By Sanjay Sudhakaran,
Electricity is the energy of the future, and the world is rapidly moving towards an electric world which is increasingly digitised. Much like the world, India too is committed to progress towards Electricity 4.0 to sustainably fulfil her huge and dynamically growing energy needs. Over 80% of India’s existing energy needs are met by fossil fuels and biomass, with 61% of power generation being hydrocarbon fuel based, such as coal and oil.
Consequently, the Government is committed to amplify nationwide electrification and accelerate towards achieving affordable and clean energy for all. Hence, there is a growing thrust on renewable modes of electricity generation and conversion of key sectors dependent on modes of energy to electricity, such as automobile industry and transport.
It is evident that the unfolding decade is going to see a big surge in demand of 24×7 electricity. The emerging technologies and shift to renewables are bringing about a disruptive transformation in the whole power distribution ecosystem. Furthermore, the recent pandemic has put spotlight on leveraging technologies for building in efficiencies and remote handling of electricity generation. These developments are ushering in the era of Electricity 4.0
Transitioning to Electricity 4.0
The linear equation of power distribution is already changing as the industry moves towards Electricity 4.0 on the lines of industry 4.0. Electric transmission will not follow the same old straight path from plants to grids to discom to consumers in return of payment for electricity consumption. In the near future, discom will have to pay customers for power-cuts or poor quality of service. With alternatives like solar power, consumers are not only becoming electricity producers, but also potential sellers of excess power generated to discom.
Therefore, with complex exchanges, the linear equation has just become more dynamic. Furthermore, the whole power sector, including electricity generation, distribution, and supply networks and processes, is undergoing digitisation owing to efficiency, cost, and sustainability benefits. This transition of the power sector to Electricity 4.0 has become essential for us to address new complexities around generation and distribution of electricity.
Enabling this transformation are the grids of the future, which armed with various digital and software capabilities, are making modern power grids sustainable, resilient, efficient, and flexible. These grids of the future are equipped with energy and automation digitalization, empowering stakeholders with seamless and collaborative data flow through the entire lifecycle, from design and build to operate and maintain.
The new-age grids are ensuring electricity continuity with technologies enabling power restoration to customers on a feeder in a minute. The Microgrid-as-a-Service systems help improve power supply, protect critical operations during power outages, and mitigate the risk of escalating energy prices.
From a sustainability perspective, the modern grids reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions. For instance, most circuit breakers employ SF6 — a major greenhouse gas, with high potential to cause global warming and severe adverse impact to earth’s ozone. Today, digital technologies are fast advancing to build eco-friendly alternatives for the SF6 circuit breakers.
Electricity is largely deemed as a cleaner form of energy due to various environment friendly modes of power generation and its wide-ranging applications. Digitisation has a massive role to play in making electricity further cleaner and utilising it better. However, as India moves towards an all-electric and all-digital world, the power sector needs a workforce that knows how to manage digital technologies, which is emerging as a major upskilling challenge and a barrier to the digital transformation of power.
The Need for Upskilling
Unlike other industries, the power sector, till recent years, has been largely traditional. The sudden infusion of digital technologies has posed a massive challenge for the sector, with relatively digitally untrained human resources. The lack of skilled resources is impacting the evolution of the power sector adversely.
While digital technologies and the consumer demands are evolving rapidly, a mega section of digitally untrained and unskilled workforce and leadership is unable to allow the power infrastructure to upgrade and leverage new-age technologies to their maximum potential. Consequently, the industry is losing out on a host of innovations and digital solutions which are energy efficient, intelligent, and connected; safer and more secure; predictive and responsive; and most importantly, eco-friendly.
However, the lack of skills need not be an obstruction to environment friendly transformation, nor should green transformation be a threat to existing employment. It is estimated that 35 lakhs jobs will be created in the power sector alone by 2050 and the renewable energy sector would employ five times more people by 2050 than the entire fossil-fuel driven energy sector. Thus, this transformation will create new employment opportunities which will be an extension of the present role. What is needed is to build avenues of upskilling the existing workforce.
The Government and its esteemed institutions such as Power Sector Skill Council, National Power Training Institute, and others are making a mega effort under Skill India to upskill and reskill the existing manpower. However, technology is rapidly evolving, and the upskilling programs would get a strong boost by strategic partnership with key digital technology players who are guiding the power transformation story globally. The kind of public-private partnership will help impart latest learning and deeper understanding to the unskilled resource. Once the workforce experiences the power of digital and understands how these emerging technologies are making complexities simpler, the demand will ensure, and the utilities will transform rapidly to power a green, electric self-reliant India.
Additionally, the government should incentivise producers of green energy and integrate them with digital solutions providers to include latest technological advances to avoid frequent upgrades. And, because the transformation is of a full ecosystem, it’s also crucial to identify partners who can deliver end-to-end integrated solutions. Any non-compatibility of technology due to different players can decrease the efficiency and the outcome of the entire effort.
Often, we see that a policy change is employed and the people and industry follow. However, in the case of utilities, the right approach, although more difficult, would be to create the demand for digital technologies by upskilling the workforce. This is because critical assets like power utilities cannot be pushed through a major change without having enough upskilled human resource to manage the transition.
(The author is Vice President, Power Systems, Schneider Electric India. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)