The smart grid’s benefits and applications can be best understood in the perspective of the present system in use. In the current cycle, the end user measurements result in billing under flat tariff rates that are not related to demand or supply. The opportunities for building smart grids in India are immense, as a stable electric supply is one of the key infrastructure requirements for overall development.
Smart grid is a new age term spanning various functionalities geared towards modernising the electricity grid. At its core, a smart grid utilises digital communications and control systems to monitor and control power flows, with the aim to make the power grid more resilient, efficient and cost effective. The basic objectives of smart grids are to enable informed participation by customers; accommodate all generation (solar, wind etc.) and storage options; enable new products, services, and markets; provide the power quality needed for the range of needs in a 21st century economy; optimise asset utilisation and operation efficiently; address disturbances through automated prevention, containment and restoration; and operate resiliently against all hazards. The various components and the interlinkages between them for implementation of a smart grid are shown in Figure 1.
Need for smart grids in India
According to the Ministry of Power, India’s transmission and distribution losses are amongst the highest in the world, averaging 26 per cent of total electricity production, and as high as 62 per cent in some states. These do not include non-technical losses such as theft etc., adding which would raise the figure to nearly 50 per cent.
India loses money for every unit of electricity sold, as it possesses one of the weakest electric grids in the world – with a poorly planned distribution network; overloading of the system components; lack of reactive power support and regulation services; and low metering efficiency and bill collection, etc.
India is foraging into renewable energy (RE) resources like wind and solar. Solar has great potential in India with an average of 300 solar days per year. The Indian Government is providing incentives for solar power generation in the form of subsidies and has set a goal that envisages a 7 per cent contribution to India’s total power production by 2022.
Supply of power harnessed from renewables is intermittent in nature – dependent on sun hours for solar energy and steady air flow for wind energy – conditions that cannot be controlled. With such unpredictable energy sources feeding the grid, it is necessary to have a utility that is adaptive, in terms of supply and demand. Hence, the opportunities for building smart grids in India are immense, as a stable electric supply is one of the key infrastructure requirements for overall development.
Technologies- Smart grids in India
Smart metering: Microprocessor based devices – smart meters provide a two way communication capability. They help homeowners and suppliers to manage respective peak and off peak electricity usage in an efficient and cost effective manner. With the information provided by such smart meters the power utilities can set up real time pricing systems, (variable pricing for peak and off-peak for example) for electricity.
Virtual power plants: The goal of virtual power plants is to allow discrete energy resources (DERs) to access the energy market i.e. to feed the electricity grid constantly and reliably.
Micro grids: A micro grid is a cluster of local DERs and loads interlinked in such a way that an operation is possible within the grid in an independent mode. Usually it is connected at low and sometimes at the medium voltage level.
Challenges and solutions
Policy and regulation: No defined standards and guidelines exist for the regulation ofinitiatives related to smart grids in India. The current policy and regulatory frameworks were typically designed to deal with the existing networks and utilities. The prevailing frameworks must evolve to encourage incentives for investment that match the interests of the consumers with the interests of the suppliers to ensure that goals are achieved at the lowest cost to the consumers.
Cost: If smart grids had made easy business sense, they would have been the norm everywhere. Cost is clearly one of the biggest hurdles in implementing smart grids in India. Equipment that cannot be retrofitted to be compatible with smart grid technologies will have to be replaced – a problem for utilities and regulators since keeping equipment beyond its depreciated life minimises the capital cost to consumers.
Lack of awareness: Understanding of how power is delivered to homes or offices is often low among consumers. The smart grid concept thus needs active propagation and its contribution to a low carbon economy and benefits accrued to users actively highlighted. Consumers will then map their energy consumption patterns. The role of policy makers is indeed pertinent here as the overall capabilities of smart grids in India needs to be explored rather than merely implementing smart meters.
Cyber security and data privacy: With the transition from analogous to digital electricity infrastructure comes the challenge of communication security and data management. Since digital networks are more prone to malicious attacks from software hackers, security becomes a key issue. Thus systems should be designed with security as a priority and should be well protected.
Way forward: Techno-commercial pilot projects for the development of a smart grid vision with appropriate and aware consumer consensus, viable funding options and appropriate policy and regulatory actions to set common standards and encourage innovation can offer interesting potential demonstrations of various benefits of smart grids in India. Small and medium sized projects should be tried at both, the rural and urban level for an optimal large scale solution.
It should be emphasised that any plan must be adaptable to the unique needs, cultural and political realities, and resource constraints of different regions, states and localities. Perhaps the gravest error at this early stage of smart grids in India development would be to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, implemented in an appropriate way, smart grids in India can provide an optimal solution to India’s energy needs.