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India needs to partner with early innovators across the globe for SmartGrid success

Q&A with Dr. Rajit Gadh: Founding Director of the UCLA Smart Grid Energy Research Center,GridWeek Asia 2012 Speaker.

Q: What’s your interest in the India Smart Grid market?

A: Indian villages can teach us a thing or two about micro-grids. In some rural areas, today one can see homes with a small solar PVC connected to an LED or a fan. Many of these homes and sometimes entire villages are not even on the grid. Their practices may be more sustainable than many high tech products. It would be interesting to investigate how such sustainable practices can scale up to the modern-day homes and buildings.

On the flip side – in major Indian cities – the development of modern high rise commercial and residential buildings presents a tremendous opportunity to create technologically advanced grid-enabled smart buildings that would be responsive to utility-generated market-driven signals such as demand response signals or voltage regulation signals. This represents an opportunity for research, experimentation and innovation.

Q: What do you see as biggest opportunity and reason for modernizing India’s grid?

 A: The ability to validate concepts, ideas, technologies and advanced products in their upcoming and modern infrastructure.

 Q: Do you know of any projects in Europe or the U.S. that may serve as a model for India to follow in its pursuit of a smarter electrical infrastructure (i.e. a rural electrification project)?

 A: The UCLA Smart Grid Living Lab Demonstration is one model that may be explored for scale to the new metropolitan areas that are now coming up in India. In this living lab demonstration, we are experimenting with new and innovative concepts around demand response, electric vehicles, mcro-grids, and renewable energy integration (solar) in residential and commercial settings, consumer behavior and smart grid network security.

On a separate note, we are collaborating with Korea Institute for Energy Research on innovative concepts in Smart Grid, and I was recently in Jeju island in Korea learning about the Smart Grid projects on this island, which has substantial wind energy. This model of collaboration would draw upon the strengths of our respective institutions and our local climate conditions to collaborate on a future models and architectures of smart grids. Such a collaborative model might be one that the Indian government leadership may want to investigate.

Q: It’s been said that India has the opportunity to build its “smart grid” from scratch. How might this be an advantage/disadvantage when compared to the U.S., Europe, and other nations that are “smartening up” existing electrical infrastructure?

A: In Italy, the development of the Smart Grid started over a decade ago. At that time, wireless communications infrastructure was not completely standardized nor was it economical and so wireline communications technology was used. Today, as the U.S. is modernizing its grid with smart meters and other smart devices, large parts of the smart grid use wireless communications technologies. These technologies must interface with the existing power infrastructure. India can potentially leapfrog even the U.S. by using electrical power devices embedded with the communications and information technology at the outset. Such an infrastructure would potentially allow major improvements in efficiency, flexibility, and, accuracy in measurement of consumption, and, move the country towards a smarter grid much faster, thereby leapfrogging even the west. However, the design of the smart grid needs careful research, planning and execution, so as to attain the maximum benefit from the investment. Also, leapfrogging requires that the leadership in the country take some bold steps and few risks with bleeding-edge technology.

Q: What are the most critical elements and requirements for Smart Grid success in India, in your opinion (i.e standards, collaboration, international partnerships, consumer engagement), and why?

A: Today, technologies and standards are developed for global markets as those result in rapid cost reduction. For example, WiFi started out being a local standard and quickly displaced several proprietary standards caused by the virtuous cycle of decline in pricing coupled and rapid increase in volume. Working with or towards standard solutions is therefore essential for a product to be sustainable. International partnerships are essential as an advancement that is already available in a different country will not be economical to replicate. Partnerships with early innovators across the globe will be essential for Smart Grid success in India.

Q: What’s working well in US/Europe that could be replicated in India?

 A: In the US, wireless communications is working well on the distribution-side automatic metering infrastructure. In Italy (Europe), the ability of the consumer to pick and chose their energy supplier is giving consumers choices, which they are exercising. Such concepts could be easily replicated in India. However, India has its own challenges, which it has to solve – in particular the losses in their grid, which could be up to 50% in some places. Finer levels of monitoring and control through a smarter grid would be a first step towards cutting these losses.

Q: What is the opportunity for India to use its IT expertise in the smart grid area in Europe/US?

 A: IT expertise would help in the back-end, web-services, CRM and database management components of the Smart Grid. These would need to be coupled with communications, power systems, sensor networks, power electronics, etc. to enable complete Smart Grid solutions. This may be done by appropriate partnering with global players with the right expertise.

Q: Can Indian IT companies become system integrators and solution providers partnering with national and international vendors in offering smart grid solutions?

A: The Indian IT companies are already providing service offerings in back-end systems and integration, web-services, CRM and database management integration services for the Smart Grid. These companies, however, should partner with others who have complementary skill sets to offer complete solutions.

Q: What do you see as the most significant obstacle to doing business in India?

A: As India is developing rapidly, it is seeing challenges on a few fronts, which over time would potentially be overcome. First, a global technology player wishing to do business in India needs to be aware of India’s intellectual property (I.P.) laws and how the local companies handle and protect their I.P. Second in the Smart Grid space, it should be aware of the government policies, incentives and funding programs on energy and electrical power, as a majority of the grid comes under government control. Third, it should find local partners who would be able to represent them credibly and maintain their brand and image in India. Overall, it is very important to determine the local nuances of the Indian market – just like one would any other market that one is entering.

Dr. Rajit Gadh is a Professor at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA, and the Founding Director of the UCLA Smart Grid Energy Research Center or SMERC. He is also Founder and Director of the Wireless Internet for Mobile Enterprise Consortium or WINMEC. Dr. Rajat Gadh will be speaking at GridWeek Asia 2012  to be held from 16-18 January 2012 in Mumbai, India.

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