Smart grids: The future of the Indian power sector


The transition from the traditional grid to smart grids is a welcome move in the Indian power industry. Being crippled by chronic challenges like the demand-supply disparity as well as numerous environmental concerns, smart grids present a pragmatic solution to the current power crisis in the country.

By Potshangbam July

What is so ‘smart’ about smart grids? If we look at the overall efficiency smart grids bring to the whole operation, allowing real-time communication between the suppliers and the consumers in a personalised way, the use of the term ‘smart’ is justified. With the incorporation of intelligent technologies, tools and techniques, these grids automate the management of electricity flow. The system enables suppliers to collect and analyse the data related to energy usage and so they can react in time to control power losses, if any. Besides, smart grids have a significant impact on the annual cost-savings, both for the users and energy suppliers by eliminating the errors caused during manual activities.

How smart grids rectify flaws associated with traditional grid systems
Smart grids are modern versions of traditional power grids. They have various advanced components integrated in the system, such as smart meters, smart appliances, sensors, advanced synchrophasor technologies, etc. Most electricity grids are operated in a one-sided flow from the point of generation to consumption. But smart grids are based on two-way communication by recording all the actions of power usage and transmitting these both to the suppliers and consumers using computer-based remote control and automation (refer to box on next page).


Hurdles to be overcome
Despite the many advantages of the smart grid, there are various roadblocks that hinder their implementation.

A huge investment is required to set up the infrastructure that will connect customers and energy suppliers. The high cost factor has been a major challenge in the implementation of the entire smart grid network.

Further, there are no concrete policies and regulations that outline safety guidelines and standards. Policy makers and regulators should have chalked out the business models relevant to the Indian context that will help to avoid any loopholes during deployment.
Awareness about the concept of smart grids among the consumers is very minimal. Consumers are yet to understand how power is delivered in this kind of system that is equipped with advanced technologies.


The public should be educated about the benefits of smart grids and their role in energy conservation and in reducing carbon emissions. In addition, efforts should be made to educate consumers about other energy efficient aspects of smart grids like billing accuracy, control of power theft and pilferage, etc.

Unless there is a more aggressive awareness campaign, implementing the smart grid is not going to be an easy task.

Steps taken up by the government of India
In an effort to meet the increasing demand for electricity and to improve the financial health of the power sector, the government of India set up the India Smart Grid Task Force (ISGTF) and the India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF) in 2010.

The India Smart Grid Task Force (ISGTF): This is a body made up of officials from different government departments and is primarily meant for understanding and advocating policies in smart grid technologies. The main functions of the ISGTF are to ensure awareness, coordination and integration of the diverse activities related to smart grid technologies, practices and services for smart grid research and development, as well as to coordinate and integrate other relevant inter-governmental activities.

The India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF): This is a public and private partnership initiative with the objective of accelerating the development of smart grid technologies in the Indian power sector. It helps the Indian power sector in deploying smart grid technologies in an efficient, cost effective, innovative and scalable manner by bringing together all key stakeholders and enabling technologies.

Notably, 11 smart grid pilots and one smart city pilot were sanctioned in 2012. Nearly 50 per cent of the funding was provided by the Ministry of Power (MoP) in order to test smart grid technologies. The next milestone was the establishment of the National Smart Grid Mission by the Ministry of Power, government of India, in 2015. This has its own resources, authority, functional and financial autonomy to take care of smart grid related activities and also monitor all the policies and programmes.

Currently, there are 16 smart grid pilot projects and one smart city R&D platform at various places across India which are under implementation. Details about the projects are given in Table 1.

The road ahead
The smart grid concept is the future of the Indian power sector as it has the potential to address the current energy problems in the country. At present, India is yet to address the acute scarcity of power. More awareness programmes and initiatives on smart grids should be carried out at a much wider scale to tackle the problems that have been plaguing the power sector, such as increasing demand for energy due to the rising population, power outages and theft, lack of accurate energy metering, etc. The existing grid systems and strategies are outdated and unidirectional with limited control technology. With the replacement of this old power distribution system, the performance of the power sector can be optimised. This technology can significantly help to reduce the loss of electricity during transmission and distribution to 5-10 per cent, annually. Thus, the smart grid is a realistic solution to transform India into an energy-secure and efficient country.

Simarpreet Singh, director – strategy, Hartek Group

EB: How do smart grids address many of the flaws associated with the traditional grid systems?
Smart grids are designed to be more efficient and reliable than traditional grid systems. It is smart grid applications that make the transmission infrastructure more efficient. Unlike traditional grids, these automated and computerised applications detect faults and identify faulty equipment. Since they reduce the need for manpower, they bring down operation and maintenance expenses, and ensure a faster response. Besides, the outages are fewer and the time taken to rectify faults is considerably reduced. Being more resilient, the present-day automated and digitised smart grid applications that are based on information and communication technology can run on-the-go diagnostics and self-correction mechanisms and update the results in no time. These capabilities help minimise power losses to a considerable extent and equip utilities with the necessary information to enhance efficiency through meticulously planned operations.

EB: What are the latest developments, trends and technologies in the smart grid domain?
Smart grids play a crucial role in ensuring a reliable and efficient power supply through the adoption of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) control system architecture. The other features of a typical smart grid that can help in reducing losses and bringing about more efficiency are distribution management systems (DMS), distribution automation systems (DA), energy management systems (EMS), automated meter reading (AMR), outage management systems (OMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and the geographical information system (GIS).

A robust smart grid also requires the introduction of Wide Area Measurement System (WAMS)-based technology to optimise grid performance. Installation of Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) is a prerequisite for WAMS. In fact, the existing interface involving SCADA/EMS-based grid operations can give the desired results along with the introduction of PMU-based technologies.

EB: How can smart grids improve energy efficiency and reliability?
Though smart electricity is marked by features like sustainability, affordability as well as smart and automated metering, it all starts with making a grid smart and responsive. Smart grid technologies like SCADA systems are equipped with a self-correcting mechanism, enabling the collection and storage of information that could indicate the need for troubleshooting and maintenance, thus making the power systems smart and robust. Acquiring real-time data and controlling the signals at the same time are extremely crucial for any state discom so that the power system network is well equipped to deal with any major or minor fault. Turning all the grids into smart grids by replacing the conventional relays with SCADA relays will enable discoms to control the grids, and hence create a robust power system. The information and communication technology in smart grids will help them improve their analysis in areas like customer load patterns and tariffs, which will further result in better services to consumers.

EB: What are the major roadblocks faced when setting up smart grids? And what are the primary requirements for their successful implementation?
Since smart grid technologies require huge investments, cost can be a dissuading factor. However, there is reason to be optimistic. Taking decisive steps to come up with more comprehensive and scalable digital-age electricity grids, the Central government had embarked on the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) by committing a total outlay of
₹ 9.8 billion, out of which ₹ 3.38 billion will be spent in the 12th Plan period. The Union Power Ministry has allocated more than 90 per cent of the outlay for the development of smart grids in smart cities. So, funds are not an issue.

Given the long-term advantages, the investment is worth it. The NSGM has launched 14 smart grid pilot projects under the guidance of the Power Grid Corporation of India and the Central Power Research Institute to develop advanced metering infrastructure and demand response.

A smart grid essentially involves a variety of operational measures, including smart meters, smart appliances, renewable energy resources and energy-efficient technologies. It entails increased use of digital information and technology to improve the reliability, security and efficiency of the grid; the dynamic optimisation of grid operations and resources, as well as the deployment and integration of distributed resources. It also involves the introduction of real-time, automated and interactive technologies that optimise the functioning of appliances and the integration of smart appliances and consumer devices. It should optimise electricity consumption by recording real-time data pertaining to residential, commercial and industrial spaces. Smart grids should be able to modernise power systems through automation, remote monitoring and micro grids, thus making the power systems more sustainable and resilient.

EB: There are issues like cyber security risks and data privacy related to smart grids. How can these be controlled?
Through the increased use of digital information, smart grid applications employ technology to improve the reliability, safety and efficiency of the electricity grid, while ensuring dynamic optimisation of grid operations and resources, along with comprehensive cyber security. To counter the risks of cyber attacks on smart grids, which can cause massive power breakdowns as well as monetary losses, we need to integrate the cyber security risks into the broader risk management processes.

Since the size of the smart grid and its increased communication capabilities can make it more prone to cyber attacks, the government should warn energy and industrial firms against sophisticated hackers who can compromise the control systems used by the power industry and other sectors. To optimise the potential of the grid, utilities must invest in effective response and recovery capabilities and focus on the overall resilience of the grid. They should construct a stable and reliable communications network which provides a wireless, scalable and secure environment with extensive cyber security measures that guarantee hassle-free operations and real-time performance.

They should develop a mesh network to enable the secure and seamless integration of Wi-Fi-enabled products and mobile devices through multiple-level security measures. Every new device connected to the grid should be protected. The older Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security protocols should be replaced by the more modern and secure Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) password protection, updated to address vulnerabilities like KRACK and augmented with other security measures like MAC ID authentication.

EB: How aware are Indian consumers about smart grid technologies? What more can be done to educate them about the benefits?
With the advent of the Smart City concept, the awareness about smart grid systems among consumers is steadily increasing. In the aftermath of the 2012 blackout caused by grid breakdowns, which plunged more than 800 million people in northern and eastern India into darkness for two days, the focus has now shifted to extra high-voltage transmission lines capable of withstanding peak loads, as well as smart grids and decentralised electricity which can cater to the needs of local communities.

It should be impressed upon consumers that smart grid technology is a necessary condition for making the T&D (transmission and distribution) infrastructure capable of handling large amounts of electricity being injected into the grid. They should be made aware that the efficient flow of electricity depends on a robust and efficient transmission network, to which smart grid applications hold the key. So, an integrated grid with an IT backbone is a must. Since many consumers have already come to realise that smart grids reduce energy consumption and make the electricity supply more efficient, the mass adoption of these technologies is only a matter of time.



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