The development of various branches of Economy, right from industry to agriculture, depends greatly on the accessibility and usage of electricity. The pandemic, COVID-19 has not only affected the people’s well-being and the country’s economy but also has affected the electrical engineering sector. The generation, transmission and distribution of electricity are the vital jobs for the industrial sector and also for the groups of people reliant on the safe and reliable power supply. These groups include people in hospitals, people staying at home, people working from home, kids studying online, etc.
As people are staying at home, the usage of electricity by businesses and industries is declining while it is rising in residential and a few commercial areas. Reduction in load is to the tune of 10 to 20%. On account of this, the electric grid is experiencing variations in the load patterns. These variations are very well taken care of and an uninterrupted power supply is provided to all by the electric utility companies, which is worth appreciating. However, there are a few more challenges ahead in the electrical engineering sector. Importantly, the cash flow at all levels is getting hampered, which is one of the major concerns for all stakeholders. Other concerns and challenges are listed below.
Reliable and Resilient Power Supply: Due to the guidelines of the local authorities, almost all the offices and schools are closed. Thousands of professionals are working from home and students are attending classes online. Along with this, the health care systems are operating at their full capacity whether a city or a village, making the role of electrical infrastructure more critical. This has underlined the prominence of delivering reliable and resilient electric services to various parts of society. Preventive and pre-monsoon maintenance activities carried out by utilities during the lock-down period has been affected and hence will have a greater impact on supply reliability and voltage quality.
Supply Chain Issues: As most of the electrical allied industries are temporarily closed worldwide, there is a limited production of the electrical parts, components, equipment, and related materials. Consequently, there can be shortage of these, during an emergency. Shortage can also be due to the non-availability of the transport facilities within the cities, states and countries. This will further delay the completion of on-going projects and postpone the implementation of proposed projects of national interest.
Reduction in the Peak Demand: There has been a substantial reduction in power consumption of industrial, commercial sectors due to lower demand, supply chain, and labour issues. Railway’s power demand has reduced extensively. The decrease in load demand has effectively increased the renewable resource percentage share of some electric power plants. This has simultaneously, led to an increase in the curtailment of non-renewable generation. Industries with the reduced power demand and having captive solar photo-voltaic (PV) generation are facing challenges related to surplus generation during the production period and holidays. As they are not allowed to inject surplus generation into the grid, the part of the SPV system is required to be switched OFF. Under-capacity utilization of installed solar rooftop, installation is affecting the return on interest (ROI). If the situation of lock-down and lower demand get prolonged, future rooftop solar PV installations will be affected to a major extent. To overcome this situation it is necessary to accelerate battery charging installation infrastructure to promote electric vehicles (EVs). Further, the distribution companies are finding difficulties in recovering funds from consumers and facing acute fund crises.
kVAh Billing: In the state of Maharashtra, kVAh billing was introduced in April 2020 for adequate reactive power compensation and to avail maximum system benefits. Many industrial customers were using fixed and switched shunt capacitor schemes, as per the previous tariff to avail benefits of power factor incentives. During the lock-down, fix compensation resulted in higher leading RkVAh and higher kVAh bills. The contribution of RkVAh in total kVAh was in the range of 50 to 80% for many consumers. This resulted in higher energy monthly bills even though active power consumption was lower. During Unlock-1, industrial consumers will be required to focus on adequate reactive power compensation to minimize the difference between kVAh and kWh by the use of a hybrid reactive power compensation scheme. Sizing of hybrid reactive power compensation cost-effectively by the study of base-load reactive power and fluctuating reactive power is going to be obligatory. Step-less reactive power compensation sizing shall be done only to meet highly fluctuating requirements. While designing a new reactive power compensation scheme, a holistic approach is required at the design stage to avail maximum benefits of adequate reactive
power compensation. This includes reduction in branch circuit losses, branch circuit loading that will help reduce maintenance requirement, breakdown and minimize RkVAh generation, so that kVAh closer to kWh can be achieved.
Low Power Consuming Devices: Revolutionary developments such as industrial internet of things (IIoT), data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will make more than 3500 crore devices operational by 2022. These include devices at our houses and offices, buildings and infrastructures, vehicles and even on human bodies to monitor health, our environment etc. The current devices and systems consume too much power and all these cannot be battery powered. Hence, there is a need to develop new types of devices and integration tools that consume very little power.
Need for Data-driven Systems: Every instant data is generated by the IoT, from a variety of sources such as healthcare, genomics, advanced metering, economics and social networking. This data poses a challenge for storage and processing. This inspires the need of developing new data-driven applications that will require the creation of drastically new designs that simulate the functionality of human behaviour. All the mentioned equipment and developments are highly sensitive to voltage quality in terms of short and long term root-mean-square (RMS) voltage variation. For the satisfactory operation of the mentioned system, the required voltage quality is higher. In that case, more emphasis is desirable to improve voltage quality and impose current quality limits. There is an urgent need to work on National standards related to immunity and emission requirements, and voltage and current quality.
Global Challenge: Grand Engineering Challenges for 21st-century announced by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in the areas of healthcare, energy, environment and urbanization necessitate deeper partnerships with other fields that stretch the definition of electrical engineering and engage experts in these areas to develop realistic solutions for the pressing problems of the society.
Prototyping: Strengthening the culture of prototyping and model making is required to be encouraged to a large scale, in which students, researchers, and faculties comprehend and demonstrate their inventions from idea to market.
Power Quality: By 2050, it is predicted that almost all the sectors will be electrified. In doing this, stress will be given for good power quality as it is crucial for the efficiency of the equipment. As a result, it will be increasingly important to develop technologies to improve power quality. As electricity plays an increasingly important role across sectors, the impact of failure becomes even more significant. Breakdowns are very costly for industrial and domestic consumers and they are targeting to achieve zero breakdowns. Power quality and grounding are the main cause of the failure/malfunction of pieces of equipment. All new technological developments in the next decade demand highly reliable and quality power. There is a need to work on a national level voltage quality standard which will address short duration and long duration voltage quality aspects. As said earlier, equipment level immunity, emission, and energy efficiency standards, and their enforcement will help meet changing electrical environment requirements of sensitive equipment. Power quality contracts to meet specific power quality requirements of specific customers will be need of an hour. More research and development is required to develop highly cost-effective power quality conditioners to address power quality problems faced by customers using highly sensitive equipment. The holistic approach will help address the mentioned issues in an economical and eco-friendly manner.
Central Level Energy Storage: Rate of the addition of installed capacity of the solar PV system in India will result in surplus generation during some parts of the day. The addition of more renewable generation capacity, if not matched with vehicle battery charging station and use of the electric vehicle, may result in surplus generation during some part of the day. Even during COVID-19, many industries having captive solar plants are required to switch off their PV generation during the production period due to lower demand, and major SPV generation is switched OFF during holidays. To establish a balance of production and generation it is required to emphasize the development and use of small, medium and grid-level energy storage devices. This will help keep the pace of the addition of more renewable energy sources to the grid.
Despite multiple challenges posed by COVID-19, it is required to explore new avenues and opportunities to address mentioned issues to rise and take the economy to a healthy state.
Dr. Ravindra Munje
Associate Professor at the Electrical Department, K. K. Wagh Institute of Engineering Education and Research.
Achievements: Written a book and refereed about 40 papers and completed two major research projects. Received several awards and fellowships.
Dr. Bansidhar Kushare
Professor and Head of the Electrical Engineering Department at K. K. Wagh Institute of Engineering Education & Research, and the Chairman, Board of Studies, Pune University. Also, CEO of Dr. B. K. Kushare and Associates.
Achievements: Published more than 135 research papers and a few books. Received several awards and fellowships.