Smart solution to India’s energy woes, by PK Ranade, Chairman and Managing Director, Advance Metering Technology Ltd.
Smart grids can play a key role in addressing power supply and demand challenges, while lowering costs as well as carbon emissions.
Power shortages and energy security have been perennial challenges for India. Over the decades, the country has been overly dependent on coal-fired power plants. While this has helped meet some of its energy requirements, it has added another grave dimension: Global warming and climate change, which are exacerbated by predominant use of heavily-polluting coal-based power plants.
In recent years, the emergence of clean energy sources such as solar and wind power, among others, has offered a ray of hope. These could not only meet energy requirements but are clean sources, unlike fossil fuels. The emergence of various smart technologies has further augmented this promise. With smart grids and smart meters, it may be possible to not only meet electricity requirements but do so in a manner that promotes efficient utilisation of generation capacity and minimal wastage.
Clean yet challenging
Clean energy sources have their own set of challenges. For example, integrating solar and wind power into conventional electricity grids can present specific difficulties. These include intermittent power generation, storage costs and inadequacy of proven distribution control mechanisms that could manage a high generation base.
The emergence of smart grids promises to address these challenges. Smart grids or intel-
ligent energy networks can facilitate energy consumption optimisation via grid-integrated real-time communications between numerous grid elements of generation, transmission, distribution and consumption. While some aspects of these systems have been successfully implemented, the complete and seamless rollout of an integrated system that seamlessly manages and balances the nuances is still a challenge. This is due to the lack of a single operating standard and definition on which all the devices in the energy value chain operate.
Traditionally, electricity grids have depended on conventional sources of power, such as coal and gas fired plants to provide the base load power and to balance out any fluctuations in the supply of power. In India, coal has been the predominant fuel for decades. In the traditional model, utility providers usually opt for higher demand provisions based upon historical peak-load patterns. When demand rises above average, power providers generally use coal fired plants to meet this demand. But, peakload power provisioning wastes fuel if average demand is lower than the peak. The nature of how traditional power plants operate dictate that electrical energy should be consumed at the time of generation. The grid level of energy storage is capital intensive and can have a significant impact on the unit cost of energy.
Given the paradigm shift towards renewable energy sources, the rising demand for power in all geographies and the daily and seasonal intermittency of wind and solar PV, it becomes difficult to match power supply to peak demand at all times. To overcome this mismatch, it is important that the demand and supply are matched as closely as possible by deploying communications technology i.e. two-way communications between power grids and consumers’ premises. Additionally, incentives can be given so that consumers defer/ time-shift (reschedule) usage as per the natural power supply curve of the day. This incentive could be through variable pricing or other means such as demand side load load management or negative load pricing. Such steps could boost better utilisation of available capacity and encourage the adoption of renewables into the grid power mix.
To bring about the above scenario, constant flow of metering information from users’ premises to the power grid is crucial. This would enable the specific demand to be identified and controlled information on pricing and other relevant points sent to users’ meters to encour- age or drive them into adopting demand pattern that is better suited to the power supply curve of a renewable sources rich grid.
Cost and carbon benefits
Real time management of demand via smart grid technology holds the potential of allowing great savings in energy generation and transmission while at the same time allowing for a greater integration of renewable energy into the power mix. This may be achieved by deferring some of the peak power demand to off-peak hours. Capacity and transmission costs can also be optimised with this tool.
It is against this backdrop that producers need to either upgrade and modernise their grids or have these replaced with smart grids, including installation of smart meters at consumers’ premises. Such changes may enable savings of up to 30% through less power consumption and lower energy bills. Other benefits apart from direct cost savings include reduction in overall carbon emissions, increasing power asset utilisation and integration of renewable energy sources, lower power blackout probability and low operational costs due to automation in metering of energy.
Partial upgrades may not provide comprehensive benefits that a comprehensive smart grid solution can offer. With India embarking on the ‘Smart Cities’ programme, it is a better strategy to deploy complete smart grids to help facilitate 24x7 power for these cities. Besides monetary and resource savings, smart grids enable better safety and higher productivity for users. Although the high initial investments in acquiring smart grids could be daunting for some states, with nearly 30% savings in energy expenses, there is a tangible payback benefit that makes such a system bankable.
Energy security and 24/7 power across India will also allow the nation to meet ambitious GDP targets while arresting the national greenhouse emissions. Smart grids are undoubtedly the future for India as it seeks to achieve infrastructure and other developmental goals in the shortest possible time.