Role of IT in Indian Power Sector

In global utilities, information technology plays a central role in best of class distribution utility as the platform for execution of business processes and the information base for decision making at operational and strategic levels. A huge investments will be required to attain global standards but given the financial position of utilities in India, this much investment is not feasible at one go. …

 Indian electricity sector has witnessed tremendous growth in its energy demand, generation capacity, and transmission and distribution networks. Electrical power systems would appear poised for a revolution. Yet, the pathway to transformation is highly sensitive to each local situation and its technical, economic, and political factors. While rapid cost reductions have changed the economic landscape for what is feasible, established asset bases and their supporting business models and regulatory frameworks generate significant inertia in the most power systems.

  While the ‘utility of the future’ can be largely captured by the dynamic between regulation, technology innovation, and business model evolution, the ‘power system of the future’ is driven by a more complex set of features. The regulatory utility dynamic is still a dominant component, but the full complex and dynamic system responds to a broader set of cross cutting trends like renewable energy cost reductions, innovations in data, intelligence, and system optimization, energy security, reliability and resilience goals, evolving customer engagement, increased interactions with other sectors, local and global environmental concerns over air emissions, energy access imperatives, increasingly diverse participation in power markets, revenue and investment challenges.

  Keeping pace with the recent technological advancements, it is deploying new types of devices and Information Technology (IT) infrastructure, adopting new monitoring, control and energy management tools, and aiming at fast deployment of smart grid concepts at distribution as well as transmission level. Electricity, being a concurrent subject in India, both central government and state governments are responsible for its growth, operation and control. The Central Government frames overall regulations whereas each state government formulates their policies within the overall regulatory framework. There are separate utilities owning generation, transmission and distribution. Ministry of Power, Government of India deals with perspective planning, policy formulation, processing of projects for investment decisions, monitoring and implementation of power projects, training and manpower development, administration and enactment of legislation in regard to the power generation, transmission and distribution. In most advanced countries, power utilities have made major gains in term of productivity, efficiency, reliability and commercial management through the modern use of IT tools. IT should be utilized to minimize human interface in commercial processes to minimize human errors and willful mistakes.

  IT provides wide range of solutions to increase the efficiency and productivity of power sector like setting up distribution network, distribution load management and meter data management. But in Indian power sector, operation and distribution processes are manual, insufficient commercial focus, inadequate control, lack of transparency and reliable information this result high loss to power sector. Indian power sector is using stand-alone system for limited operational requirements or as a tool to solve specific problem without a long-term strategy. Most distribution utilities in India are still lacking in most basic requirements i.e. consumers and assets databases that result into direct revenue losses. Most utilities maintain manual records of consumers in the form of registers especially, in rural areas that make the complete process time consuming. Using of electromechanical meters, manual reading of meters and bill preparation, inadequate bill collection facilities result in overall delay in revenue collection and that lead to losses in power sector companies. IT is widely acknowledged to be crucial for efficient operation and management of all industrial systems. This is true of the power utilities, which need to handle a large amount of information for their efficient operation.

IT Strategy and Plans

  A structured and comprehensive IT strategy and plan will help the distribution utilities to derive the benefits from information technology. The IT strategy and plans will need to consider several aspects. Refer table 1.

  The IT applications have been divided into the following four categories:

• Prerequisites – To be established first to allow implementation of subsequent IT applications
• Short-term – Quick wins
• Medium-term – High return
• Advanced applications

  SMART Grid Vision of India: A smart grid is the integration of information and communications technology into electric transmission and distribution networks. The smart grid delivers electricity to consumers using two-way digital technology to enable the more efficient management of consumers’ end uses of electricity as well as the more efficient use of the grid to identify and correct supply demand-imbalances instantaneously and detect faults in a ‘self-healing’ process that improves service quality, enhances reliability, and reduces costs. The emerging vision of the smart grid encompasses a broad set of applications, including software, hardware, and technologies that enable utilities to integrate, interface with, and intelligently control innovations. Some of the enabling technologies that make smart grid deployments possible include: Meters, Storage devices, Distributed generation, Renewable energy, Energy efficiency, Home area networks, Demand response, IT and back office computing, Security, Integrated communications systems, Superconductive transmission lines. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. SMART GRID Architecture

  Geographic Information System (GIS): GIS applications are many; power companies can collect and store a large amount of data that can be readily accessed and analyzed. Strength of GIS is integrating data and preparing it for analysis or modeling apart from tying together data from various sources makes it an important tool for the planning and decision making. User can display legend of all layers displayed on the map. This legend will be represented by the symbol of each layer with colour and the name of the layers in a list. System will display coordinate of the current mouse position and the coordinate value will change with the movement of mouse pointer over the map area. User can see co-ordinate only when the mouse pointer is inside the map area. GIS provides a wide range of solutions encompassing the entire business value chain in the power distribution sector from setting up distribution network and load management to customer information, assets management, billing and customer services. Digital system provides timely, accurate and easier way of acquiring information, which is very vital in taking prompt and accurate decisions.

  Advanced applications: The advanced applications can be built only after establishing a strong foundation in the preceding phases. For instance, mobile field force solution can be built only after establishing a system for management of field service orders (and customer and service databases even earlier). E-business solutions such as customer self-service and e-procurement require the CIS, SCM (Supply Chain Management), etc., to be in place. Integrated Billing System For Large C and I Customers, Enterprise resource planning (ERP), Oracle ERP, SAP Utilities, SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture), AMR (Automated Meter Reading), Wireless Technologies-GSM / GPRS based and CDMA based technologies, Power Line Communication System (PLC). The typical portfolio application is shown in table 2.

  Integrated metering, billing and collection systems: The objective is to integrate billing, payment and collection to eliminate scope for tampering and manipulation and thus, improve collection. Payments are currently made in person in most of the places. Only in few places payments can be made online or through ATM. IT can be used for making electronic payments including direct debit payments.

  Energy accounting system to conduct energy audit: At present, meters are installed at 33 kV feeders and at some places on 11 kV feeders. Meters are not installed at distribution transformers (DT) level. Total energy input to a circle is known accurately but not the total energy sold, because of many customers are unmetered. As such energy losses at different stages are unknown. Energy accounting has started at some places but with inaccurate data. Due to lack of information, the control is ineffective and the responsibility cannot be fixed. It is necessary to know energy input and energy sold at various stages of sub-transmission and distribution to identify areas of high losses. Moreover, information on loading, voltage and consumption at different levels can be used for network management and reduction in outages. For this purpose, meters with real time communication, facility should be installed at 33 kV feeders, 11kV feeders and 11 kV /0.4 kV DTs. Non-metered customers are to be separated and supplied power from different transformers. Map customers to respective DT’s and build communication channels to transfer data from the meters to the central meter reading control system.

  Remote reading is preferred over download facility through handheld device. It provides real time pictures while handheld device can give only snapshots. This information can be used for network management and in distribution automation.

  Complaint handling: At present, consumers find very hard to lodge their complaints. The customers usually have to go to the substation for supply related complaints and the concerned offices for the bill related complaints. Power utilities can have call centers with IVR for outages and bill related complaints.

  Distribution sector: In India, distribution business is characterized by manual and complicated processes, inadequate controls, lack of commercial focus, limited transparency and lack of reliable information. As a result, the operations are highly inefficient with substantial revenue leakages and poor customer orientation. The use of IT has been low and in pockets. The several standalone applications have limited ability to effectively interface and integrate with other applications or with potential applications to be deployed in future. Although the level of deployment of IT varies significantly across the utilities, the key applications have been in multi-level aggregation of data or large scale data processing. Advance countries are using IT tools to gain in term of productivity, efficiency, reliability etc. It has been observed that Indian power companies are lagging behind due to not proper implementation of information technology. Other countries which have Aggregate Technical and Commercial losses in single digit figure their IT play central role in their business. A huge investment required to attain global standard which is not feasible at one go. Therefore, it is needed to adopt phase approach in IT implementation. IT is one of the pillars to achieve this future successfully. For quite a few years, utility in the developed countries have been leveraging the IT for obtaining significant benefits. The Indian sector too has introduced IT solutions but the approach has been piece meal with standalone applications deployed for a limited operational requirement. IT has been used only as a tool to address a specific issue or two at a time without holistic approach. It has led to limited integration of systems, underutilization of resources, absence of standard database, high cost of maintenance, inadequate interface and integration with other applications. These issues have adversely affected the return from IT investments. Incoherent technology strategy leads to situations where incompatible options are selected and large sums of money are wasted in attempt to integrate them .There is plenty of room for IT application within the power sector in India. There is a need to look at the global practices in IT adoption in the power sector so that India can benefit from them.


  With the reforms and restructuring of power sector the way the power distribution business is done has changed. Stiff competition from private and public sector, fundamental changes in pricing and tariff structures, growing environmental concerns are the challenges before Indian power sector. The use of IT tools can make significant differences in overcoming these challenges and bringing about efficiency in the power distribution.

  Application of IT has enormous potential to transform distribution business given the current use of IT by distribution organizations in India compared to adoption of IT by global distribution utilities In global utilities, information technology plays a central role in a best of class distribution utility as the platform for execution of business processes and the information base for decision making at operational and strategic levels. A huge investments will be required to attain global standards but given the financial position of utilities in India, this much investment is not feasible at one go. Therefore, they need to adopt a phased approach towards IT implementation. The investment in IT should be driven by business needs and payback periods. This requires holistic long-term strategy for the adoption of IT. However, it should be remembered use of IT is not a panacea but a palliative. IT acts as only transformation agent and enables business processes to deliver better performance.

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