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Big Data analytics can help in reducing power shortage in India

According to reports, the problem of power shortage in India is a known fact. In July last year, the country faced the largest power outage in the country affecting 22 states and 620 million people. The outage was a wakeup call to modernize the power infrastructure in the country.

According to industry estimates, nearly 30 percent of the power generated in India is wasted in transmission and distribution primarily because of leakages and theft. There has been a strong push for the deployment of smart meters and smart grid technologies to plug this gap. The Ministry of Power recently approved pilots for smart grids in the country and private players like Tata Power, Reliance Infrastructure are already running smart meter and smart grid led projects.

The resulting transformation is generating tremendous volumes of data. The frequency and volume of data that is emerging from smart meters, grid devices and other network controls and sensors is pushing the sector to deploy analytics to accommodate the emerging opportunities such as customer prepaid cards, self-service analytics and distributed generation.

In this context, Sundar Ram, Vice President, Technology Sales Consulting Oracle Corporation, Asia Pacific, shares his perspective with InformationWeek on how analytics can help in transforming the utilities sector in India.

Some edited excerpts:

How acute is the problem of power shortage in India? It would be great if you could share some numbers. What are the key factors that are contributing to the problem of power shortage?

India has the world’s fifth-largest electricity generation capacity. However, the country faces acute power shortage due to the inability of an inefficient and outdated power infrastructure to meet the growing demand from public as well as the industries. India has suffered consistent grid failures and power black outs since independence. In 2012, the simultaneous failure of northern, eastern and north-eastern grids left many parts of the country in the dark. The country remains energy starved despite 15 percent or more of federal funds being allocated to the power sector. According to industry experts, bankrupt state-run electricity boards, an acute shortage of coal, skewed subsidies which end up benefiting rich farmers, power theft, and under-performing private distribution agencies are to blame. The Aggregate Technical & Commercial (AT&C) losses are expected to be nearly 30 percent. In fact, it is estimated that the AT&C loss levels in some states are as high as 70 percent because of antiquated grids, power theft and faulty meters. The problem, as the Planning Commission admits, is more “in the delivery process [than] in the system”.

Can you detail out the steps that are required to transform utilities from a technology perspective?

Renovation and modernization of India’s power plants is imperative to meet the energy crisis in the country. Steps are already being taken in this direction with the adoption of smart grid technologies and smart meters, especially by the private sector providers. Change doesn’t come easy for an industry that operated for a hundred plus years with systems that have been stable and worked well for the most part. However, traditional systems that have served utilities well over the years were not built to handle the frequency and volume of data that will emerge from smart meters, grid devices and other network controls and sensors. As a result, utility businesses need to restructure their current IT infrastructure, systems and tools to accommodate emerging needs such as customer prepay, demand response, self-service analytics, near-real-time operational control and distributed generation.

How can technology help, and in particular, how can Big Data help? Can you share the key areas where Big Data can make a huge difference?

Around the world, utilities are under pressure. Citizens demand energy and water that don’t undermine the environment. Financial stakeholders look for operational efficiency at a time when aging workforces and infrastructures are facing replacement. Regulators require compliance and detailed reporting on operations. Operators seek action on smart grid and smart metering initiatives that add intelligence to infrastructure. Customers seek choice and convenience—at affordable costs. Pressures like these are forcing today’s utilities to re-examine every aspect of their business process, from supply to consumption to billing and settlement.

Utilities are rolling out smart grid and smart metering projects to address some of these challenges. These deployments are underway in India as well. They are creating exponentially more data for distribution companies and giving them access to information they’ve never had before. Accessing, analyzing, managing, and delivering this information can help them optimize business operations and enhance customer relationships.

They can perform continuous analytics against this data to look for anomalies, patterns and trends that might indicate an opportunity for them to make actionable decisions on both supply and demand. Integration into outage and distribution management applications allows for further development of business capabilities such as distribution, load management switching, etc. Protocols can be established to move customers to alternate feeders during times of over capacity. Analytical information also allows utilities to look at granular use and consumption patterns for neighbourhoods, districts, or cities to facilitate better supply planning and load forecasting in these service territories.

Big Data can also help distribution companies achieve and maintain the levels of satisfaction desired by customers and by regulators. For instance, by integrating advanced metering, grid devices and network management systems, they can address more proactively outages and other system conditions that exist within their territories. This allows them to be much more proactive in the provision of network condition information to customers and other stakeholders.

Big Data and Analytics can help the companies move away from “one size fits all” services. For example, at the customer premise level, they can analyze usage patterns at the meter level and provide this usage information back to consumers with the intent of developing market driven and customized pricing offers that reflect individual consumption characteristics.

Many companies also have geo-spatial data available from their equipment, diagrams and vehicles. This data can be used to deliver real-time analytics to pin-point the need for a maintenance person, when a network is down, overloaded or reaching capacity.

In mature markets, Big Data solutions is also helping utility companies determine competitor strengths and weakness, enabling them to exploit competitive strongholds and target marketing programs towards specific customers or segments of customers.

Big Data and analytics can also give an impetus to the adoption of renewable sources of energy. Traditional power generation investments involve large amounts of property to build a large plant on, but newer renewable sources like wind and solar energy can be located closer to demand sources. Big Data solutions can look at all of factors of a city, from standard utility ones like load profiles and capacity to more unstructured ones from city demographics.

Traditional utility data, demographic information and new sensor data can therefore be combined to provide the optimal investment scenarios necessary to meet growing renewable energy portfolio requirements. This can then be used to make smarter investment decisions.

Imagine a scenario where data on wealth distribution in office spaces, commuter congestion and electric vehicle population history combined with current load profiles and capacity is combined to predict which buildings will have the highest growth in electric vehicles over the next two decades. This data can feed portfolio planning decisions like deciding where to invest in solar panels – to help source cheaper and cleaner local energy to charge those vehicles instead of transporting it in from a remote fossil plant at high cost.

These scenarios hold a fresh wave of promise in meaningfully addressing at least a fraction of India’s energy deficit. An optimized power generation and distribution system that draws upon Big Data analytics can complement new additions to power generation to meet the power deficit in the country. Above all, it is an opportunity to transform our utilities that we cannot afford to miss.

Is Oracle seeing huge interest for its Big Data solutions in India – specifically to the power sector? 

As utilities roll out smart grid and smart metering projects in India, the resulting transformation is generating tremendous volumes of data. Like in any other industry, the power sector especially the private players in the country are realising the importance of adopting Big Data solutions to drive down costs, improve operational efficiencies and generate more revenue. However these are early days in the adoption of the technology.

Oracle has mission-critical applications to support the need for emerging “smart” business processes such as universal interval billing, customer demand response and conservation programs, better and faster leak and theft detection, net metering, and electric vehicle recharging.

Sundar Ram, Vice President, Technology Sales Consulting Oracle Corporation, Asia Pacific, shares his perspective with InformationWeek on how analytics can help in transforming the utilities sector in India

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