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Cities are becoming unsustainable as we tackle 21st century problems with 20th century infrastructure. Dhamodaran Ramakrishnan says tomorrow’s energy solutions must be responsible and sustainable.The world’s electricity utility is about to increase more in the next 20 years than it has in the previous 100 years. In spite of a dip caused by the global recession, demand for electricity is forecast to grow by 33 per cent in the next 20 years, with nearly 100 per cent growth in Asia. Even while energy providers struggle to keep up, they’re under pressure from regulators and competitors to increase efficiencies and improve workforce productivity to keep costs in line.With an estimated one million people around the world moving into cities each week, experts predict population in the world’s cities will double by 2050. India too is witnessing an unprecedented scale of urbanisation. According to some estimates, every minute during the next 20 years, more than 30 Indians will leave rural India for settling in urban areas. India is also projected to have the highest urban population rate of change among the BRIC nations, and at the current rate, an estimated 843 million people will live in Indian cities by 2050. India needs to build 500 new cities urgently to provide better quality life to its migrating people and the smarter they are the better for us.Newtech should be sustainableThe challenge is cities are becoming unsustainable as we tackle 21st century problems with 20th century infrastructure. Today, cities consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy, emit more than 80 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide and lose as much as 20 per cent of their water supply due to infrastructure leaks. Demand for electricity is forecast to grow by 33 per cent in the next 20 years, with nearly 100 per cent growth in Asia. Challenges such as climate change, our dependence on foreign oil, the increasing economic and social impacts of power outages and rising energy prices are only a few of the reasons why managing a more dynamic network of energy supply and demand is now a high priority.No doubt, forward looking cities around the globe are looking for ways to reduce their dependency on foreign energy supplies. Yet those new factors in the energy ecosystem, including renewables, energy produced by consumers, and plug-in vehicles, mean the old one-way electrical system isn’t adequate anymore. This is also driving the utility industry to build a more interactive and intelligent grid.Today, cities are looking for ways to prepare for population growth and countries are looking for ways to reduce their dependency on foreign energy supplies. This necessitates that governments, city planners, regulators and utility companies in India and across the globe need to ensure that our cities will survive under the crush of demand for access to the power grid besides others.Fortunately, our energy production and delivery systems can be made smarter by instrumenting everything from appliances and the meter in the home to the turbines in the power plants which can be monitored and controlled on real time. In fact, the intelligent utility system functions like a lot more like the internet than like a traditional grid. It can be linked to thousands of power sources — including climate-friendly ones such as wind and solar.Intelligent gridsAll of this instrumentation then generates new data, which advanced analytics can turn into insight, so that better decisions by key stakeholders of the value chain can be made in real time. The whole system can become more efficient, reliable, adaptive and of course smarter! In fact, studies have shown th at, when consumers know how much electricity they are using on a daily basis, they will become 5-15 per cent more energy-efficient.By adding a layer of digital intelligence to our grids we can automate, monitor and control the two-way flow of energy across operations—from power plant to plug. These smart grids use sensors, smart meters, digital controls and analytic tools to automate, monitor and control the flow of energy across operations – from power plant to plug. Consumers and businesses will be able to take a more active role in managing their energy consumption. This new level of visibility is already happening in other parts of the world.Electricity providers are installing smart meters and customer Web portals that allow consumers to track their use patterns so they can be more informed in their energy decisions. Consumers are using home area networks to automate energy management for their appliances. New energy programmes such as demand response, smart appliances and support for energy technology amongst consumers is becoming more prevalent.Utilities are upgrading their systems so electricity can flow in two directions and they can accept power produced by businesses and consumers. They are also installing intelligent monitoring systems that better track all of the electricity flowing in the grid so they can improve efficiencies and prevent outages. In many cities around the world, utilities are upgrading to better accommodate intermittent sources of power, like solar and wind; they’re installing equipment for storing energy so it can be used when it’s needed rather than when it’s produced. Besides, power generation companies are diversifying into new energy sources.Advanced analytic technologies are also being used in to monitor all of the input coming in through the smart grid network and can be programmed to flag events that indicate security breaches such as suspicious patterns of usage or cessation of hourly readings. Sophisticated new monitoring and control technologies are now able to facilitate the integration of safe generation of renewable energy in the distribution grid while improving the reliability, responsiveness, planning and customer satisfaction of the new system.Moreover, such smart grids seamlessly integrate all sustainable energy technologies, from electric vehicles to solar systems and wind farms. By expanding these efforts the smart grid will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also allow us to do more with what we already have.The good news is progressive leaders and city planners are focusing on transforming the utility network (smart grids, gas and water) to gain visibility to their physical infrastructures to resolve operational problems more quickly, utilise their workforce more efficiently, act pre-emptively to solve problems before they arise, and work to create a self-healing network. This enables them to reduce costs, address growing demand and address climate change concerns.On the other hand of the value chain, utility companies around the world are also driving energy efficiency in order to reduce peak demand, lower operational costs, increase revenues and build customer loyalty in competitive markets by providing consumers with information about their energy usage and tools to manage it more efficiently.Policy initiatives can drive smart solutionsGovernments and regulators too are driving utilities to invest in smart grid, water and gas infrastructures to address these challenges. They are also driving utility companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the incorporation of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, into the power grid and to enable the proliferation of electric vehicles.Let’s consider the following success stories:• Energy Australia has installed more than 14,000 new grid sensors that deliver cutting-edge monitoring and control capabilities for their 1.5 million homes and businesses. These sensors add new insight into operations by touching more than 200 of Energy Australia’s distribution substations and distribution centres. • On the island nation of Malta, the world’s first countrywide rollout of advanced metering is underway—and it will manage both energy and water. This is crucial, in a country where a significant percentage of the water comes from energy-intensive desalination and virtually all of the energy is imported. • In Texas, the largest utilities—including Centerpoint, Oncor and Michael Morris’s American Electric Power—have joined in an innovative programme called Smart Meter Texas to deploy millions of advanced meters. These are enabling consumers to make more informed choices on energy use, enrol in energy supply contracts and take advantage of innovative new energy services. • At Anders Eldrup’s DONG Energy, through the use of advanced monitoring and analytic techniques, outage times have been reduced by 25-50 per cent, and they expect to cut capital spending through higher asset utilisation.• We’re also seeing a lot of innovation in the electric vehicle infrastructure space. Take the EDISON project in Denmark, for instance, which is making possible the large scale adoption of electric vehicles powered by sustainable energy. It is being implemented on the Danish island of Bornholm, designed to function as a testbed. The island has an energy infrastructure characterised by a large proportion of wind energy so there is a lot to learn from a project like this.Today the “smart grid” is no longer just a concept, it’s a necessity. By providing timely and detailed information on energy consumption, a smart grid will allow utilities and consumers alike to be more efficient in their energy use. However, to succeed, energy and utility companies should focus on three key imperatives.Transform the utility network: Transform electric grid, gas, and water infrastructures from rigid, one-way systems to dynamic, automated, and reliable information networks. Orchestrate the network and all its participants to continuously assure an outcome that is better than the sum of the individual parts; Transform electric grid, gas, and water infrastructures from rigid, one-way systems to dynamic, automated, and reliable information networks. Orchestrate the network and all its participants to continuously assure an outcome that is better than the sum of the individual parts.Improve generation performance: Transform the generation portfolio to optimise the supply mix to meet regulatory requirements, while continuously improving the efficiency of the current fleet and maintaining financial viability.Transform customer operations: Empower consumers and improve customer satisfaction by providing access to information, products, and services that can reduce bills, increase efficiency, and address other energy needs.Energy and utility companies today are facing rapid and profound changes. They must embrace the introduction of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), home area network (HAN) devices, grid automation technologies, synchrophasor measurement units for transmission, distributed and renewable generation, energy storage, energy management systems and electric vehicles (EVs), and much more, while maintaining secure uninterrupted delivery of electricity.The issue of regulation and policy as well as setting the standards often acts as impediments in the progress of smart grids. Hence, for the smart grid, rules need to be put in place so that there is an incentive for drive energy efficiency and conservation. Both, policy and regulation and strong collaboration amongst the ecosystem play a vital role in this.Whether for residential or commercial and industrial customers, utilities must find ways to maintain the stability, safety and security of their existing business processes and operational systems while transforming them into a more interactive, sensing, networked, automated, and accessible electricity grid.The future beacons. We must collectively overcome our challenges, and tap the endless opportunities for sustainable growth to power our future and make our cities smarter. Are we ready to switch IT on for a bright future?The author is Director, Smarter Planet Solutions, IBM India/South Asia, which provides smart grid and other T&D solutions to the power industries.