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Renew | March 2016

Smart grids can be leveraged to meet needs of remote areas

Kannan Tinnium, Technology Leader, Electrical Technologies & Systems, GE Global Research Center, John F. Welch Technology Center, Bangalore.

How is the implementation of smart grid likely to enhance the quality of power?
Smart grids are targeted to make the power grids efficient, reliable and eco-friendly. All these three elements drive the benefits to the common population. Lower grid interruptions, notifications about outages and power restorations, reduced emissions are some of the benefits that could be directly felt by the common population. Generation portfolio that includes significant renewable sources such as wind and solar will help mitigate pollution and will bring about ancillary benefits to the populace. Smart grid technologies will be necessary to meet the challenges that such a shift in generation mix will bring in terms of grid operation. Improvements in distribution system monitoring, made possible by smart grid technologies, will enable better load management and faster response to supply outages. The impact of smart grid in such scenarios is in the form improved reliability and quality of supply. In addition to conventional grids, smart grid technologies, particularly microgrid solutions, can be leveraged to meet remote the needs of remote and isolated locations.

How would smart grids help in stabilizing renewable energy fluctuations?
Renewables integration brings with it challenges in both planning and operation. Wind and solar fluctuation patterns are totally different from each other.

A smart grid should be able to dispatch conventional generation resources at the system level fast enough and in the most optimal way to maintain load-generation balance and mitigate grid frequency variation.

Is the technology employed while using smart grids with RE vastly different?
Smart grid is about bringing more intelligence to the power grid. Technologies in Sensing, Digital communication, Analytics and Controls would need to be developed. These technologies would leverage the existing network thereby reducing the need to build new infrastructure. However, in India, there is a need to develop a stronger grid and then make it smarter. The investments needed to upgrade the grid would be reduced with the smart grid technologies.

Could smart grid technology be applied to micro-grids?
Yes, Smart grid technologies are very much relevant to micro grids. A micro-grid is a very challenging power system configuration in terms of operation and control, more so when it includes renewable power. Real time energy management, which smart grid offers, becomes a key to enable to stable micro grid.

Is there enough encouragement for smart grid technology in India?
There is a vision for Smart Grid in India with the govt initiating 14 Smart Grid pilots across India. While some are providing enough opportunities, the pace at which smart grid technologies are adopted is slow. Although several schemes have been launched in various forms, over the years, it has been a challenge to roll out deployments on a massive scale that can be considered successful. The opportunities continue to evolve and new business models would need to emerge.

Smart grid as a concept in India is under development how will it witness a turnaround?
It is not just an India centric phenomenon. Smart grid concept is still at its infancy globally. Utilities are trying to identify the low hanging fruits to get the most bang for their buck. All the scattered micro solutions provide valuable feedback to how the technology should evolve. Each region has its own specific challenges, be it due to the type of loads, the locally available renewable sources, the demographics, and the need of the people. Turnaround is just about waiting to happen and this would definitely need strong consumer engagement. Once a business model gets developed where all the stakeholders can economically benefit, this would experience a massive turnaround. This will require coordinated strategy and planning.

What are the driving forces and difficulties you face in this industry? How well can it be implemented in India?
The key driver is the need for reliable electricity in India to enhance our economy. To enable faster implementation of smart grids, there is a need for various stakeholders (Utilities, Policy makers, technology developers, R&D institutions and consumers) to get together chalk out a plan where they can jointly contribute and take accountability for successful demonstration and deployment of smart grids. The govt should increase the focus on R&D in this area and enforce strict milestones in development of smart grids. India can be lead this transformation driving innovation and deployment of smart grids that can then be leveraged across the world. I feel Smart grids have the potential to explode in a fashion similar to mobile phone networks in India.

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