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.