Smart grid needs Indian support

Written by W Charlton Adams | Updated: May 30 2011, 06:54am hrs
Indias power grids are among the weakest in the world while its transmission and distribution losses the highest, averaging 24% of the total electricity production and in some states as high as 62%. If India wants to maintain its pace of economic growth, it will have to build a modern, intelligent grid.

Smart grid is required to ensure uninterrupted power supply to consumers while eliminating losses at plants. The technology is emerging to become the nerve centre of energy networks across the world. Indias smart grid efforts primarily concern three main issues:

(i)Increased load needs cannot be met by present supply and hence results in frequent brownouts; (ii) the drive to electrify a large segment of its rural population; and (iii) the need to optimise electrical usage to manage loads and mitigate operating inefficiencies (losses in the system, financial and technical, are amongst the worlds highest).

Technology and know-how to deploy the smart grid exist today. Innovations in network management, energy distribution and smart grid metering are taking place rapidly. The barriers in getting smart grid up to scale are not primarily technical. A critical need is industry standards that support interoperability, reliability and efficiency, and incentivise the rapid roll out of smart grid. The upside of a national network of smart grids, with harmonised standards, is vast for India.

The effort to standardise the smart grid is an immense, global initiative crossing the public, private and corporate sectors. Smart grid technologies have a bearing on appliances talking to one another, homes and offices talking to the utility companies, as well as regenerative power. Standards development work is imperative in the near term because it is bringing together communities and regulatory authorities to lay the foundation for the growth of the smart grid. We have one chance to bring everyone together to create a common point of entry and make this work.

This situation bears a striking resemblance to the advent of the Internet. There is a massive need to integrate the technology and the network to create a new platform upon which the smart grid can operate not only nationally but globally, as well. In order for this integration to occur, we need a consistent power architecture. This architectural framework is already being developed, with a goal for it to be finalised by the year 2030. The only way for this to happen and for the integration to continue to evolve for the next 20 years is through consistent standards that all entities adhere to across the board.

At the end of the day, its all about standards. If we get that right at the onset, we create an ecosystem for the development of technologies, present and future.

Smart grid is a strategic area of focus for IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) globally. IEEE-SA has over 100 standards relevant to smart grid in development. India is ranked the third largest market for smart grid investments and there is momentum in this area with the formation of the Smart Grid Task Force, under the IEEE-SA Standards Interest Group. What India lacks is a collaborative environment that works towards setting global standards so that smart grid can use interoperable technologies and become a reality faster. It is this gap that IEEE-SA aims to address. It is critical that India invests in collaboration and the establishment of standards at this initial stage.

The author is a former president, IEEE, South Africa