Is it time for India's power grid to get smarter?

Is it time for India's power grid to get smarter?

Energy security and low carbon-based fuel usage, along with the desire to achieve sustained economic growth, lay at the heart of our energy future. Recently, India has been ramping up efforts to increase its renewable power generation, coinciding with the government's push for the use of clean energy.

Pursuing aggressive renewable generation programmes alone is already a strong driver for smart grid investments in the country, since it is only by infusing intelligence into the grid that distributed renewable generation can be integrated into the power system. But smart systems are now being considered on a larger scale as a solution for generating the capacity required to power the homes of some 306 million people, according to the International Energy Agency.

Our power systemamong the five largest in the worldhas a total of 249GW installed capacity, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported. Yet 25 per cent of the country's population still lives in the dark, and our per capita consumption is only about one-fourth of the world average. So where did we go wrong?

"The Indian grid issues arise mainly due to supply-demand imbalance and reliability issues," said Avanthika Satheesh, Energy and Environment Practice senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific. "In spite of having abundant renewable resources, the grid is not capable of handling the extra power."

To address the challenges to smart grid deployment, the Ministry of Power (MoP) convened an inter-ministerial committeethe India Smart Grid Task Force (ISGTF)and a public-private partnership initiativethe India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF)in 2010.

One of the main tasks that both agencies undertake is to advise MoP in formulating a comprehensive smart grid vision and roadmap for India, focusing on wider access and availability as well as affordability.

A brain in the grid

"The term 'smart grid' is very much aligned with installing modern electronics, communications and software/analytics to assist in better monitoring the electric grid's distribution layer," said Michael Markides, research manager for Smart Grid and Utilities at IHS Technology.

Smart grid is generally described as an automated power system, characterised by the increased use of communications and information technology in the generation, delivery and consumption of electrical energy. Its sensors provide the information about the grid operation, while control devices provide options to get a better system operation. But it is the communication systems that support information flows, which fully link both the utility and the customer sides of the grid.

These smart grid solutions will help monitor, measure, balance and control power flows in real time. Locally, these solutions will benefit utilities that are currently facing transmission and distribution losses in the power system, along with concerns of energy theft, according to MoP.

Likewise, upgrades to the electrical distribution infrastructure and smarter systems will also limit or control simultaneous charging of hundreds of electrical vehicles from the same feederthe key for an efficient rollout of the country's National Mission on Electric Mobility, which aims to deploy 4 million bicycles and 2 million four-wheelers by 2020.

"The new wave of communications on the electric grid is occurring more at the end of the network, closer to the end-user," Markides noted. "Utilities are now able to economically install [and] use communications networks that allow real-time monitoring of the distribution layer of the network, which is the medium- and low-voltage part of the grid."

The Internet of electricity

Devices that can connect, interact and cooperate with each other in their surrounding environment and with control centressimply put, the Internet of Thingshave opened a lot of opportunities in the power sector.

For the most part, IoT enables more information and connectivity by interconnecting devices across industries through the Internet to form a smarter grid, according to Satheesh.

She said IoT can be deployed in a series of steps. First is to install smart meters with two-way communication facilities, and then to standardise data communication protocols. Once a common platform for data exchange is established, the next step is to interconnect distribution grids for easy access to power generation sources. Then finally comes the interconnecting of devices using energy management systems (EMS).

In 2012, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) created a Standards Interest Group (IEEE-SA India SIG) to "drive standards-specific activities in the region and promote [and/or] encourage participation in global open standardisation process within IEEE from the Indian engineering community," said Srikanth Chandrasekaran, senior regional program manager at IEEE-SA in India.

When asked what role electronics will play in the country's power industry, Chandrasekaran answered, "Today, power electronics are the key for future smart electric grid, as they play a major role in terms of measurement, control, demand response, predictions, etc., and will play a key role as we move from centralised control to distributed generation [and/or] control through micro grids."

"Power electronics can help utilities deliver power to their customers effectively while providing increased reliability. They help in the integration of renewable energy, such as wind and solar energy, with interconnection to main grids," he explained. "Also, they help in reducing the energy usage by reducing system losses and increasing efficiency."

For utilities, IoT means increased income margins, reduced electricity theft and the capacity to predict system failures and vulnerabilities. In addition, IoT also promotes smarter energy consumption on the consumer end, from individuals to communities and cities.

Wising up to security needs

Cellular solutionsGPRS, EDGE, 3G and LTEare beneficial to power grids, but adding communication layers to electricity distribution systems exposes the smart grid to potential cyber-attacks. Still, analysts said system protection is generally good, and utilities, vendors and regulators are constantly assisting in mitigating hacks on the network.

"Ironically, the biggest threat in more recent times is the physical attacks on the grid infrastructure itselffor example, shooting out a transformer in a primary substation," said Markides. This type of attack may result in momentary power outages, which, in turn, mean downtime, lost revenue and damaged equipment. "This is often a forgotten issue that must be treated with as much attention to that of a potential IT or network breach," he added.

The smart grid's remote metering device makes it easier and more efficient for energy providers to bill their customers. Sateesh said, "There is a unique identification code associated with each meter," and this protects the credentials inside the devices.

Most meter manufacturers use at least AES 128bit encryption between the meter and the head-end, but it is the control of the meter that is a bigger threat, said Marcus Torchia, Worldwide Smart Grid Strategies research manager at IDC.

"At an individual meter level, control in the wrong hands could be a nuisance to the homeowner or crippling to the business owner if the power is shut off or throttled," he explained. "At an aggregate level, thousands or tens of thousands of meters controlled by a hacker could be very problematic."

Typical measures to prevent hacking on the smart meter control include network security, end point security, vulnerability testing, penetration testing, and active network monitoring of devices.

While security is seen as an overhead expense, security must be treated as a focal point and planned as an upfront investment. Only then can plugging intelligence into the power grid can truly be considered a smart move.

Source: EET India

Smart Grid Bulletin May 2018

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22 June 2018