What will a Smart Grid in India look like?

The recent widespread power failures in India have highlighted a number of problems that exist in the electrical grid throughout the country.


IHS has acquired IMS ResearchThe recent widespread power failures in India have highlighted a number of problems that exist in the electrical grid there. A report from IMS Research (recently acquired by IHS Inc.) on Distribution Automation Equipment – 2012 Edition analyzes the regional differences between distribution automation adoption globally, including developing countries such as India, and what role smart grid technologies will play in helping to solve these problems.

India’s recent power outage problems are more basic than smart grid. The key concern for India is inadequate generation capacity, as well as the shortage of coal for existing power plants. Using centralized generation alone, India’s government has struggled to provide enough power to a growing population and economy. IMS Research analyst Nicole Juarez commented: “India’s main concern continues to be installing ‘lights on’ infrastructure to increase electrification rates or to keep up with rising electricity consumption. This is evident when reviewing expenditure on smart grid enabling electronics (including capacitor controls, voltage regulator controls, switch control modules, digital protective relays, etc.) in distribution applications, where investment from countries in Asia is relatively low when compared to other regions globally. However, when taking into account investment in heavy metal equipment (including switchgear, capacitor banks, voltage regulators, circuit breakers, etc.) Asia is estimated to account for over 60% of global revenue.”

Smart grid, and specifically distribution automation, is  typically thought of  as a complex, interconnected system with communications and networks which support “applications,” like volt/VAR optimization and fluid demand-response. These smart grid applications are not underway and may not even be appropriate for most of India. Instead, India’s home and small business owners are installing their own small generators, and the utility grid operators have increased their use of sensors around the grid to help them monitor problems, find trouble spots, predict failures and respond quickly. “Over the past couple years, India has invested heavily in monitoring of the distribution network in the form of power meters, line monitoring devices and fault detectors which allow utilities to help minimize non-technical losses, or theft, and highlight problematic areas,” adds Juarez. According to Distribution Automation Equipment – 2012 Edition, power meters, line monitoring devices, and fault detectors in Asia accounted for an estimated $58 million in sales in 2011 and are projected to grow to almost $92 million annually by 2017. These may not be interconnected, high-bandwidth, distributed intelligence smart grid applications that are the focus of discussion in the United States or Europe, but they are solving existing problems to support today’s growth.

Juarez continued: “Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how India copes with continuously increasing demand for electricity. With shipments of smart meters expected to begin in earnest within the next five years, additional applications and more sophisticated smart grid solutions will become applicable in India. However, investment will remain strong in the short term for heavy metal and sensing equipment, in efforts to electrify the country while limiting blackouts, theft, and technical losses.”

Juarez concluded: “Currently in India, individuals and merchants take a large share of the responsibility in keeping the power on, with a strong example being the distribution of diesel gensets throughout the country. Given this established pattern, it might not be much of a leap to envision distributed renewable generation taking off in the not so distant future in India. And when realizing that centralized generation will not be invested in enough to meet forecasted demand, then this assertion makes even more sense.”

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