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Preventing blackouts: A step back in power distribution?

Preventing blackouts: A step back in power distribution?

The future of power sector is linked with smart grid systems that would integrate energy infrastructure, processes, devices, information and markets into a coordinated and collaborative process that allows energy to be generated, distributed and consumed more effectively and efficiently, writes Rai Umraopati Ray.

On 31 July, the northern grid collapsed, and on 1 August, in a wider blackout, the northern and eastern ones also went down, leaving nearly 620 million people without electricity. Trains, metros, traffic lights, and many essential services were halted which caused chaos everywhere. The New York Times reported, “For a country considered a rising economic power, Blackout Tuesday—which came only a day after another major power failure—was an embarrassing reminder of the intractable problems still plaguing India: inadequate infrastructure, a crippling power shortage and, many critics say, a yawning absence of governmental action and leadership.”

A panel investigating the matter reported that Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana drew more than their allotted share of electricity that led to India’s worst power outage. The situation was worsened by low consumption in western India, technical mistakes and maintenance shutdowns. “The cause of the failure can’t be exactly pinpointed. It was caused due to multiple issues. Many of the transmission links in the northern region were out due to maintenance work and annual planned shutdown as it happens during the monsoon season,” said a power ministry official aware of the report’s finding, requesting anonymity.
Experts say had there been a smart grid, this crisis could have been easily been avoided. A smart grid would have shared the data in real-time which would have helped to instantaneously identify the fault. Smart grid would have also initiated self-healing and would have cordoned the fault line and restricted the impact of the failure. In a real-time response, it would have also identified the states overdrawing power. According to the panel’s findings, the under frequency relays (UFRs) didn’t work as “their settings were not done at proper values”. UFRs disconnect power supply if the frequency falls below a set range.

“The fault is with the states as the UFRs are with the electricity distribution companies. It is the respon­sibility of the regional load despatch centres (RLDCs) to verify the settings at frequent intervals. On the second day, all of the above happened with no commi­serate load reduction,” another ministry official said.

The report has suggested new planning criteria and fresh transmission capacity besides recommending that UFR settings be checked more frequently. It has also asked for special protection schemes and defence mechanisms such as islanding. This would isolate the fallout of a grid disturbance on the national power grid, restricting it to a particular region, or allow a particular region or essential service to isolate itself if there is a grid failure. It also recommended scrapping the unsche­duled interchange (UI) mechanism.

The grid code

Not long ago, the power ministry had written to the states to put in place a defence mechanism and adhere strictly to the Indian Electricity Grid Code. The Ministry is also looking at changes to be made to the Grid Code for proper implementation. The Special Protection Schemes help prevent grid failure situations. These are to be implemented at state electricity distribution centres. This system disconnects the circuit auto­matically during critical situation. This means if any customer is drawing more electricity than what is allotted or frequency of the transmission line drops from normal, the circuit gets disconnected automatically. A shortfall in supply due to inadequate power infrastructure requires some lead time, as investments in power sector are capital- and time-intensive. Timely planning and development of transmission and distribution (T&D) lines to deliver power to the load centres is equally important. Overall, matching of demand and supply and strengthening the transmission network will be needed for long-term solution for grid stability.

Many experts believe that the economic growth of a developing nation like India depends heavily on reli­ability and quality of its electric power supply. Generally, rigorous planning is done for the addition of new gene­ration and the expansion of existing transmission net­works. However, distribution systems have grown in an unplanned manner resulting in high technical and com­mercial losses in addition to ending up delivering poor quality of power. Efficient operation and maintenance of distribution systems is hampered by non-availability of system topological information, historical data and real-time health information of distribution system compo­nents such as transformers and feeders. Supplementary reasons include the lack of efficient tools for operational planning, and advanced methodologies for quick fault detection, isolation, and service restoration, etc.

All these factors have eventually led to increased system losses, poor quality and reliability of power supply apart from witnessing increased peak demand and poor return of revenue. Hence, the increased reliance on Distribution Automation (DA) and its subsidiaries to mitigate the existing bottlenecks. Across the world, DA has been acknowledged as being indispensable in over­coming the consequences arising out of this shortfall.

Loss reduction programme

In India, city electricity distribution auto­mation (CEDAS) was the first initiative towards power system automation systems under R-APDRP. The focus of the programme was on actual, demonstrable perfor­mance in terms of loss reduction through adoption of information technology and strengthening and up-gradation of sub-transmission and distribution networks. Both state and private owned discoms have embarked on a progressive approach in bringing about CEDAS. These projects were started to initiate the DA programme in India. The DRUM project in Aurangabad and electric distri­bution companies such as NDPL, BESCOM, REL and DHBVNL have taken a lead in this direction.

As VSK Murthy Balijepalli, Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and others in their paper, “Towards Indian Smart Grids”, writes, a Smart Grid integrates innovative tools and technologies from generation, transmission and distri­bution all the way to consumer appliances and equip­ment. This concept, or vision, integrates energy infra­structure, processes, devices, information and markets into a coordinated and collaborative process that allows energy to be generated, distributed and consumed more effectively and efficiently. The dep­loyment strategy for intelligent smart grid encapsulates all stages of the ele­ctric power lifecycle (generation, transmission, distri­bution, metering, and customer).

Digital energy system

A modernised/smart grid would create a digital energy system that will detect and address emerging pro­blems on the system before they affect service; respond to local and system-wide inputs and have much more information about broader system problems; incorporate extensive measurements, rapid communi­cations, centra­lised advanced diagnostics, and feedback control that qui­ckly return the system to a stable state after interru­ptions or disturbances.

“Smart grids are sophisticated, digitally enhanced power systems where the use of modern communications and control technologies allows much greater robustness, efficiency and flexibility than today’s power systems. A smart grid impacts all the components of a power system. However, much of the smart grid focus in a power system is at the distribution level. One subset of smart grids is smart metering/advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) etc. In a smart grid, all the various nodes need to inter­connect to share data as and where needed. Power uti­lities around the world are adopting smart grid tech­nologies to make the power infrastructure robust, self healing, adaptive, interactive and cost-effective. Indian power sector has also the opportunity to leap-frog given our limited legacy systems and the anticipated growth in power sector and infrastructure. In view of the anti­cipated growth in Indian power sector and infra­­structure, there is huge potential for adopting Smart Grid Tech­nologies and designs in big way”, explains Devendra Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Power. According to Dr Sam Pitroda who is also the Chairman of the India Smart Grid Taskforce, smart grids will ensure power availability and reliability, and help iden­tify faults in power supply, for rapid redressal.

Similarly, it has been observed that interoperability among various systems of the power grid is crucial for achieving the benefits of open architecture-based future control centres. Smart grid implementations will depend on the accurate and timely flow of information among systems of all kinds in a highly-scalable system of systems architecture. Dynamic prices and demand response signals should flow from utilities and aggregators to customers. Meter data needs to flow to utilities and customers. Market transactions should flow from custo­mers to markets to operators and back. Values, status and control information should flow from devices produced by different companies and embedded through­out the grid to operators and customers. It should enable different vendors to develop systems that work together and interoperate effectively as integrated solutions.

When considering interoperability around conne­ctivity, one needs to consider at least three, if not more, aspects of interoperability. Whether it is physical conne­ctivity, data exchanges, architectural models and possibly process and governance impacts, complete under­standing of interoperability is of utmost impor­tance. Therefore, smart grid interoperability spans a very diverse collection of connectivity pers­pectives. Experts say that we must consider no less than “consumer-to-grid”, “utility-to-grid” and “generation-to-grid”. “There is no doubt smart grid will help to develop good outage mana­ge­ment and customer relationship manage­ment to improve the consumer relation”, says Ajay I Kumar, Vice President, BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd, Delhi.

The future of power sector is linked with the impleme­ntation of the smart grid systems with effective inter­operability, which help customer to get un-interrupted power supply at lower tariff. Newer technologies will operate the grid efficiently, optimise energy usage, manage gro­wing energy demand and also help in impro­ving the environmental quality.

Boosting investor confidence

Smart grid technology would’ve minimised human factors and thus could’ve saved the grid collapse. Smart grid works on certain algorithms and logics. Whenever a situation arises, the grid would automatically follow a predefined process which would be a welcome change to a conventional grid supervision where chances of human error, negligence or incompetency may creep in.

Wherever smart grids have been introduced, it has led to reli­ability of network and superior quality of supply. It has not only helped to avert disasters but also improve the response time for any outages. Troubleshooting has been easier. It also pro­vides flexibility to integrate renewables and energy other forms of energy.

The biggest problem a conventional power grid faces is that it involves too many human factors hence it is susceptible to failure(s). The grid has to be reliable 365 days, 24×7. Smarter the grid, the better it is for the network and reliable, quality supply. Smart grids are an effective way of managing the system. Needless to say, it would boost investor confidence.
-Ramesh Narayanan, CEO, BYPL

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