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Feature | January 2017

The ´IT´ Factor

As a crucial element for efficient operation and management of industrial systems, IT has the potential to open new avenues for the power sector.

Digitalisation is just beginning to make real headway in India, what with the Centre´s ongoing focus on ´Digital India´. This coupled with the much propagated ´Make in India´ and ´Smart Cities´ initiatives are all set to pave the way for a smarter, advanced, Information Technology (IT) enabled country. And, Internet of Things (IoT) or Industry 4.0, particularly Industrial IoT, while at present a comparatively small, but growing market in India, is all set to create radical waves and open up new avenues for the power sector.

Today, major power sector goals like improving ensuring smooth plant operation, quality of power, combating staggering transmission and monetary losses, providing better customer service, stopping theft incidents, netting defaulters, etc.; can be solved through effective implementation of appropriate IT solutions by gencos, transcos and discoms alike.

It is also worth noting, that while generation and transmission can hold their own, it is the distribution segment that takes the most brick bats. And it is here, where IT solutions can work wonders.

Praveer Sinha, CEO and MD, TPDDL, points out, ´Technologies like AMI and demand response has given the opportunity to engage more and share more information with the consumers ; thus sensitising them into changing their behaviour with respect to energy consumption.´

According to an ´IT Task Force Report for Power Sector´ conducted by Infosys, IT has the potential to significantly contribute in power reforms. However, it has been observed that the approach of the various distribution utilities towards IT has been to deploy standalone applications for a limited operational requirement, rather than layered adoption across all verticals. Thus, there is plenty of room for IT application within the power sector in India, especially in fulfilling broader roles.

´The combination of improvement in reliability, efficiency and ability to proactively anticipate breakdowns will help in reducing energy wastage, while changing consumers behaviour will result in more efficient and optimum use of electricity, which will support reduction in the peak and lead to a flatter demand curve,´ Sinha feels.

There is a need to look at the global practices in IT adoption in the power sector so that India can benefit from it. The gap in IT adoption globally and in the Indian power sector is apparent and glaring and even the rate of overall technology adoption in India is on the lower side.

According to Sethuraman Ganesan, Technology Head, Power Grids division, ABB India Ltd, ´a few global practices in IT which we need to adopt in power sector in India are asset optimisation and management, workforce and operations management and energy portfolio management.´

Realising the need for IT in power, the Ministry of Power launched the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) in the XIth Five Year Plan. The IT portion of R-APDRP covers consumer indexing, asset mapping, GIS mapping, automatic meter reading (AMR), SCADA/DMS etc. This part is essential to eventually reduce the losses in the system, in addition to strengthening the distribution system.

A provision of Rs.50,000 crore funding has been made for the same, for projects undertaken in two parts in urban areas with population over 30,000 or of over 10,000 in special category states.

The programme aims to demonstrate AT&C loss reduction, establishing reliable automated systems for data collection, electricity accounting, consumer care, strengthening of power utilities´ state distribution network through distribution management systems, capacity building and incentive schemes for distribution personnel.

´As per the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) annual report (2014-15), more than Rs.5,000 crore has been approved, majority of which has been disbursed. A few states have already shown good improvements in AT&C losses and we have good precedents, as power utilities in advanced countries have already seen dramatic improvements in productivity, efficiency and management through IT applications,´ feels Ganesan.

Amit Paithankar, VP and MD, Emerson Process Management India attests to the positive results of the R-APDRP initiative, ´I would say that such policies have impacted the segment quite substantially. In fact I have met several of our customers who specifically want to understand and look at this from the policy-level, not just nationally but within their organisation.´

´Companies today have undertaken steps to implement IT and automation in power sector and as a result, R&D initiatives are directed towards innovations aimed at overall improvement in operational efficiency. These efforts will create better transparency, standardisation and reduce losses,´ adds Gautam Seth, Jt MD, HPL Electric & Power.

Paithankar further states that public sector utilities are keeping speed with the private players. ´Large public sector undertakings are looking at it in a very holistic manner, adding, ´The PSUs are taking IIoT very seriously and they are avant garde about what should be done and how it can be done in different ways.´

Adds Ganesan, ´Digitalisation of the power sector should unleash huge value for the utilities, releasing locked up investments to be put to better use, which in turn should help public sector utilities to become less dependent on governmental subsidies.´

He feels that digitalisation would involve investments to be made to improve Operational Technologies (OT), including strengthening the existing control, communication and automation systems and integrating them with enterprise level IT, which can help them to transparently monitor and optimise the investments, improve the quality of services including improving downtime, and of course digitally settling all financial matters. Speaking from the perspective of a company that has actually implemented IT in their plants, Seth shares, ´The company depends on IT in relation to customer order management and dispatches, production planning and reporting, manufacturing processes, financial accounting and scheduling raw material purchase and shipments.´ ´We rely on our IT infrastructure to provide us with connectivity and data backup across our locations and functions. We have also deployed adequate IT disaster management systems including data backup and retrieval mechanisms, in all our facilities,´ he adds.

´Here, there are essentially four important characteristics - safety, reliability, productivity and energy efficiency. These are the key concerns of any customer, as they determine the company´s long term survival. IIoT improves on these parameters whenever possible and will translate into better energy efficiency, more green and lower carbon footprint solutions. Thus, betterment in these parameters place them in a better position and they are excited about it,´feels Paithankar. Many MNCs are looking at the growth potential in the Indian market and grabbing the opportunity whole-heartedly. For example, Emerson recently launched their rendition of IIoT, called Plantweb Digital Ecosystem in India.

´It is important to note that India is the first country outside of the USA - where we had a global launch - that we have launched this offering. This speaks volumes about the progressive nature of the Indian customers and the tremendous interest that is there is this emerging field and what it can bring in terms of just changing the way in which we do things,ö Paithankar points out.

He further explains that many who have intelligent field devices for specific applications, are now thinking about how they can move forward in a manner that can give dramatic improvement. Adding, ´Indian customers are very progressive. As a global player we have experience across the world, and Indian customers can be equated to as progressive as it gets anywhere.´

According to Paithankar, the savings generated through IoT adoption can be very significant. ´On an annual basis, we believe there are almost $1 trillion locked in various inefficiencies in different plants and there is a lot to be unlocked and unleashed,´ he observes.

Commenting on the benefits of IT solutions, Raj Malik, Chief Delivery Officer of HCL Infotech Ltd that was awarded the R-APDRP technology contract for the three discoms of Rajasthan - Jaipur, Jodhpur and Ajmer - in 2009, to execute these programs across the country in 20 locations exclaims, ´IT solutions measures have improved the operational efficiency of the Rajasthan discoms as well as brought down the AT&C losses by notable magnitude. It is heartening to note that Piyush Goyal, Minister for Power, recently announced that the Rajasthan discoms, which were the highest loss-making in all of India, could be the first to turn around a profit in 2017. Such is the power of digitalisation!´

Malik further points out that the benefits of digitalisation have percolated to the state´s 1.32 crore electricity consumers, providing them with correct billing and metering services, online transactional facilities and timely resolution of complaints. ´The RAPDRP project in Rajasthan has become the largest post-paid systems implemented by a private company in India, generating 10 million bills per month,´ he shares.

Other benefits are that customers can register themselves at the discoms´ web site to download and pay bills online, check payment history, receive complaint IDs through SMS and can track the status of their complaint till it is satisfactorily closed. Installation of modems at high-end consumer locations enables data analysis and almost eliminates the possibility of any diversion or fraud. State-of-the-art tools and relevant information for reducing AT&C losses are being used by the discoms to reduce the overall burden traditionally put on tax payer´s money.

There is a plethora of IT options available in the market today and it is important not to get carried away by the technology wave, but choose the appropriate (best-fit) technology, as per the industry needs, at the right time for the right set of applications. The selection of IT systems and tools should be based on long-term strategic and business continuity perspective. The need is to develop a synergy between IT and the Indian power sector and emerging technologies can play a defining the role in profitability and quality of services.

Malik shared the difficulties they faced, ´When HCL set up upon the process of digitalising Rajasthan´s power distribution system, the main challenge was the lack of standardisation in multiple operational divisions, since it involved three discoms and 35 circles.´

Inadequate cohesion in policies, rules and business logic in the system and project governance among the three discoms proved to be a challenge in the endeavour to bring in a standardised process in the state. Further, it was getting difficult to introduce globally accepted best practices.

The global IT market for the power distribution sector provides a wide range of technologies and solutions. Therefore, IT investments and implementation should be driven through a structured and comprehensive IT strategy, aligned with the business goals.

Development of electrical consumer and network database is necessary for a host of power sector applications like asset management, revenue management, energy audit and load flow studies. And as Ganesan rightly points out, ´The challenges vary depending on which areas of power sector that one looks at.´

In distribution, the latest policies address the financial well-being of discoms. On the transmission network, the sheer size of the network could be a challenge from both financial as well as from infrastructure perspective. Energy portfolio management will seriously impact generation aspects of power sector. Integration of more renewable energy into grid could pose major technical challenges arising out of variations from renewables.

However, investment policies in energy storage, SCADA and energy management systems should help overcome most of these challenges. Which means that these are not insurmountable problems, but can be overcome through proper planning and implementation.

Paithankar provided an interestingly optimistic outlook, ´I don´t think that IIoT projects offers any dramatically different challenges which you would find in any other project. Unfortunately, there has not been a project that is ideal, where you lay out a grand chart with specific time lines for tasks on particular dates.´ ´A layered approach and piece by piece implementation gives immense flexibility, which is the beauty of the whole process. With regards to the financial aspect too, the amount can be decided by the customer and they do not need to go for up-front large scale investment,´ he observes.

Although, IoT market in India is at its nascent stage, the market has in the last few years registered key growth backed by the launch of government projects - Smart City Project and Digital India Campaign. According to 6Wresearch, India´s IoT market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 28.2 per cent during 2016-22.

Additionally, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) are anticipated to provide loans of $500 million and $1 billion respectively, to India for the development of Smart City Project.

Amongst all applications, industrial application contributes maximum revenue share in Indian IoT market owing it growing usage in energy management, smart building, manufacturing, conserving energy and environment. Software expenditure towards IoT is also expected to grow significantly on the back of advancements in data analytics and service and also cloud hosting and managed services.

Going forward, discoms too are planning to implement more customer friendly initiatives such as providing online status of customer applications. This will enable proper monitoring, promotion of a SLA driven culture, simpler processes and better connectivity for customers. This greatly reduces transactional hassles for consumers and reduces corruption by implementing a culture of transparency.


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