 per cent under the IPDS, 4 per cent un­der smart grid pilots, 3 per cent under the NSGM and 1 per cent each under the Prime Mi­ni­ster’s Development Package and the De­en Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana.

As per the SMNP dashboard accessed in April 2022, around 1.58 million smart meters have been installed so far. Several states have come forward to enhance smart metering infrastructure in the country, and implementation works have co­­mmenced in several states, including Haryana (for 246,951 smart meters), Utt­ar Pradesh (1.14 million), Bihar (103,941), Delhi (58,840), Raj­asthan (494) and the Anda­man & Nicobar Isla­nds (23,906). The SMNP is under discussion for imple­men­ta­­tion in Arunachal Pradesh (182,699 sm­a­rt meters), Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir (913,132) and West Bengal (2 million).

Meanwhile, four smart grid projects have been sanctioned under the NSGM. These projects are at various sta­ges of development and are to be exe­cuted ac­ross the en­tire city of Ch­an­digarh (un­­­der the Ch­­­an­di­garh Electri­city Divi­sion [CED]), in Ranchi city (under Jharkhand Bijli Vit­ran Nigam Limited), in Sub­division 5 of Chandi­ga­rh (under CED), and in six tow­ns under Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Li­mited. Apart from AMI, other functionalities being implemented under these proje­c­ts include distribution transformer mo­nitoring and SCADA.

Technologies in transmission

IT and OT have key roles to play in transmission and grid operations, especially with energy transition picking up pace. Utilities such as Power Grid Corpo­ration of India Limited (Powergrid) and Adani Transmission Limited have developed integrated centralised dashboards capturing overall system-related information across a wide spectrum of parameters. Remote monitoring sy­stems have also been installed to capture data on system availability, tripping, outages, etc. in a granular way, to supervise the system and re­spond to situations in a fraction of a second. In 2020-21, Power­grid integrated eight extra high voltage substations into its National Transmis­sion Asset Ma­na­gement Centre in Mane­sar, Har­yana, taking the total tally of re­mo­tely managed substations to 242. Fur­th­er­more, it has 11 re­gional transmission asset management centres, to en­­ab­le more meticulous data acquisition.

Transcos are adopting new technologies for asset management, too. These include robotics, travelling wave fault locators (TWFLs) for accurate fault location, pro­cess bus modules for digital substations, and virtual reality/augmented reality kits for training. For instance, Power­grid has installed TWFLs in 95 transmission lines, which aid in accurately identifying the fault location, thus reducing the man-ho­urs spent on doing so. Utilities also tend to adopt predictive forecasting for highly critical equipment. Frequ­ency domain sp­­e­ctroscopy of bushings, dissolved gas analysis of transformers, thermovision sc­a­nning and integration of different results in a risk-based health index are in­stances of predictive analysis.

The deployment of digital substations is also gaining popularity in the transmission segment. Digital substations integrate real-time data into the system, thereby reducing downtime and en­hancing diagnostics. They also incorporate in­telligent electronic devices with integrated information and communication te­chnology, non-conventional instrument transformers, merging units and phasor measurement units (PMUs) that are interfaced with the process bus and station bus architecture.

In recent times, the wide area monitoring system (WAMS) has emerged as an efficient solution for addressing reliability and operational concerns in power supply and generation. It enhances real-time power transfer capabilities, enables au­tomatic corrective actions such as adaptive is­landing, allows better visualisation th­­rough state measurements, provides de­cision support tools, etc. Powergrid is carrying out the installation of PMUs on extra high voltage substations on a pan-Indian basis, integrated with control centres for WAMS and real-time monitoring of grid parameters.

Digitalisation in generation

Generation utilities are also at the forefront of adoption of IT/OT measures for improving generation performance, ma­­naging the ageing asset base and flexibilising units to integrate renewable en­ergy. Digital solutions can help reduce emissions by enabling online fuel an­alysis and combustion performance monitoring. Digitalisa­tion can also improve the flexibility of coal-bas­ed power plants to effectively manage the im­pact of cycling, as well as en­able data-driven decision-making to align with regula­tory and market changes.

Digitalisation of power plants allows remote monitoring and control of operations and guarantees a shorter response time to possible events. For instance, CESC Limited has a smart signal system connected to sensors in its generation pl­ants. 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 ac­tions rather than remedial on­es, thereby saving time and costs. CESC has also integrated the SCADA system with its mobile app so that engineers can access system operation parameters and resolve breakdown issues quickly.

The remote monitoring of operations is useful for hydropower plants, given that they are located in remote and far-flung areas. In 2018, the 800 MW Koldam hy­dropower plant, NTPC Limited’s maiden hydropower project in Himachal Pra­de­sh, became the first of its kind in In­dia to be op­erated remotely from a distance of 400 km, that is, from its con­tr­ol centre in Delhi.

Challenges and the way forward

As the adoption of digital and smart grid technologies continues across the generation, transmission and distribution segments, it is imperative for utilities to focus on cybersecurity. In addi­tion, utilities need to take cognisance of issues related to technology obsolescence, in­te­gration with legacy systems and manpower training. These challenges not­with­standing, po­wer utilities need to ad­opt best-in-class IT/OT solutions in or­der to maintain their competitive ed­ge in the fast changing energy sector. The latest developments in big data, an­alytics, AI and ML can go a long way in integrating renewable energy into the grid, enhancing customer service, en­ab­­ling accurate load forecasting and en­suring greater reliability of power supply in the country.