Smart grids as basis of energy revolution
When we speak of new technologies in the energy space, it is the ‘smart grid’ that weaves it all together. A smart grid is like a backbone that connects the entire energy value chain, right from the sources up to the consumers. Efficient management of the grid can deliver maximum value to users from the resources tapped.
Sapna Mongia, technical marketing manager-South Asia operations, STMicroelectronics, says, “Governments and power companies across the world have recognised that the traditional power grid, which has not changed significantly in 100 years, must be replaced with more efficient, flexible and intelligent energy-distribution networks called smart grids. With 17 per cent of the world’s population residing in India, the multi-fold increase in the demand of electric supply makes it all the more essential to have a successful smart grid running across the country.”
Smart grid technology enables consolidation of varied power sources, end-user energy management, minimisation of power disruptions, and transportation of only the required amount of power. All this results in more balanced usage, better matching of supply to demand, lower cost to the customer, more reliable power supply and reduced carbon emissions.
“The government of India, private companies, utilities, distribution companies and startups are in close collaboration with the government and engaged in many smart grid projects,” explains Dr Kumar. “The government has set up the Task Force on Smart Grids, then there is the India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF). IEEMA also has a task force for smart grids. We are members of the ISGF and IEEMA’s task force on smart grids.”
Schneider Electric is involved in the grid optimisation layer of the Indian smart grid market. Grid optimisation serves as an umbrella term that encompasses improvement in three main areas, namely, system reliability, operational efficiency, and asset utilisation and protection.
Smart meters are intelligent devices that connect every consumption point to the smart grid, enabling controlled supply of power and personalised services.
“Smart metering essentially involves an electronic power meter supplemented by full remote control, diagnostics, power peak and consumption analysis, anti-tampering mechanisms, fault alerts, time-variable tariffs and many more possibilities. Using power-line communication (PLC) or other wired and wireless technologies like low-power radio frequency to connect the meter to the service provider enables all of the above features to be feasible and compatible with future smart-grid protocols,” explains Mongia.
“Smart metering also provides a way to offer increasingly personalised services and reduce pollution and carbon emissions,” adds Naveen Chopra, director, Vodafone Business Services, a leading provider of communication services for smart grids.
STMicroelectronics offers a complete set of semiconductor products to implement energy, water, heat and gas meters. These products include concentrators, multi-utility controllers, microcontroller units for wireless sensor networks, low-power wireless transceivers and so on. Their STarGRID platform also helps in energy and grid control applications such as smart grids, smart metering, smart building/home and e-mobility applications. The platform includes various SoC implementations (ST7570, ST7580 and ST7590) featuring high modularity and flexibility, multiple modulations and protocols, and high integration (the DSP PHY processor, protocol stack engine, analogue front end, power-line driver, encryption and auxiliary functions are packaged in a single chip). It complies with major protocol specifications such as IEC 61334-5-1, PRIME, Meters and More, and others.
Communications backbone for smart grids
“Smart grid architecture requires an intense communication network to transmit the data and enable utilities to take up automated actions based on the information generated from the real-time data. Basically, in the smart grid you are monitoring, controlling and managing the demand and supply of the energy. In order to do this, you need to know on a real-time basis the level of energy consumption by users. At the same time, you need to know supply of energy. All of this requires a robust communication network as the backbone for exchange of information between various systems,” says Chopra of Vodafone.
To explain this better, Chopra cites the example of a manufacturing unit connected to the smart grid. Suppose at some point of time, the utility provider faces a shortage of electricity supply in one of the regions. With smart grid technology, the utility has complete information about the energy consumption pattern of this manufacturing unit, so it can offer a discount to the manufacturing unit for reducing energy consumption during that time period, and remotely control the supply to this manufacturing unit. Now this reduction in the consumption of energy will enable the utility to divert the extra available electricity to the area that requires it the most, hence controlling the demand and supply on a real-time basis.
Demand and supply management works only if you have complete online information about each and every distribution point, including details about the level of consumption at every point. This is possible only if all the consumption points are smart (let’s say, with smart meters) and able to communicate. This makes communication a key infrastructure for implementing smart grids.
A smart grid requires high-availability, secure, two-way external communication that is resilient and resistant to external interference. It should not be affected by interference from other devices in the home or exceed electro-sensitivity standards. It should have the capacity to handle the anticipated volume and resource demands of smart metering.
The network infrastructure would typically be hybrid, with both wireless and fixed-line communications. Consider the example of a Vodafone implementation. Each remote meter is made smarter by enabling communication using the Vodafone GSM network. These meters can communicate data to regional centres and applications, which are connected using a Vodafone fixed-line data network. Further, regional servers and applications are connected to the central data centre over a Vodafone MPLS network. In addition, the utility provider’s control centres can use Vodafone Internet leased line and fixed-line voice to connect to the public infrastructure at large.