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India’s smart grid pilot project shows promise

According to reports, after close to a year of trials, the Puducherry Electricity Department, Power Grid Corporation of India and 57 other service providers that worked on the country’s first pilot ‘smart grid’ project know one thing: It works.

In the heartening results of the Puducherry pilot lie the possibilities of a pan-nation technology leapfrog — an intelligent electricity grid system.

For about a year, 1,400-odd ‘smart’ energy meters have been whirring at as many homes sending data to a central control room. These meters do not need any one to note down the number of units of electricity consumed; the information is fed real-time into a central computer.

This ‘advanced metering infrastructure’, or AMI, is the bedrock of ‘smart grid’ and the Puducherry experience is of significance as of the 14 smart grid pilot projects currently underway in the country, Puducherry has made the most progress.

But, first, what is ‘smart grid’? The concept of ‘smart grid’ embraces just about anything that makes the electricity grid efficient.

It is an IT-enabled grid system that helps cut down transmission theft and losses, improves quality of power, manages demand so that the demand is evened out over the day and does not surge at peak hours, and integrates wind and solar power both of which are prone to go up and down several times in a day.

These, of course, are the end results and the ‘smart grid’ is all about how these results are achieved. The Puducherry pilot tested just one of the various elements of a smart grid — metering.

Many big names were involved in this effort spearheaded by Power Grid Corporation. L&T, TCS, Wipro, and Dassault Systems were involved in providing meters free and the software. With the AMI in place, the project managers tested it for several uses. For instance, an ‘outage management system’ monitors the health of the distribution transformers, alerting the control room if the coil is overheating or if the quantum of electricity is more than what it should be.

While preventive maintenance will help avoid power outages, if there is a fault, the system will pinpoint it.

The system also tested well for ‘demand response’ — charging consumers at rates that depend upon the time of use.

The consumer will be informed of the price on his (say) mobile phone and can decide to switch off an air-conditioner, thereby, bringing down the bill. However, for such ‘dynamic pricing’ to come into practice the regulator will have to approve it. The project demonstrates that dynamic pricing is possible.

‘Net metering’ was tested. The net meters can measure not only the electricity drawn from the grid, but also what is fed into it. Riding on the 1,400-odd net meters installed, the Government of Puducherry is now testing out a grid-interactive rooftop scheme with technical assistance from Auroville Consulting.

According to Toine van Megen, Co-Founder, Auroville Consulting, the idea is to “demonstrate technical and administrative feasibility of grid-interactive rooftop solar PV systems” paving the way for a solar energy policy for Puducherry.

According to an official of PowerGrid, all the three technologies for communication between meters and the control room were used — ‘powerline carrier’ (both narrow and broad band), radio frequency (at 865 MHz and 2.4 GHz) and GPRS.

All these technologies have worked well and now PowerGrid is ready to tender for smart energy meters to be installed in 87,000 Puducherry homes for the next phase of the pilot.

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