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Policy | May 2011

Need for smart grid standards

Without effective standards in place, the road ahead for smart grids in India will be highly challenging, says Pamela Kumar.

India is ranked the 3rd largest market for smart grid investments. Upgrading our transmission and distribution systems coupled with the need to reduce electricity losses and theft is driving the deployment of smart grid technologies in India. Given the broad spectrum of technologies that will make up the smart grid, a wide variety of players including software, hardware, communication and utility companies see the opportunity to participate and are becoming active in multiple initiatives. What India lacks at present though is a collaborative environment in which players can explore beyond their own technology thresholds and work with one another.

Also, our country has in the last few years experienced an impressive rate of economic growth. However, it loses money for every unit of electricity sold, because it has one of the weakest electric grids in the world. For India to continue along its path of aggressive economic growth, it needs to build a modern, intelligent grid. It is only with a reliable, financially secure smart grid that India can provide a stable environment for investments in power infrastructure and also fix the fundamental problems with the grid. Without this, India will not be able to serve the growing energy needs of sunshine sectors like information technology and telecom.

The surge in enthusiasm for smart grids in the country is good and in fact a positive, forward-looking sign, but if it is not implemented with discipline and cooperation, it will struggle to deliver its real benefits.

Industry standards are among the most important foundational elements and form the basis of a "plug-and-work" architecture. Smart grids need standards and practices that integrate intelligent equipment across not just a network, but across multiple diverse industries. Though this is a tall order, effective standards have proven globally to benefit all the stakeholders and India will be no different.

Key benefits for each of the stakeholders are:
  • Vendors: Standards open new and larger markets, while saving money in both manufacturing and technical support.
  • Utilities: Standards produce competitively priced equipment that can interoperate. They also increase the ability to manage equipment over its lifetime while reducing life-cycle costs through more uniform technology.
  • System integrators: This group has the job of integrating products from many different vendors. Standards enable deeper levels of integration, including systems administration and management.
  • Regulators: Standards enable vendor-neutral procurements, life-cycle cost savings, better security and superior systems management. They also enable robust designs that can accommodate a variety of market types and rates, giving them more flexibility for the future.
  • Consumers: Standards will reduce overall rates and they can enable useful new applications (such as improved management of home appliances and plug-in vehicles) and new rate structures that can save on monthly bills.
IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), a global standards organisation with over 100 standards relevant to smart grids in development across key areas, is poised to play a significant role in helping India address this key challenge. It has already taken multiple steps to engage and contribute in the past year.

It has formed a standards interest group (SIG) for India that will provide a platform for the Indian technical community in global standards development including those for smart grids. It educates, promotes and promotes interest in standards through outreach programmes like smart grid workshops deliberating the technical and economic challenges and the role of standards in the Indian context and has also initiated discussions with PowerGrid Corporation of India and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

It is also actively participating in education where it will partner with Indian academic institutions across the country. Last but not the least, in the core area of standards development also there is significant progress across key standards which are of relevance to the Indian smart grid market as well.

Recently, the organisation published 1901TM broadband over powerline (BPL) standards that enable communication data rates in excess of 500 mbps. For the fast-growing Indian market, the technology will enable access to affordable communication to the country's vast rural network. Despite India's power grid not being as advanced as some developed countries, BPL may have a positive impact and corporate India may embrace BPL due to its inherent advantages. At present, broadband connections have a speed of 100 mbps, but BPL promises 200 mbps and an easy-to-use connection within 30 minutes.

Apart from consumer-based advantages, other opportunities include automatic energy meter reading (AMR), real-time system monitoring, preventive maintenance, voltage control, outage detection and restoration, load management on the power grid, load scheduling, load forecasting, capacitor bank control, and development of smart grids, which could add to conservation of energy and improve system reliability, service, and safety for electricity customers.

There are plans to approve and publish the P2030TM standard for smart grid interoperability of energy technology and information technology operation with the electric power system and end-use applications and loads later this year.

In view of the fact that India is trying to leapfrog in terms of technology and infrastructure through smart grid implementation and rollout, it is highly essential that standards which are one of the foundational requirements for effectiveness of smart grids in India are invested in more-be it in terms of time, knowledge and money. Done well, it will ease the road ahead.
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