The article gives a glimpse of smart grid technology that represents an unprecedented opportunity to move the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency. - Dr. Lata Gidwani

A smart grid is an electricity network based on digital technology that is used to supply electricity to consumers via two-way digital communication. This system allows for monitoring, analysis, control and communication within the supply chain to help improve efficiency, reduce energy consumption and cost, and maximise the transparency and reliability of the energy supply chain. The smart grid was introduced with the aim of overcoming the weaknesses of conventional electrical grids by using smart net meters.

The smart grid represents an unprecedented opportunity to move the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency that will contribute to economic and environmental health. During the transition period, it will be critical to carry out testing, technology improvements, consumer education, development of standards and regulations, and information sharing between projects to ensure that the benefits we envision from the Smart Grid become a reality.

Four features of smart grids

  • Flexible: They make it easier to manage variations in generation and consumption better.
  • Reliable: Thanks to the information sent in real time and the remote management of the grid, the risk of power failures and incidents is reduced.
  • Accessible: All the different sources of energy can be integrated into the grid and, thanks to interconnections between grids, consumers can also take advantage of renewable energy generated in large quantities in neighbouring countries when there isn’t enough in Belgium.
  • Savings: Better management leads to reduced costs.

Smart Grid Components

To achieve a modernised smart grid, a wide range of technologies should be developed and must be implemented. These technologies generally grouped into following key technology areas as discussed below.

Intelligent Appliances: Intelligent appliances are capable of deciding when to consume energy based on customer pre-set preferences. This can lead to going away along toward reducing peak loads which have an impact on electricity generation costs. For example, smart sensors, like temperature sensor which is used in thermal stations to control the boiler temperature based on predefined temperature levels.

Smart Power Meters: The smart meters provide two-way communication between power providers and the end user consumers to automate billing data collections, detect device failures and dispatch repair crews to the exact location much faster.

Smart Substations: Substations are included monitoring and control non-critical and critical operational data such as power status, power factor performance, breaker, security, transformer status, etc. Substations are used to transform voltage at several times in many locations, that providing safe and reliable delivery of energy. Smart substations are also necessary for splitting the path of electricity flow into many directions. Substations require large and very expensive equipment to operate, including transformers, switches, capacitor banks, circuit breakers, a network protected relays and several others.

Need for Smart Grids in India

According to the Ministry of Power, India’s transmission and distribution losses are amongst the highest in the world, averaging 26 per cent of total electricity production, and as high as 62 per cent in some states. These losses do not include non-technical losses like theft etc.; if such losses are included, the average losses are as high as 50 per cent. India losses money for every unit of electricity sold, since India has one of the weakest electric grids in the world. Some of the technical flaws in the Indian power grid are – it is a poorly planned distribution network, there is overloading of the system components, there is lack of reactive power support and regulation services, there is low metering efficiency and bill collection, etc.

A lacuna of renewable resources is that their supply can be intermittent i.e. the supply can only be harnessed during a particular part of the day, like day time for solar energy and windy conditions for harnessing wind energy, also these conditions cannot be controlled. With such unpredictable energy sources feeding the grid, it is necessary to have a grid that is highly adaptive (in terms of supply and demand). Hence, the opportunities for building smart grids in India are immense, as a good electric supply is one of the key infrastructure requirements to support overall development.

Benefits of Smart Grid

The benefits associated with the Smart Grid include:

  • More efficient transmission of electricity
  • Quicker restoration of electricity after power disturbances
  • Reduced operations and management costs for utilities, and ultimately lower power costs for consumers
  • Reduced peak demand, which will also help lower electricity rates
  • Increased integration of large-scale renewable energy systems
  • Better integration of customer-owner power generation systems, including renewable energy systems
  • Improved security
  • Reduction in cost ultimately help keeping the prices of goods and services lower than they would be otherwise
  • Virtual elimination of blackouts
  • Improved infrastructure boosts economic development
  • A more robust transmission grid will accommodate larger increases in wind and solar generation i.e. green energy.
  • Downward pressure on prices — through improved operating and market efficiencies
  • Creation of new electricity markets — enabling society to offer its electricity resources to the market and creating the opportunity to earn a revenue stream on such investments as demand response, distributed generation, and storage
  • Deferral of capital investments as future peak loads are reduced and more accurately forecasted through the combined efforts of consumers and delivery companies
  • Reduced consumption of KWh’s through conservation, demand response, and reduced transmission and distribution (T&D) losses
  • Reduced CO2 emissions
  • Improved public health.

Disadvantages of Smart Grid

Following are the drawbacks or disadvantages of Smart Grid:

  • Continuous communication network should be available.
  • During emergency situation, network congestion or performance are big challenges in smart grid system.
  • Cellular network providers do not provide guaranteed service in abnormal situations such as wind storm, heavy rain and lightning conditions.
  • Some smart meters can be hacked which can be used to increase or decrease the demand for power.
  • It is expensive to install smart meter as compared to traditional old electricity meter.

Challenges faced by Smart Grid Technology in India

Even though this would be a good system for India, there are several challenges facing the implementation of this system. The main challenges that policy makers faced are:

  • High operating costs and benefit constraints by the regulatory framework. Since there is a necessity for a large communications network, it escalates the capital and hardware cost to a great extent. This might prove dear to the exchequer. The smart grid may be a profitable option in the short run but in due course of time misaligned policy and regulatory incentives might make the investment less attractive.
  • The successful operation of the smart grid requires seamless connectivity of technology. In India, communication technology is at par with many developed nations in the world. But in many areas related to communication the extent of which is required for a smart grid, the technology is at the initial stages of development. This will reduce the positive impact during delivery of services.
  • Even if the technological developments are aligned there is the issue of integration of the entire hardware system to manage high volumes of data. It requires complex data models to manage the various data formats that flow into the system. As of now, there is no such system in India and it needs to be developed.
  • Lack of awareness among the customers is yet another issue that policy makers will face. Since the system needs to be adopted by customers, they need to be made aware of what a smart grid is and how it could make their life better.