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Cloning the Negawatt Model

A paradigm shift from the traditional to ‘smart’ grids has brought several transformational changes to the electrical utility industry, including integrated utility networks’ digital assets. Reji Pillai & C. Amritha, assess how a good GIS can be utilised beyond a single domain in the Indian scenario


After a century of incremental improvements, finally the electricity sector is undergoing fundamental transformation. The traditional model of electricity generated at large power plants and transported to the consumers through transmission and distribution lines is fast changing. With proliferation of distributed generation sources spread all across, the new grid has millions of points of power injection and millions of points of consumption — a paradigm shift from the traditional grid with limited points of power injection.

The Indian power sector is also at the threshold of transformational changes. Today, India operates world’s largest synchronous grid covering an area of 3.28 million sqkm and installed capacity of 238 GW with a customer base of about 200 million. The share of renewable energy in the generation mix is presently 12%, and this is set to exceed 20% by end of this decade.

The power system is expected to grow at the rate of 8–10% per annum for next several decades. The estimated demand by 2032 is to be nearly 900 GW, a need that is almost quadruple the existing capacity!

While developed nations with reliable electric grids are investing in smart metering, data communications and advanced IT systems and analytics, tools for forecasting, scheduling and dispatching to further their smart grid journey, developing countries like India need to invest in both strengthening the electrical network as well as adding communications, IT and automation systems to build a strong and smart grid.

A smart grid intersects the electrical grid with automation, communication and IT systems that can monitor power flows from points of generation to points of consumption (even down to the appliance level) and control the power flow or curtail the load to match generation in real time. Increased visibility, predictability, and even control of both generation and demand allow utilities to better manage variability, integrate intermittent renewable generation and also reduce costs of peak power.

The existing grid system in India needs to be expanded to connect another 79 million households, which are not currently connected to the grid. The Government of India has initiated several programmes to address this. The Ministry of Heavy Industries recently announced the National Electric Mobility Mission with a target of 6 million EVs (electron volts) by 2020. Last year in September, the Ministry of Power announced its Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India that envisages transformation of the entire power system to smart grids by 2027. The ministry has even shortlisted 14 smart grid pilot projects across the country in which the vision will be implemented by state-owned distribution utilities. A National Smart Grid Mission is also expected to be set up soon. The cost of these projects would be shared equally by the state utilities and MoP. The present status of these projects can be viewed at: www.indiasmartgrid.org.

Smart grids to smart cities

The definition of cities has grown over millennia, evolving into places where the entirety of human activities and services concentrate. As cities evolved with more and more facilities and services, they became more and more attractive to people from rural areas leading to even faster urbanisation.

Smart grids for smart cities

  • Building digital map (GIS map) data of all infrastructure and services in an integrated fashion by one designated agency (with rules for sharing, security, etc.)
  • Smart electricity grids that ensure 24×7 stable electricity to all citizens
  • High levels of renewable energy mix that is integrated with the power grid
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure and ability to operate large fleet of grid-connected EVs as virtual power plants
  • Efficient water distribution network with leakage detection systems and safe gas distribution networks
  • Integrated billing systems for a variety of services (electricity, water, gas, internet, house tax etc); common consumer care centres and user friendly payment platforms
  • Intelligent transportation systems — coordinated operation of traffic lights, alerts on congested routes in advance, common cards for toll payments etc which also extends to improved public transportation.
  • Digital security systems integrated with emergency services (police, fire, ambulance, municipality etc)
  • Electrification of mobility, with fleet operations being the low hanging fruit, permit creation of virtual power plants
  • Intelligent buildings with rooftop PV and EV charging facilities integrated with automation systems of the electric utility participating in the demand response market
  • Demand response programmes that would strengthen “negawatt” market and IT infrastructure that would permit its aggregation for meaningful dispatch
  • Energy independence in long term and “intelligent energy harvesting” that would recycle incoming energy flows

In order to efficiently administer the needs of these growing cities, providers of infrastructure services (utilities) and governments are increasingly using IT solutions which has coined the term ‘smart cities’.

In most cities in the developed world, the municipalities or city councils are responsible for providing all infrastructure services and there is single ownership. City authorities plan to use IT and automation systems to instrument and integrate all infrastructure and services to optimise the assets as well as use analytical tools to predict usage, behaviour, maintenance, emergencies and other incidents.

In the Indian context where cities do not have a single owner for all the services, it would be a herculean task to integrate all infrastructure and services on a common platform. However, a beginning can be made by extending the available digital platform of one domain (say power) to offer services in other domains (say water, gas, internet, security etc.). The smart cities in India can be in two categories — existing cities that should be made smarter by integrating all services on digital platforms; and new cities that would be built as smart cities with integrated communication, IT and automation architecture.

While building new cities and new neighbourhoods, it is possible to build all these in an integrated fashion, it is a tougher task to integrate the same in existing cities with different owners for different domains. The silver lining is that there are hardly any existing IT and automation systems in most infrastructure domains in India which eliminates the risk of legacy systems with proprietary databases and protocols that cannot readily be integrated with one another.

The R-APDRP programme
The on-going Restructured – Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Program (R-APDRP) is one of the largest IT initiatives by electric utilities anywhere in the world — in one integrated project, all state-owned distribution utilities in India are building IT infrastructure, IT applications and automation systems.

Smart grids are but the next step in achieving energy security, and the base created by the R-APDRP programme is tremendous, and leveraging it is key to a successful nation-wide implementation. Some of the digital assets created under this programme, can be leveraged to build smarter cities at lower marginal costs.

Under the proposed National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), it is envisaged to build about 50 smart cities in the country leveraging the R-APDRP infrastructure and new systems that would essentially be implemented for first building smart grids and later extended to other infrastructure domains.

The projects are at various stages of progress in different states and several success stories have emerged. The programme is being implemented in three parts — Part A, Part B and Part C.

Scope under Part-A of R-APDRP ($2 billion) covers consumer indexing and asset mapping (entire distribution network — HT and LT lines, transformers, poles, meters) on GIS maps; automatic meter reading (AMR) for all distribution transformers and feeders; IT applications for meter reading, billing and collection, MIS, redressal of consumer grievances, establishment of IT enabled consumer service centres; energy accounting and auditing. The programme also includes setting up SCADA/DMS system (only in the project area having more than 400,00 population and annual input energy of the order of 350 million units), and feeder segregation/ring fencing.

Under Part-B ($10 billion) of the programme, discoms are undertaking electrical network strengthening and upgrading them. While, Part-C of R-APDRP entails capacity building and training programmes being undertaken for discoms.

Cloning R-APDRP GIS for other sectors
The R-APDRP programme has helped to bring much needed structural reform to the electricity distribution business as well as created digital assets that can be leveraged to build smarter cities at very low marginal costs. APDRP, R-APDRP and other programmes have brought down the network losses at distribution level from more than 36% in 2002 to less than 25% at the end of 2013.

The programme set out to create baseline data in the form of consumer indexing, GIS mapping and asset mapping. Out of 1401 towns, satellite imageries have been supplied to 1319 towns. A dedicated IT Cell in each utility has been setup and training of discom staff is being taken up to enable them to operate and maintain this complex system.

There are 20 major attributes that are surveyed, verified, mapped and stored in the GIS database which are periodically synchronised or updated. A satellite image is used as the base map onto which all electrical assets (33kV, 11kV and low voltage lines and substations) and consumers are mapped. Discoms are updating this system on a regular basis to capture changes/addition to the electrical network as well as new consumers/buildings.

This digital map can be effectively used by other infrastructure services providers for planning as well as operation and maintenance of their systems. This will be very useful for planning the layout of water supply and sewerage lines, telecom cables, gas pipe lines etc. It can also be used for planning of road network. As the simplest example of how a good GIS system can help beyond a single domain — if one knows the routing of underground power cables, the same can be synergised to other utilities that would need to dig up roads (like water, sewage, telecom etc. — thus one should, in the future, never interrupt other services for adding new connections/lines/pipes). This can in turn help avoid large amounts of money being given away as compensation for wrong digging and damage. A single billing system can also be developed that becomes the single window clearance for payment of electricity, water, gas bills etc. Thus ensuring that the customer only uses one payment system for all his services — saves time and effort!

This is but a starting point. The digital assets built under the R-APDRP programme can be used to plan entire cities and can well be the stepping stones towards making smart cities a reality.