Smarter Grids

Utilities moving towards reliable power solutions

Sustainable, reliable and uninterrupted power supply is one of the prerequisites for creating a smart city. Earlier, utilities focused solely on the installation of new equipment to ensure round-the-clock power supply. However, issues related to aggregate technical and commercial losses, power theft and revenue inefficiencies persisted. More recently, the energy landscape has undergone an enormous change with the three new trends – decarbonisation, digitalisation and decentralisation. With this, the focus has shifted towards automation of systems, reliance on renewable energy sources and their integration with smart microgrids, adoption of electric vehicles, deployment of internet of things (IoT) and integration of information technology and operational technology (IT-OT) systems. These technological breakthroughs together with the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) are improving the quality life of citizens. At the same time, utilities have benefited immensely with the participatory grid system as it has ensured seamless operations. Despite the several benefits that smart IT-based solutions have provided, there is increased threat to data security which cannot be overlooked.

Smart energy solutions

Of late, there has been a dramatic change in the energy landscape as utilities aim to create a local, reliable and participative grid system to eliminate power cuts. Electrification, automation and digitalisation of the power distribution grid are the other key areas that have become a priority for many distribution and transmission companies. Smart technology solutions such as integration of renewable energy sources into the grid, adoption of substation automation systems (SAS), secondary distribution automation systems such as remote monitoring units for feeders, management of microgrids and distributed energy resource management systems are being adopted on a larger scale. Earlier, the generation of power was non-controllable which resulted in huge energy losses. To overcome the challenge, microgrids or local energy grids have been set up and offer intelligent power solutions to cities. This local grid, unlike the conventional grid, can be integrated with other distributed generation sources, typically renewables, thus providing uninterrupted power supply to citizens. Further, it has the capability to produce power based on customer demand and all the excess energy produced is stored using storage devices.

With regard to battery energy storage solutions (BESS), they help in easing the congestion of the transmission system. Several components such as battery management systems, power conditioning systems, power transformers and energy management systems are part of the BESS that eliminates the chance of outages.

Another OT solution, SAS enables utilities in managing disturbances in advance by recording events in transmission and distribution networks on a real-time basis. Besides, remote monitoring of feeders and circuit breakers among other secondary distribution automation systems helps in ensuring greater operational efficiencies. At present, a total of 34,502 feeders are installed in urban areas, of which about 31,110 feeders are being monitored on the national power portal, thereby expediting the response time.

Utilities also deploy other IT-based solutions such as geographic information systems for mapping of transmission assets, and state-of-the-art supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system for monitoring the quality of equipment such as transformers, circuit breakers, automatic meters and battery sets to enable seamless operations.

Besides, cloud computing solutions and big data analytics for data management, data analytics, customer care, and a metering and billing interface are increasingly being used to speed up a host of business processes.

Key benefits

Convergence of IT and OT and deployment of other smart technologies offer several benefits to utilities. Automation of substations results in detailed and faster fault analysis. Further, smart substations are capable of responding to events on a real-time basis, thereby ensuring effective asset management. It also enables the remote maintenance of relays and limits human interference in maintenance procedures. The remote monitoring of circuit breakers and feeders reduces the response times by providing the exact location of faults. Smart microgrids are highly beneficial in areas where grid penetration is low or those which are not easily accessible as they ensure a continued power supply.

Conclusion

Central government schemes such as Saubhagya and the Integrated Power Distribution Scheme in parallel with the SCM have enabled the development of a reliable energy grid. The push towards adoption of IT-OT solutions and microgrids has helped overcome the country’s energy access problem and has reduced the urban-rural divide. However, with increased automation and digitalisation, concerns about cybersecurity and managing huge amounts of data crop up. Therefore, utilities need to take prudent measures by installing security solutions beforehand while adopting smart IT-based solutions in conjunction with the existing applications.

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