Smart energy is one of the thrust areas under the Smart Cities Mission (SCM). Broadly, the smart energy objective under the mission is to promote renewable energy generation primarily through solar rooftop installations and ensure quality and reliable power supply. The mission guidelines require that at least 10 per cent of a city’s energy needs should be met by solar power and at least 80 per cent of the buildings should be green and energy efficient.
Smart energy supply has always been a part of the country’s overall infrastructure development. To this end, a number of government schemes are already being implemented. These are the Integrated Power Development Scheme, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s solar rooftop initiatives, the National LED programme, the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), etc. These schemes have been converged with the SCM.
Launched in 2015, the NSGM has given a big push to India’s smart grid plans. The steps to be taken under the mission include the implementation of smart grid projects, promotion of electric vehicles, development of microgrids, and the installation of grid-connected solar rooftop systems. Undertaking training and capacity building, along with enhancing consumer engagement are other steps to be taken. Smart grids, with advanced information and communications technology, have the potential to enable more dynamic, real-time flows of information on the network and greater interaction between suppliers and consumers. The Ministry of Power had announced smart grid pilot projects, which were to be implemented by various state-owned distribution utilities in 2013. As of July 2019, all 11 pilots that were announced have been declared as either go-live, completed or commercially operated. These projects were taken up across the states of Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab, Telangana, Tripura, Puducherry, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, at a total cost of Rs 2.9 billion (including Rs 1.3 billion government funding).
Distributed energy resources such as microgrids, pool pumps, batteries and solar power play an important role in the transition towards smarter grids. Together with smart meters, integrated grids help utilities in reducing technical and commercial losses, detecting energy theft and pilferage on a real-time basis, and undertaking peak load and demand-side management. Some cities are going the extra mile to completely change their energy mix in favour of renewables. Small solar parks are being made an integral part of some smart cities. A prime example is Diu, which became the first district in the country to run on 100 per cent renewable energy in the daytime. Spanning an area of 40 square km, Diu is among the 10 least populated districts of India and has the perfect mix of resources for setting up solar panels – barren land and high solar exposure. Earlier, the island was fully dependent on Gujarat’s grid for its power needs. Now, it has a 9 MW solar park which generates sufficient electricity to meet the daytime power demand. Meanwhile, the Jaipur solar rooftop project has also brought down electricity bills by generating 1.1 MW of energy from four public buildings.
Another renewable energy solution conceived under the mission is waste-to-energy (WtE) plants. With the increasing urban population, environmental concerns and stressed resources, there is an urgent need to address the issue of safe disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW). WtE technologies provide sustainable ways of generating electricity while helping to dispose of MSW. Besides, sewage treatment plants producing biogas and power are also being planned under the mission. However, owing to a number of economic and logistics challenges, the development of WtE solutions has been quite slow compared to other renewable segments.
Smart metering has been proposed under the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana to improve the financial health of power distribution companies. Smart meters offer a range of intelligent functions including remote meter reading, communication management, bill scheduling, and load and demand-side management. It allows two-way communication between the utility and the consumer. In October 2019, Energy Efficiency Services Limited and the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) formed a joint venture, IntelliSmart Infrastructure Private Limited, to finance and implement smart metering solutions in distribution companies. Set up by the government in February 2015, the NIIF is India’s first sovereign wealth fund. With a focus on expediting the deployment of smart meters, IntelliSmart plans to operate on a large scale by leveraging the expertise and capital of both shareholders.
However, one of the biggest problems with smart meters is their capital-intensive nature, with the high cost of meters generally being borne by the consumers. Going forward, there is a need to reduce the financial burden on consumers. Payments in instalments instead of an upfront sum can be one of the solutions for addressing this issue. Another challenge with smart meters is the limited number of manufacturers. Moreover, there are only a small number of certified laboratories for testing the meters. Further, there is a pressing need for advances in mobile devices, geographic information systems and other technologies (such as data analytics and cloud computing) that could have a transformative effect on utilities. The government too needs to formulate regulations to incentivise the use of smart solutions.