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In order to efficiently utilise electricity, power distribution systems need to be streamlined in line with the changing trends in power consumption. That requires proper data collection and management. Information can be aggregated only if data is there. That takes us back to the prediction, analytics and deep learning and everything else. But to get there you first need to have the data. It's easier to start collecting data than try rolling out something big, suggests Robert HK Demann, Head, Smart Infrastructure, Siemens Ltd.
What customer segments are you currently servicing?
Smart infrastructure has got a lot to do with airports, data centres and everything around smart energy. These are just a few industries that we address. But smart infrastructure can also mean things like industrial parks where you create a platform for manufacturing companies to leverage the integrated supply chain to optimise their processes. Heavy industry companies such as oil & gas and cement are working with us as well. Technology companies, too are looking at working with us as they want to run their businesses effectively and efficiently from smart campuses.
What will be the role of smart solutions in the upcoming smart cities?
If you look at many of the initiatives taken by the government, a lot of them are about having cockpits for management of data. This is typically the domain of IT companies. For management of those solutions and collection of data, you need to have automation and digitalisation of certain processes. Let's take the example of smart metering, which looks at where energy gets consumed. Take another example of reducing traffic congestions to optimise the flow of traffic in the city. You can synchronise taxis with the arrival time for bus and metro rail services. These are the solutions we provide at Siemens in mobility or industry. Having a cockpit is good, but the cockpit only collects information and does not help change anything. That's why I say do it campus by campus to eventually develop a smart city. It is my personal belief that if you want to have a smart city, especially in an established area, it is easier to implement multiple smart campuses and network the data. The smart city is a collection of smart campuses.
That's a very important point you have made here as most of the conversations around smart cities are still about the creation of cockpits.
No, I am not saying that it's a wrong approach! I am only saying how do you get there. Information can be aggregated only if data is there. That takes us back to the prediction, analytics and deep learning and everything else. But to get there you first need to have the data. It's easier to start collecting data than trying to do something big. You can do a smart metering rollout in a city, but even then, you will find a lot of people who might resist it. So, doing it campus by campus or suburb by suburb could have a much bigger impact. Later on, you can network all of that together. The increasing complexity of our cities makes it very difficult to have a centralised approach to these things. But, that's my personal opinion.
We currently have more brownfields than greenfield development happening here. What kind of challenges does that pose to you?
There are two blocks in India. If, on the one hand, you have new infrastructure being built like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project, you also have infrastructure being created in the existing cities of Delhi and Mumbai for they are no longer able to cater to the requirements of a growing population. In the first case, people are normally looking for pragmatic solutions that can be deployed quickly. In the second case, in a place where infrastructure is already established and you want to optimise it, you are looking at more automation and digitalisation. So, if you have, say, a hotel with two elevators with no scope to put in any additional elevators, you have to make sure through digitalisation and automation that they work ideally. You can do the same with an airport or railway station to improve passenger throughput.
How much innovation does that require?
Optimising an existing infrastructure requires lots of smart ideas, especially in a framework where you can pull out information to do predictive maintenance in factories or buildings. So, not waiting for something to break down or avoiding condition-based maintenance but using data for overhauling, that's innovation. Specifically, on how to optimise existing infrastructure when it comes to adding new elements to it. Here you have an excellent example where we are building new infrastructure around smart street lighting solutions. This calls for innovation of a different kind. One, it is about actually finding a good solution that people can utilise quickly. And, two, how you can take it to the next level to optimise the return on investment. This is supported by our different R&D teams who leverage their international experience while creating solutions for India as well as utilise what was originally developed for India, internationally.
Electricity is going to play a very pivotal role as far as Industry 4.0 is concerned. How can the deployment of smart infrastructure help enhance efficiency in power distribution?
If you look at power distribution traditionally, you have power being generated somewhere, being transmitted to a substation and then see it flowing from the substation to homes and commercial establishments. But today some of those consumers are becoming prosumers by putting photovoltaic (PV) on their roof. They are not only consuming but also generating energy. Since they cannot consume all of it, they may want to feed some of it back into the grid. Another thing that is happening is you have these developments like electric vehicles (EVs). To optimally use an EV you would want to fast charge it within 15 minutes. You suddenly have a different kind of consumption of electricity at home than switching on air-conditioning. And then if you look at commercial areas, suddenly you have huge indoor spaces such as data centres. So, first of all, the requirements in the grid are changing in the sense they are not only flowing from top to bottom but also going in different directions and at different fluctuations. Because of all this, the complexity has changed. Instead of delivering from one to a few, you now have many to many connections and to manage this complexity, you need software and automation. What's also changing is that in the past if you had a power cut for a couple of hours, people knew how to deal with it. But now if you have a power cut and you have a data centre connected to it, that won't work. If smartphones suddenly stop receiving data, everyone will complain. This shows the increased reliance on electricity 24x7. This also means that if you look at distribution networks, they need to be able to recover fast automatically in the context of self-fuelling grids. As Siemens, we can help with digitalisation and products to facilitate better management of electricity grids.
So, what's your outlook five years from now?
If we want to have all the growth that is anticipated in the country, one thing that is necessary is to have a strong and reliable electric supply 24x7. Then comes integration with grids of renewable energy. Here, too, the government is very ambitious. You will need lots of software systems to help manage that. Then, India is planning to reduce its carbon output by shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy. According to certain estimates, this could go up to 60 per cent if you consider large hydro projects. If we get that plus reliable electricity done at the same time then the basis to build infrastructure would be there. You can't build infrastructure without electricity today. Those visions are very realistic and achievable but will require a lot of hard work. We at Siemens would be very happy in contributing to all those different elements.
- MANISH PANT