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Technology | March 2014

IT in power | Going the smart way

Smart grids are expected to harness information technology to improve the overall efficiency of the power sector, especially in the T and D segment.

Smart grids, no doubt, constitute the way forward for power-starved nations like India. However, with India undertaking an ambitious plan to modernise the grids with an estimated investment of over $10 billion, cloud computing is integral to it and Indian IT services firms and leading international companies are showing interest in the same. The major players in cloud computing relating to smart grids are Microsoft, Google, Cisco, HP-Dell and VMware, who have developed the IT standards in terms of power distribution, management and also conservation from the perspective of enterprise customers and individual consumers.

Smart grids are expected to harness information technology to improve the overall efficiency of the power sector, especially in transmission and distribution segments. Estimates reveal that over 30 per cent electricity is lost during electricity transmission and distribution in the country, which is highly power-starved.

It has been clearly stated that smart grids are the way forward for India, as the energy savings are anywhere between 15-20 per cent. The Indian Smart Grid Task Force has already launched pilot projects across the country and they are in various stages of development.

India´s first Smart Grid project will be rolled out in Naroda and Deesa in Gujarat in April by the Uttar Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (UGVCL) and consumers will have the choice of picking ´power plans´. Energy meters embedded with SIM cards will be installed in 20,000 residential and industrial units to monitor data every 15 minutes on how a particular consumer uses power. The smart grid will work on the 'time of day' concept, based on which the tariffs will be set. For instance, if the demand for power peaks between 7 pm to 11 pm, the tariffs will be higher for that particular period. The smart grid project was first implemented in the United States for efficient transmission of electricity. Like the Internet, the smart grid consists of controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and equipment working in unison. These technologies work with the grid to respond digitally to the consumer's dynamic electricity demand.

So, what exact role does cloud computing have in this context? Cloud computing is widely used for customer relationship management systems or human resource management systems, but the power sector in India, particularly with regards to smart grids, is still in the process of moving to the cloud.

´India is perfectly positioned to implement cloud-based services for smart grids because we have just started. The advantages of cloud computing are lower costs and greater flexibility than traditional data centres, reducing mainframe computing costs and technological lock-in, that is lack of flexibility, but already there exists a fierce competition among the IT companies that have developed the capabilities for cloud computing based smart grids,´ said Dr Ananth Chary, Director Technical, eSmart Solutions, which specialises in cloud computing for smart grids.

In India, Infosys and Wipro have taken the early lead in developing cloud computing for smart grids. For utility companies and power distribution companies, which are already reeling under losses, using smart metering could present the advantage of lowering costs. For instance, Infosys´ Infosys SmartGridEdge helps electricity utilities increase end-user adoption of smart grid capabilities. It also enables utilities by way of advanced analytics and process optimisation capabilities to realise the full potential of the smart grid. In addition, it helps deploy technology quickly and cost-effectively, thereby improving return on investment (ROI). It also provides a comprehensive analytics platform, taking data from end-to-end event-centric building blocks to generate, predict, visualise and deliver meaningful information. Based on this, utility executives can make informed decisions.

´Such solutions are ideal for Indian power distribution companies because for decades we are suffering huge economic setback in terms of T and D losses. However tough the regulations may be, power pilferage is still common. Cloud computing-based smart grids have to be implemented across India if we have to become energy self-sufficient,´ said Giri Rao, retired chief engineer, Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd.

The power sector is beginning to feel the impact of the digital revolution that is rapidly transforming many other sectors. The changes are significantly impacting consumers and power supply and distribution companies by influencing the technology initiatives.

Advantages Of Cloud Computing

  • Operational savings from reduced field trips and accurate billing
  • Better outage management, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and integration of the distribution management system (DMS)
  • Consumer-driven savings resulting from the acceptance and adoption by customers of the Smart Grid as well as the programs by utilities around energy efficiency and demand management
  • Customer retention and lower cost-to-serve
  • Cost reduction from faster and lower cost implementation of the Smart Grid infrastructure

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