Designing Innovation – The Progression of India’s Smart Grid Implementation

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Designing Innovation – The Progression of India’s Smart Grid Implementation

When Wadhwa began her career, it was a different time, and the power situation was unpredictable. Now a Senior General Manager of Powergrid Corporation, Wadhwa has a dynamic career full of highs. She shared with us her insights about the transformation of India’s power sector, and the learnings she would advise other countries undertaking a similar change. 

When looking back to a pivotal moment in her career, Wadhwa shared the inception of the smart grid pilot in 2011 was a risk but the potential value creation of technology adoption outweighed the possibility of failure. When designing the pilot program, Wadhwa said they had selected four or five objectives to focus upon, ranging from reducing aggregate techno-commercial losses, management of outages, peak load management and support for increased renewable energy penetration. After the smart grid pilot goals were decided by distribution companies, the Ministry of Power approved partial funding of smart grid pilots and most of these pilots are successfully completed now. One of the major challenges for these pilots was in the wake of communication performance unreliability. “[This] was addressed by having more Data concentrator units, follow up with telecom service providers [so] that they could increase the signal strength in the area and upgraded RF technology for the next phase of smart meters. We have an Indian standard for smart meters, which is [IS] 16444, and that has helped the Indian vendors plan for mass deployment of smart meters.” Millions of smart meters have already been deployed at this stage, and a mandate was given by Ministry of Power for all distribution companies to replace their current meters with smart prepaid meters within three years.

To further “support the Ministry of Power to develop and promote smart grids with a specific focus on distribution sector,” Wadhwa was given a prestigious position aiding the Ministry of Power as part of the National Smart Mission Project Management Unit. The unit consists of a small team of six executives reporting to Director (NPMU). Though small, this group has been instrumental in bringing about significant changes in the power sector. The executives envisioned that with the deployment of cutting-edge technologies and smart meters, the distribution sector could be transformed while supporting grid operations flexibility. To support the rollout of smart grids, the Ministry partially funded and supported 11 pilots. In fact, for further capital infusion for Smart metering, Wadhwa said new Business models have evolved focusing on OPEX in place of CAPEX expenditure. With all the headway these pilots have made, Wadhwa said, “now the stakeholders [can] figure out how smart grids with the basic core foundation technology, such as smart metering, can bring desired benefits to the distribution sector.”

From the smart grid pilots to the new smart grid projects under NSGM and undertaking the ambitious target of 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2022, Wadhwa as part of the NPMU team has proven how to meet and overcome any challenges for smart metering head-on. When asked about the likelihood of meeting this challenging target, Wadhwa said with the utmost confidence India is positioned to meet it. “Yes, because currently, there is more than 80 GW of renewable energy in the current energy mix, and the Government of India is supporting in a big way the large solar parks as well as roof top solar projects. So, all those things are there in place [on] at policy level.” Since their target is achievable, Wadhwa said they now must engage stakeholders and regulators. “The next step will be to educate the stakeholders or to make them aware about the benefits that these initiatives are going to bring and also help distribution companies to manage their distribution grids with an increase in grid flexibility to support higher renewable penetration.”

With all the advances that have been made, we asked Wadhwa what she envisions is next for India. According to Wadhwa, their task will be to focus on continued advancement of smart grid solutions that would involve the implementation of demand response for flexibility, feeder automation to increase reliability, and smart inverters for grid support functions. Wadhwa said, “In some pockets [power] is not that reliable, people do face some power outages and blackouts, which can be avoided in future if we [can] have the feeder automation solutions. Another advanced technology adoption can be in the form of smart inverters” to improve and ensure the power supply quality. Wadhwa said the demand response is about participation of consumers to alter their power demand during grid distress signaled by a distribution company thru incentive, disincentives or thru dynamic tariffs. According to Wadhwa, the above implementations could quickly bring about swift wins to promote clean energy solutions and also quality of supply to end consumers at an affordable cost

In closing, Wadhwa said, “India has set the ball rolling and the other nations who are yet to start their journey can benefit from their experience. I would suggest that they should begin with a clear picture of desired end results based on what their challenges are. Technology should not be adopted just for the sake of technology adoption; technology should serve some business purpose as well.” Wadhwa knows first-hand what challenges lie in wait for countries adopting smart grids, but her recommendation is to persevere and stay the course. She advised, “the smart grid journey never stops at one destination. It is the constant journey we need to learn and innovate in a way so that there is always the next level of smart-ness in the grid for bringing the desired results for consumer and society.”

This interview was conducted as an accompaniment to our Grid Modernisation, Enlit Asia + series digital event. To join the conversation, be sure to register for the webinar on 23 February 2021. Registration is free, register here

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