The Indian energy sector is undergoing a technological evolution with the launch of electric vehicles (EVs) and integration of advanced digital solutions into the system. This has created both challenges and opportunities for the power system. This digital transformation can be attribut­ed to a number of internal and external tre­nds such as the proliferation of EVs, influx of renewable energy capacity, shift towards “prosumerism”, etc. Owing to ec­o­nomies of scale, these trends have signific­a­n­tly imp­acted the power sector. The leve­ll­ised cost of onshore wind and solar has be­en consistently declining over the past few years, and India witnessed its lowest re­ne­w­able energy tariffs in 2017. In light of these ch­anges, it is crucial that the future grid be­comes more flexible, resilient and intelligent.

The next big technology trends to impact the power sector are internet of things (IoT), big data and cloud technology. IoT connects devices and consumers to smart meters and subsequently to the grid. This helps monitor consumption patterns and enables plant operators to take immediate action during a breakdown by locating the broken link in the chain. Mean­while, big data enables predictive and cognitive analysis, and optimises the energy usage of devices. It helps predict accidents and flags other safety issues in the system. This digital transformation will help utilities respond to changes in the system to improve their operational efficiency and enhance the customer experience.

Digital utility architecture

A digital utility is on a non-stop, on-demand, redesign journey of business models, business processes, technologies, organisational structures and applied human capital. The goal of a digital utility is to leverage existing and new trends to become more profitable, and customer-driven. It delivers success by streamlining business and operational processes. It also enables close monitoring of performance, ensures flexible and integrated planning, and builds trust among stakeholders.

Moreover, a digital utility uses analytical tools to gain insights that can help plan disinvestments and investments, and deve­lop techniques to revise existing strategies and manage innovation to maintain a competitive advantage. In essence, a digital uti­lity improves transparency and manageme­nt of processes across different areas of ope­ration including customer services, business operations, distribution and po­wer trading.

In order to facilitate digitisation, utilities need to develop the requisite architecture across different areas of operation. This includes the deployment of various enterprise systems for distribution management, outage management, meter data management, customer information services, etc.

In India, new technology solutions are being deployed to improve the business processes and operations of utilities. Many utilities have launched their mobile applications for bill payment and complaint resolution. Further, smart meters are being installed across the country to facilitate bidirectional flow of data. Once a bidirectional data communication system is established, it can be used for providing data on load forecasts, emission reduction, capacity bids, etc. Several utilities have transitioned from preventive maintenance of equipment to conditional maintenance. Going forward, the digitisation of utilities will be crucial for better load management of EVs and renewable energy integration into the grid.

The way forward

Utilities need to fast-track the deployment of emerging technologies and develop key performance indicators to track their success. Further, the management of distributed energy resources needs to be planned in advance. Apart from automating their business processes through information and operational technologies, utilities need to invest in data security.

The future digital utility will consist of real-time market architecture, virtual and dynamic data integration and a living network model, among other things. The modern grid will facilitate bidirectional flow of energy between the grid and end users with the help of IoT and big data, which will connect devices directly to the grid. This will also enable the monitoring of consumption and energy wastage patterns. In sum, reliability, resilience and customer engagement will become the three mainstays of future smart grid networks.

Based on inputs from Andres Carvallo, CEO and Founder, CMG Consulting, at India Smart Grid Week 2018