There are several issues related to infrastructure, technology and communication that need to be addressed for effective implementation of smart grids in India.
Here are just a few of the recent significant developments in the Indian smart grid scenario, that has been marching ahead in the last few years, albeit at a slow pace. The reasons are not hard to find - lack of suitable regulatory support, absence of optimal tariff design, poor financial health of utilities, capacity building, lack of awareness among all stakeholders, etc.
¨Smart grids have come a long way over the past few years. The present day is the right time for smart grids to pick up in the Indian market,¨ states James Abhilash, Technical Director, JnJ Powercom Systems Ltd, as he lists out the major reasons behind the slow progress: ¨ The discoms being the main customers, lack funds to modernise their assets. As a result they depend solely on the funding and grant policies from the Indian Government. The real slowdown can be attributed to the dependencies of the distribution companies on external funding. Secondly, the delay in the implementation of Smart Grid Pilots planned by the Ministry of Power has led to the loss of valuable implementation time and a well-planned scaling up of those projects. Finally in the context of smart metering, with respect to interoperability, it is highly necessary for standards to be finalised for all aspects of the metering system. This provides a sense of direction to the technology providers and all stakeholders involved in their attempts to further understand and develop smart metering solutions suited to the Indian scenario,¨ he elaborates.
JnJ Powercom Systems Ltd is a Smart Metering Solution Company that has deployed seven successful smart metering pilots in various States and discoms across the country including the Pondicherry Smart Grid Pilot project. JnJ is currently involved in four prepaid smart metering projects.
Mohammad Saif, Senior Manager - Energy Practice, PwC India points out that implementing smart grids in a large country like India has its own problems: ¨In a large country like India where electricity is a concurrent subject, there is a need for significant amount of consultative process. The progress is on track with the recent release of the ¨Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India¨ and the ongoing pilots in various cities. Getting smart grids on a faster track could be through focused policy mandates by Central and State Governments and necessary regulatory directives by the State regulators in line with the vision document. Integrating smart grids with the next stage of RAPDRP can help address the financial hindrance faced by most distribution utilities. Further, IT skill enhancement of utility employees with respect to smart grid implementation and operation is essential. A national level training program, for operational and middle tier management, along with international exposure can be useful.¨
In addition, there are several other issues related to infrastructure, technology and communication that need to be addressed for effective implementation of smart grids in India, aver industry pundits. ¨There are issues related to standardisation of smart meter specifications that can be adhered to by all the parties. There are requirements for support of standard protocols (e.g. DLMS) that are expected to improve interoperability but such support is not readily available among products,¨ says Vikas Srivastava, Vice President and Vertical Head -ENU, Wipro Infotech. ¨Most utilities have also undergone RAPDRP rollout and therefore some have implemented AMR systems, MDM products and billing solutions. Now these need to be re-looked at û especially billing solutions, as a smart grid requires support for advanced billing (like TOU, CPP etc). Architectural alignment with RAPDRP is therefore very important. We expect that such problems will be ironed out by responsible authorities as pilot rollouts progress and we collectively learn what is best for India,¨ he adds. Wipro, a systems integrator, is working with multiple partners and leveraging its global experience and expertise to make an integrated offer for the tenders to the Indian utilities.
On the infrastructure side too there are several facilities required, says Abhilash: ¨There is a pressing need for more testing laboratories. Today the certified laboratories are held up with a huge load from the testing of conventional meters. This can very soon lead to delays in deployment and implementation only due to a delay in acquiring certifications from these laboratories. Secondly, there is a need for testing of communication. Today CPRI is preparing a test-bed for testing communication. In the future we will need more such facilities to test various technologies under various scenarios and conditions. Thirdly, interoperability standards and standards for communication between devices need to be established well which will enable the technology providers with guidelines, and a direction in which development will need to be made.¨
The smart grid space has no doubt opened the door for great opportunities for private players from different fields who no doubt are playing a major role. There are two levels of private participation, states Srivastava: ¨The first level is about the vendors who are directly associated with the tender response and eventual rollouts like metering vendors, communication vendors, software and hardware vendors and for system integrators like Wipro, the smart grid phenomenon has opened up huge opportunities. The other level is currently latent but is expected to grow with time. This is the space where private players can play the role of Energy Service Providers (ESPs) and offer energy services to end customers - both industrial and residential. The ESPs can offer services in demand-response to limit their usage and take advantage of lower bills, to offer centralised solar management to avoid disconnections and take advantage of lower tariff and many more. In fact the ESP market is expected to bridge the gap between the utility and the end customer.¨
Saif lists out other private players who are major partners in the smart grid venture: ¨The advent of smart grids has also opened up new avenues in IT, communication, equipment manufacturing etc. The IT companies would be leading the initiative through their role as system integrators and automation experts. A strong communication network would form the backbone of the envisaged smart grid and the equipment manufacturers will have to respond with smarter equipments. In addition, there would be other roles for private sector like designing consultancy, bid process management, program management, quality certification, etc. With significant investments planned in future in smart grids in the country, the opportunities for the private sector are bound to increase.¨
All these private players and other stakeholders including the Government have no doubt a challenging road ahead. And the challenges are manifold.
¨India´s ramshackle transmission network and the increasing AT&C losses due to the deterioration in the financial health of the discoms have been compelling the Government to create a blueprint for a quick shift to the smart grid system. However, there has been a delay in Government funding for smart grid pilots. The real deployment of smart metering and AMI technologies will take another 1-2 years. So the actual challenge lies in creating a swift decision-making mechanism within the bureaucracy and a robust policy that will help execution of the plan. India needs global participation and financing and it will have to carve the policy nuances accordingly. To make smart grids work, it will take both top-down and bottom-up approaches,¨ points out Ravi Kant Malhan, Director-Head Business Development: Smart Cities and Special Projects, Schneider Electric India.
Speaking from JNJ´s experience at the ground level, Abhilash lists out some more challenges:
¨ The first and probably the most obtruding is the economies of scale. As the smart grid and so also smart metering is a volume driven market, the cost per unit is still high due to lower volumes of demand. This is expected to get better as we go, but this has always been and still is a major concern. The second is consumer resistance. As the product is not yet popularised enough down to the consumer level, we have at many places found that there is a sense of resistance from the consumers as well. Thirdly,as of today, the distribution companies would like to develop infrastructure but are not in a position to do so due to the scarcity of funds. This issue further translates to the reluctance of private investors to be a part of the business that closely involves these Government utilities. That said, there are many business models that are being tried to alleviate this burden on the distribution companies while still allowing for infrastructural development of their assets.¨
The implementation model of smart grids differs from country to country, says Malhan. ¨Implementation models generally differ because the challenges each country faces are different. Mostly it is the policy that guides the implementation process and the incentives the Government offers to the implementers. In other words, it is chiefly the policy contour of a country that determines the implementation method.¨
An Indian smart grid would perhaps evolve in stages over a period of time. But there is no doubt that the era of smart grids has begun in India.
Successful Smart Grids
(Provided by Mohammad Saif, Senior Manager - Energy Practice, PwC India )
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